It was a weekend of English premier league derbies – Sunderland vs the St James Park Pretenders, Brum vs Villa, Hammers vs the Arse, and Pool against Everton. But these matches pale in comparison to the importance of the match up between the Red Lions and two-time champions City.
So on a cool January afternoon, the Lions failed to add to the promise shown in the previous game against Sanchong, by losing to rivals Taipei City 3-0. Although there can be no faulting the effort put in by all players, the Lions were unable to penetrate the City defence, only bringing one save out of the opponents keeper, and that in the last minute.
Indeed, the first time the City keeper touched the ball was around the half hour mark, when City were already 2-0 ahead, and one of the City defenders passed back to his own goalie. With the Lions playing a 4-4-2 formation, there was only one change to the ten that started the previous weekend, that change being the fact that we had 11 to start, OG back from suspension and in the centre of midfield alongside Volker, Christian and Jaime, with Thomas and the Polack up front. Totally inseparable these two. They live in the same place, they come to the game together, they even play up front together. It must be love.
The back 4 comprised of Matt, Kim Sun Il, Charles and Chancy. Your humble chronicler was in goal.
City played an attacking 3-5-2 formation, and played the ball nicely around on the
Taipei Pony Club field Bai Ling Bridge pitch. All early possession was City, the Lions closing down and chasing the ball, not able to mount a serious threat. First shot of the game came from a long shot – the City attacker given plenty of space and time to pick a spot, but Lions keeper pushed it over the bar for a corner. This one was cleared by the defense, but shortly after there was another succession of corners for City, and from this pressure the Lions did not close down the attacker – in fact three defenders all watched the ball as two City players attacked it, one of whose shot went behind one defender, and between Fowler and OG on the post to make it 1-0 City.
Not long after, City doubled their lead – again coming from an attacker being in plenty of space and under no pressure. From just inside the Lions penalty area he was able to pick his spot, placing a hard shot low to the keeper’s right – Fowler got a hand to it but was unable to keep it out. 2-0 City and still no Lions attack in sight.
Captain Rooney had said before the game began that the opponent’s weak point came from long balls – indeed, playing just 3 at the back left them open to a good counter, but the Lions played it through the middle each and every time, and despite some ferocious tackles, we were unable to make anything from it.
Matt was given a tough time by his attacker, and was brought off with about 15 minutes to go – Hemingay brought on to replace him.
City captain Ross was brought off the pitch shortly after receiving a yellow – but many Lions would say that he is the weak spot of the team anyway. He and OG got in to a tangle on the Lions right wing, OG perhaps out with a point to prove, Ross possibly pissy because he lost his best player to the much better team.
The Lions managed to create one small opening, a long through ball finally unlocking an attacking door, although on this occasion nothing came from it. Despite more fight from the Lions midfield in the latter part of the half, the half did not provide any other opportunities for us, and we trailed at the interval 2-0.
Untypically for the half time talk, Roons was especially animated – definitely unhappy at the lack of adherence to the pre-match tactics which he had spelt out. “Long balls in to space” he repeated.
Charles added using his fingers as a graphics board some more words of wisdom, talking about drawing one central defender closer, so that there could be one on one of some kind.
The game – it was decided – was definitely still there for the taking.
Logan – late again despite promises that he would be at the game on time – was introduced to the game for the 2nd half, and the Lions enjoyed more possession, but – like an impotent man – very little in the way of penetration. The midfield battled for every ball as the Lions pushed forward, in search of that elusive goal that would bring them back in to the game. But we found it difficult to get in to the 18 yard box, City’s defence holding firm.
As the Lions pushed forward, it left the back 4 a little more exposed, and one thunderous shot brought out a good save from the Lions keeper, tipping the rasping shot over the bar for a corner.
The Lions passing game was also a lot better in the second half, Jaime interlacing well with Hemingay, Logan and OG. But when the forward line was supplied, the Polack was the most impotent of all, collecting a yellow card (and a suspension from the next game. Fined one round. The State has spoken) for a late tackle from behind, Clovis style.
Thomas ran himself in to trouble on more than one occasion – but never giving up, like the rest of the team. Kim Sun Il was replaced in central defence by Barras, as the Lions used up all their substitutes, hoping fresh legs could being in some additional energy.
With time running out, Christian and Chancy combined well on the right wing, but the cross was not quite perfect, or the run not well enough timed, and City cleared their lines.
And from such a break a cross came in from City’s left wing, a call of “over me” came, unexpectedly this time not from Howler Fowler, but from Barras who has proved once and for all that it’s not just the keeper who is poor at judging crosses. Alas also for the Lions defence, Dan Calvert is not as poor at this, glancing in a header to the far post to make it 3-0.
As the game entered the final couple of minutes, the Polack was sent through on goal, but under pressure he buckled and blasted straight in to the keeper. To be fair the my opposite number, it was a good save, but as Captain Rooney mentioned after the game – had we had the chances City had, we would have won it.
The Lions enter the final 2 games knowing that the play-offs are still a realistic possibility and 2 wins against JAS and Fen Ching will seal the deal.