Ah fuck it. With the weather forecast on Tuesday saying the weekend would be cold, I got started there and then on the match report. This time, finally, I was going to be able to get in the “it was a bit nippy” joke, but wouldn’t you know it? Sunday came along, and despite Ant being a complete woose by wearing a gay hat that was about 7 sizes too small for his head (and therefore fined a round), it was warm. Even balmy. And thus the joke went out of the window.
Knowing that the Lions needed 6 points from the final 2 games, Captain Rooney decided on an attacking 3-2-3-2-2 formation. After realising that this was not quite a legal formation, he changed it to a 3-2-3-2 formation, with the defence being Charles, flanked by Matt and Hemingay. Central defenders, Logan and Barras took turns to get right behind OG, who had a perpetual smile on his face. On the wings, Christian and James were supporting the two front men, Panda and Mora. Panda, recently back from a culinary tour of the United States was hoping he could actually do something with the ball. Mora was hoping to stop shooting blanks. Your humble chronicler was in goal.
After tasting defeat in the previous game, there was a hunger in the Lions that had been missing in the previous game. Indeed, right from the kick off it looked like only one team wanted to win, the Japanese forced in to retreat, just like their defeat at the hands of the Australians in New Guinea in 1943. And it was the Aussie contingent that was destined to play a huge role in this monster victory.
At the Asian Cup in Qatar, those who have actually been watching will have noticed the sweet, smooth flowing passing movements of the Koreans (that’s Korea Republic, not PRK!) in reaching the semi-finals. Strangely enough, it’s where they will be meeting the Japanese. Perhaps they should have video’d our game for some tips in how to out-play their former colonial masters.
The Red Lions played beautiful one-touch football, each player on the field making himself available to get the ball, everyone wanting the ball. It was almost enough to bring a grown man to tears.
OG was getting himself stuck in, like a fat man when asked if he’d like seconds of his favourite dish. Some hard – but generally fair – tackles were flying, the Japanese whining just as Pink Floyd sang in their Final Cut album. The referees, knowing that this island too was once taken over by these war-mongering tossers, waved play on as if nothing had happened. Which of course it hadn’t. From one tackle though, one of the opponents got injured, apparently a broken bone. Had he been a Red Lion, he would no doubt have carried on playing, like a real man. As he got carted off in an ambulance to the hospital, the Lions got back to the serious business of battering our opponents like tempura.
Delicious passing led to all the Red Lions goals, the Panda shrugging off pre-game doubts about his form by smashing home the first from close range, in to the roof of the net after some great play by pretty much all the team, except Fowler, who had hardly had a touch by this time.
The combination of OG, Logan and Barras in the centre of the midfield played beautiful triangles, and – like a samosa at Cafe India – they were hot, crispy and spicy. The Japanese just couldn’t handle it. And as they closed down the midfield, the wings became free, and with touches so deft they could have come from the Footballers Guide to Fine Skills, the ball was passed out to the wings where tempting crosses were delivered.
Mora ran tirelessly, the partnership with the Panda bringing out the best in both players, and with the constant support of all five members of the midfield, it was almost as though the Lions had a seven man attack.
The second goal then, was merely waiting to happen, and some more fine interlacing the Panda once more smashed home from close range. The ball had been in the 6 yard box, the Japanese unable to clear, and despite what appeared to be a handball, Panda whacked the ball home with all the force of a Nagasaki bombing raid.
With all this talk about the midfield and attack, the reader may be of the opinion that there were in fact only 7 Red Lions on the pitch, but this was of course not the case. Charles marshalled the back line masterfully, Hemingay and Matt both putting in well timed tackles to clear the ball to safety, and Fowler even caught a cross. Admittedly it was a weak one and at chest height, but with this keeper you will never take anything for granted, and the Lions drew a collective breath of relief as the ball was firmly caught.
Half time came, 2-0 Lions. And this week’s half time talk was nothing near the animated discussion from the previous weekend, but then this performance needed no words. Everyone knew that this game was now ours to lose, and as long as the performance did not let up, we would leap-frog our opponents in to that final play off position.
The second half began as the first finished, with the Lions well on top, the Japanese forced in to the retreat, as if it was Burma 1943. You thought that 3-0 was bound to come, and once more it was the Panda who delivered. Panda 3 Tempura 0.
With the game seemingly won, Rooney sent on several substitutes, bringing on Thomas for James, Matt replaced by Ant, Sunil coming on for Charles, Majo for Mora. The Japanese though got a free kick in a fairly harmless area, and with Ant sleeping (additional round fined), they quickly took the kick, the attacker zipping in to the Lions penalty area and whipping in a rocket of a shot. Fowler was statuesque as the ball whizzed past him in to the net to make it 3-1. It was shot with such ferocity, it could have been shot by Christian. Except for the fact that it was on target.
3-1 and it was game on. For the next 10 minutes the Lions were put under a little pressure, but the opponents did not trouble the Lions 18 yard box, and slowly but surely those little triangles which were being played so well in the first half re-appeared.
With about 20 minutes left, the final goal of the game came – OG threading an inch-perfect pass through to Thomas who crossed it to the left where James was waiting to slot the ball home to totally kill off the game.
Fowler, who had so far in the game not had much to do, did finally make a save. As most people would have been unsighted by the action, and this is the humble version of the event, of course, the Japanese got a cross in to the Lion’s right hand post where despite not getting the kind of sweet touch that the Lions’ attack possesses, the ball still headed towards the goal line, where Fowler reacted (for once) quickly enough to stop the ball going in, and then collecting the ball, at the same time being fouled by Shin, the former Taipei Dragons player. The ref blew for the foul, Fowler not happy and suggesting it should be a yellow card. The ref was having nothing of it, which was actually quite fair, Fowler making a mountain out of a molehill as usual.
And that, essentially, was it. The Japanese surrendered like a French Surrender Monkey, and it sets up the final weekend nicely – victory over Fen Ching will see the Lions in to the play offs, which start just after Chinese New Year. Until then, Sayonara.
With several players missing next weekend, it was a great send off. Panda, heading Down Under, showed why he has that name – he eats shoots and leaves.
To all Lions who are not available next weekend: safe travels, and you’re all fined a round.
To Ant, who is so under the thumb from his woman, you’re fined an additional round for being in the taxi on the way to Carnegies only to pull out at the last minute.
And to all 17 Lions and WAG’s who turned up at Carnegies after the game, once more a brilliant turn out. Proving once more that the Lions is so much more than a football club. Best team in Taiwan. End of.