The Red Lions started the new year in the best possible way by handing out a stuffing to a Sanchong team that had the better of the possession, but was somehow bereft of ideas up front. The Lions started with just ten players, several notable absentees being Clovis (on a mission from God), Ant (admitted to a clinic with chronic depression after Australia’s capitulation in the Ashes – round owed), OG (suspended – round owed) and Hemingay (suspended for the 2nd time this season – 2 rounds owed). For the record, the ten that turned up were:
Mao in goal, Charles and Kim Sun Il in central defence, flanked by Matt and Chancy, Volker and Thomas in central midfield, with Christian and James on the wing, and Minister of Propaganda up front. Buoyed by the return of Mirko to the sidelines, accompanied by Mrs Mirko, as well as Nestor and daughter, and even Mrs Mao in attendance, there was strong support.
Captain Rooney told the Lions to mark space, not men – as we all knew the kids from Sanchong had more energy than the Energizer Bunny. Logan – who forgot to set his alarm clock (round owed) – led the Spartacus as Chancy called up and put him on the loudspeaker, the first time it has been done remotely. The Lions knew that a win could get them in to 6th, if other results went their way, but with just 10 players they knew it would be tough.
The opening 10 to 15 minutes saw Sanchong with pretty much all the possession but when it came to goal scoring opportunities, their ideas were lacking, and they seemed to prefer just keeping hold of the ball. There were few opportunities for either team in the opening exchanges, but one dangerous cross did come in from the Sanchong left wing, Fowler getting a hand to it, the rebound coming off the attacker before Matt cleared it off the line.
Shortly afterwards, and it is fair to say against the run of play, the Lions took the lead, Christian chasing a ball in to the corner, taking on his man and – with a show of acceleration – went straight past him, like a Ferrari pulling away from a little blue truck selling stinky tofu. The goalkeeper tried to narrow the angle but it was all in vain as a crisp finish put the Lions 1-0 up. Sanchong seemed a little ruffled by this, and the Lions managed to get more possession, but the centre of the field was still wet, which led to several slips at crucial moments.
Neither team seemed able to fully control the ball in midfield, and any long balls that were pumped through the middle by Sanchong were dealt with comfortably by the central defence pairing of Kim Sun Il and Charles. Chancy on the right went in to several challenges firmly, injuring himself in the process, but given the fact that the Lions only had 10 men, valiantly fought on. James on the left wing made some good runs, and caused the Sanchong defence all kinds of problems, combining with and supporting Rob up front very well. You’d have hardly noticed the additional kilos from his recent trip back to USA land.
But as the Lions were starting to assert their authority on the game, Sanchong had an attack and – from the edge of the penalty box – drilled a shot in that was heading straight for keeper Fowler’s head, before moving just enough to evade it and ending up in the back of the net for 1-1. Previous Lions teams may have let their heads down at this situation, but the new generation of Red Lions is made of sterner stuff, and from the kick off, the ball made its way to the Polack who slotted the ball away for an immediate reply, and the Lions back in front.
And it was this point that Logan decided to turn up finally, getting changed and bringing the Lions up to a full 11 men on the pitch. This parity in numbers gave the Lions the advantage they needed, Sanchong not having as much space as before, and it was now all Lions play, with Sanchong offering nothing up front, except a couple of long balls which brought the keeper out of his box to clear to safety. Two more goals were added before half time, James and Thomas both scoring (the latter also having a goal disallowed for offside). 4-1 at half time, and as long as complacency did not set in, the three points were there for the Lions taking.
The second half saw chances at a premium – Chancy still hobbling whilst marshalling the right defensive area, combining with Christian in some neat passes, the Lions stretching the ball out wide, switching wings as they pleased, Sanchong truly looking as if all the desire had been kicked out of them, merely going through the motions of shutting their opponents down. One Sanchong pass was kicked down the centre, an attacker chasing, Fowler coming out to collect the ball, giving the call “leave it” then “no – clear it” and then finally “oh – I got it”, sending Kim Sun Il into a frenzy.
“FUCK ME” he shouted. It was a shame for him that Clovis was not around, as Kim Sun Il may well have then had his wish granted. A meek apology from the goalkeeper, and things were good again.
As the game drew towards its end, Christian added a second to his goal tally, before Sanchong earned themselves a corner. It swung in, the keeper announced to the world in no uncertain fashion that it was his, and, like an unemployed Roman carpenter, completely misjudged the cross, missing it by a mile. Thankfully the oncoming attacker also misjudged the flight of the ball, and it went off for a goal kick. Mao’s blushes were spared. The calls for a round for this have been vetoed.
Shortly afterwards, with the clock ticking down, Fowler did actually manage to catch a cross, back-pedalling to collect the ball, and with Thomas free up front, launched a long kick up. Thomas then went past his defender on the wing, sent in a tantalizing cross, and after a couple of shots (I believe one from the Polack was blocked) the ball ended up at Thomas’ feet once more who smashed in the 6th, and his 2nd of the game.
At this point Charles decided he had done his job, and pulled himself off. The Lions now in a 3-4-2 formation, but within a couple of minutes the ref too had decided that this was now game over, blew his whistle, and the Lions doubled their season’s points tally, whilst at the same time bringing their goal difference to zero. An excellent team performance once more should give us confidence for the next match – the tough game against City who stuffed Rogues 4-0. The Lions are now 6th and in that final play-off spot after Fen Ching and JAS both got beaten. This BML season may have just received the kick start it needed!