Torrential rain failed to dampen what ended up being one of the most thrilling CPL games in years. With the momentum swinging direction more than once, the Lions went ahead twice, only to seemingly throw it all away before mounting a stunning comeback in the final 5 minutes.
It all started so well, with a relatively cool kick off at the 1:15 slot, very little wind, and good playing conditions, although the Da Jia pitch was not looking its best. In the absence of Captain “Oh Captain my Captain” Cooke, Jaime it was who led the battle cry, with Barras being named on-pitch captain.
Clovis, who had recovered from his accidental rapid and uncontrolled descent of the stairs the previous week, arrived late, with “friend” in tow. Fred seems to have had his watch repaired, as he too was on time, with Thomas “Don’t call me Don Dumbassini” Costa also punctual. Matt is another you can count on to be there on time, and so it was once more. Majo arrived on his gay bike, a wry smile on his face.
And it was another four goal haul for the Italian magician, making Arturo Brachetti look totally slow paced in comparison. Alongside those mentioned already were Volker, making his first appearance since returning from the Vaterland, countryman Mirko, the traitorous Polack, Charles, Panda, Tim “Brutus” Brown, Pfff and Mao in goal.
Lining up in a 3-5-2 formation, the Lions were immediately under a little pressure, with one shot from Steve – Shane’s number 9 – saved by the Lions keeper who had to be alert and dive low to his right after aforementioned attacker had turned his defender. But it was not all one way traffic, and the Lions were enjoying some good possession in Shane territory.
A few minutes before the only water break of the game, the Polack was in the Shane penalty box, and – with what looked from the sidelines like a blatant dive – fell to the ground, the referee pointing immediately to the penalty spot. It was confirmed to your humble chronicler, however, that the man who usually man-handles was himself being man-handled, and grabbed by the Shane defence. It may well have been the first time that this happened in the game, but it was not going to be the last.
Up stepped Thomas “Don’t call me Don Dumbassini” Costa, placing the ball and sending the goalkeeper the wrong way, the Shane keeper obviously having watched Fowler’s crap attempts at saving penalties too much. 1-0 Lions, and hopefully now a little bit of nerves calmed.
But that goal merely spurred Shane on, and after the water break they pushed forward, the Lions 3-man defence unable to cope with the onslaught, the midfield failing to run back to support the defenders. With one attack, Shane crossed the ball to the Lions’ right hand flank, and with Clovis not truly decisive in attacking the ball, it bounced over him and to an unmarked Shane midfielder who crossed to the far post where another unmarked player – Steve – had plenty of time to place his shot past Mao in the Lions goal to deservedly bring Shane back in to the game.
A couple of minutes later the same player had the ball in a very similar position, Mao this time making a brave save at his feet, the ball rebounding to safety. Charles then pumped the ball clear upfield, as the Lions cleared their defensive lines.
As Shane continued to pile on the pressure, Volker went in on a challenge from behind, taking the man down with him, and earning himself a red card. Mr Liu – the linesman – make a discrete gesture to the referee (which was seen by only a couple of people) that the red colour should be reserved for malicious tackles, and this was not in any way malicious, and so the red was overturned, on appeal, to yellow. This does not, however, take away from the fact that Volker is the most carded Red Lion this season, and, in conjunction with his failure to supply Mao with coffee beans from his recent sojourn to the Heimat, is therefore fined a round.
Shortly afterwards, right on the stroke of half time, Tim “Brutus” Brown picked up the ball on the left wing and delivered a lob-cross over the towering defender which Thomas “Don’t call me Don Dumbassini” Costa met superbly with his head, past the goalkeeper to restore the Lions single goal advantage.
So 2-1 to the Lions at half time, and despite the call for a change to a 4-5-1 formation at half time, the 3-man back line continued in the second half. Unless of course your humble narrator is mistaken and the 4th defender was a seriously attacking defender, masquerading right up there as a central midfielder. The rain, too, had started to fall, ominous dark clouds a sign of things to come for the Red Lions.
