In broad picture terms, grinding out a win no matter what is championship winning form. In specific terms, however, the Red Lions will be feared by no team whatsoever after a performance that was toothless against 8-man Super Eagles. 8. Fucking eight.
Ok, the 10 AM kick off was far from ideal, especially after a seriously heavy session at Carnegies the night before. And in the early morning, the wind was non-existent, the heat unrelenting, as no more than 13 Red Lions turned up for the game that the Eagles had asked to be rescheduled to a later time, to allow their players to actually wake up and get to the pitch on time. Mao – who had heroically stepped in to finalise the last few weeks’ games of an already delayed CPL season – had to head for business to Shanghai that very afternoon, and so the Eagles request was denied.
Clovis (aka Judas 4.0) had the gayest excuse for not being at the game, having fallen down the stairs at his home 10 minutes before he wanted to leave. The way the Lions played this game, you could have been mistaken for thinking that most of them had also fallen down, but in truth they had slid down that slippery, alcohol-fuelled slope the previous night.
It should, really, have been easy. Very, very easy. Instead the Lions made it extremely difficult for themselves at all times. In an exceptionally boring first period, the Lions passing game was piss poor at best. It seemed as though the team had not played together before ever, rather than having the privilege of having played a game not 24 hours previously.
Running off the ball was not happening, and the space that the Lions should have had with the 3 man advantage was not being used. Complacency was setting in, and combined with the hangovers from the drinking session, things were not looking good for the Lions.
Pffff, who had looked impressive on the Saturday was no longer performing to his full potential, Alejandro, Panda and Polack all had good opportunities to score yet failed to make the goalkeeper work for saves, and the passing game from all midfielders and even defenders was just not going according to plan.
The one opportunity the Eagles had, despite their numerical disadvantage, was when the attacker twisted and turned his way in to the box, cut inside his defender, but then slipped, allowing the combination of Ant and Barras to clear to safety.
The water break came, and it was most likely the worst 20 minutes of football ever played by the Lions.
Christian came on for the second period and made his presence felt immediately, getting the ball and running with it, finally the Lions getting some movement both on and off the ball. The Eagles were now up to 9 players, and more were expected to follow. But it was more of the same from the Lions, the cohesion lacking, the frustration showing, the Lions shouting at each other as if they were … errr… the Eagles.
But then came the one and only bit of magic in the first half, Christian making a great run down the left flank, nipping in an inch-perfect cross to the far post where Tim “Brutus” Brown rose like a soufflé to score with his head, giving the Lions a not totally undeserved 1-0 lead.
With the Eagles finally getting a full team on the pitch, more of a fight was expected from the opponents, but still Mao in goal was being protected well by the 2 central defenders of Barras and Ant, with Charles and Matt both covering well at full back. Indeed, the only action the Lions keeper saw in the opening half was a corner which was punched out to safety.
So half time came, the Lions were up by the single goal, but there was still a lot to be done for the team to secure all 3 points.
In to the 3rd period and the Lions went searching for a second goal which they hoped would be enough to kill off the game, and help them achieve the goal of a play off place in the CPL’s second half of the season. And with the team gelling slightly better, passes were being made to feet, although many still were not finding their intended destination. But with the Lions defence still not being fully tested, the Eagles wasting several chances by not passing, and then shooting wide or well over the bar.
The Lions put the Eagles defence under some pressure, and after another excellent cross from the left, a header was handled on the line by a defender, the referee having no option but to show a straight red (alas to the wrong player) and award a penalty to the Lions. Gayer Rob placed the ball on the spot, which was definitely 1 metre further left than it should have been, and firmly despatched the shot for a 2-0 lead, despite the keeper diving the right way.
And that – in truth – should have been the end of any resistance the Eagles had. Yet after the final water break, it was the Eagles who were soaring, the Lions the team that looked bereft of ideas, and a man down. From the Eagles right wing, a pass was made to one player who was without doubt a metre offside, the linesman perhaps not fully understanding the offside rule, or not seeing the play, but as the attacker bore down on goal, Fowler made the initial save, but the rebound fell kindly and after a goal line tussle, the ball was bundled over the line, despite Ant’s best attempts to keep it out.
This was exactly the boost the Eagles needed, and they surged forwards in search of an unlikely equaliser, but at the same time this left them exposed a little more at the back. And this, it turned out, led to the most glaring miss of the season. On a two on one scenario, the ball was lobbed over the defender to Panda who had all the time in the world to score, or at least get a shot on goal, but instead he sent the ball in to temporary orbit, blocking out the sun and sending astronomers around the northern hemisphere into a fully confused state.
With just 2 minutes left, the Eagles had an excellent opportunity to draw level, shooting again from their right flank, bringing out a good save from the Lions keeper but with the attacker following in, alongside Matt’s full attention, the ball was somehow deflected on to the post, and in to the arms of the grateful keeper, who was still sprawling in the dust of the Da Jia pitch.
And that was the end of the action. A couple more minutes were played, the Lions happy to wind down the clock, and Mr Liu blew the whistle for full time.
Pretty it was not. But the three points go to the Lions, for whom the play-offs await, no matter what the result from the Lions’ final 3 games.