This opening period saw Shane absolutely resurgent, forcing error after error from the Lions defence, as they put pressure on every player at every opportunity. Every time the ball was pumped upfield, it went straight to a Shane player, our opponents unrelenting. A series of corners was conceded by the Lions, and with Ian Edwards promising not to head the ball after his recent injury from the Shane-Black Stars match, in came the nod from aforementioned player, on his head, the ball taking a deflection off Volker to get past Mao and level the scores once more.
Minutes later, with Shane plying the pressure on the Red Lions defenders, Clovis and Barras were playing short passes with each other at the back, with Barras then attempting to switch to Matt who was unmarked on the right, alas the pass was woefully off-target, and went straight in to the path of Steve whose shot was powerful enough to put Shane in to a fully deserved lead, despite Mao getting a glove to it.
The Lions looked dead and buried, and with the rain now coming down in droves, those watching on the sidelines huddled under the poor shelter that has not yet been stolen from the pitch side. Then came a second interesting moment from the referee, as a Shane player brought down a Red Lions midfielder, and was shown a red card, only for that too to be modified to a yellow.
Shane looked to build on their advantage, and soon doubled their lead with yet more poor marking from the Red Lions defenders. The attacker weaved his way through from the centre of the pitch, and with no Lion getting in a meaningful challenge, swept the ball in to the back of the net to put Shane in to a commanding and seemingly unassailable lead.
The torrential rain was indicative of the Lions spirits at this moment, and Shane seemed to be cruising to an historic victory which would see them truly in contention for a top 5 spot. But then it all went wrong for Shane. With Thomas “Don’t call me Don Dumbassini” Costa making it past his man, the Shane defender grabbed hold of the Lions attacker, and – as last man – was correctly sent off.
With time running out, and the pitch resembling more an Olympic swimming pool than a football pitch, the Lions surged forwards, knowing that this was their only opportunity to get back in to the game. Yet with 5 minutes to play, and 2 goals down, they knew it was a big task. And still they pushed forwards, with Thomas “Don’t call me Don Dumbassini” Costa getting his hat-trick (and thus moving to the top of the CPL goal scoring table). Hope was revived in the Lions camp, and a couple of corners followed, with Mao coming in to the Shane half, in the belief that it was the final minute. The corner was sliced off for a Shane goal kick, the keeper taking his time (which is exactly what the Lions would do in similar circumstances) with the ensuing kick. Casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that this game was over.
But despite time running out, the Lions weren’t finished, and with Tim “Brutus” Brown finding Panda in the Shane penalty area, he twisted and turned, looking for some space to shoot, but instead laid it off to Thomas “Don’t call me Don Dumbassini” Costa to shoot – agonisingly for Shane – low to the keeper’s left to draw the Lions level in an amazing turnabout of fortune. 4-4, with a minute left to play.
And that was it – job done. At least, the Lions seemed to think so, but Shane was now lifted, wanting the three points for that elusive victory more than ever, and with the Lions midfielders congratulating each other on an exceptional job, the defence was once more pulled completely out of position, with Charles on the left beaten and Barras forced in to covering a low cross came in where not one, but two Shane players were left completely unmarked. This – surely – was the moment where Shane would retake the lead, but Mao – against all odds – dived upon the fast-paced cross, and, in a show of determination that is totally uncharacteristic of the man, held on to it, as he and the ball skimmed several metres past Shane’s number 9 Steve to maintain that valuable single point for the Lions.
As Mao pumped the ball upfield, his one and only straight kick of the day, the referee decided that was enough of a soaking for the day and blew his whistle, signalling the end of what was an amazing game.
With two teams now fighting for the final remaining play-off spot, Shane remain in 6th, 4 points behind JFC with a game in hand, and these two meet next weekend, with the Lions up against the Celts. And if the Lions play with the same complacency that they have shown in the last couple of games, then it could well be an embarrassing result in store.
But once more, true Lions spirit was shown in the final minutes of the game against Shane, the spoils shared, Thomas “Don’t call me Don Dumbassini” Costa’s boots the cream of the Red Lions yet again.