Red Lions 1 Fritz 1
The Red Lions had their first major test of the season on Sunday, the game against Fritz traditionally a tough match, not just because of the opposition but also– on many past occasions – because of decisions made by those officiating. The pitch – if that is the right word for the crappy, uneven playing surface – at Bai Ling resembles more a mud slurry, making it hardly ideal for Chancy “Oh Captain My Captain” Cooke’s preferred short passing on the ground. Then again, the Fritz passing game that we have seen over many seasons would also be affected by the dreadful state of the field. But perhaps because of – or indeed possibly even in spite of – the fact that the Lions’ beloved captain was not around, the duties of team management for the day fell upon Rooney.
Lining up with a 4-5-1 formation, the idea was to contain Fritz with that extra midfielder, and rely instead on the midfield also getting forward quickly to support Fred, chosen as first choice striker after his second half hat-trick in the previous match.
The midfield consisted of Bryan, Francois and Mirko in the middle, with Jaime finally allowed out of goal after his breath-taking clean sheet against San Chong on Thursday, and Mora on the wings, with the back 4 consisting of Clovis, Charles, Kim Sun Il, and Ant. Your humble chronicler – fresh from serving a one game ban for that vicious, malicious red card – was in goal.
With the pitch being bobbly, this was not going to be a pretty game, but it started at a frenetic pace, yet within minutes the Lions were forced in to a change, with Bryan injuring himself within the first few minutes. Thomas Costa Concordia, the man who goes down quicker than a Mediterranean cruise ship, was brought on to replace him.
As it was almost impossible to play the ball to feet, both teams reverted to passing the ball in to space, although the Lions had to learn this the hard way, perhaps being too used to the Da Jia pitches which – possibly for the first time in history – are in a better state than Bai Ling.
Both teams were trying to forge chances, with both keepers being brought in to action, the Lions with one opportunity to open the scoring when Thomas Costa Concordia, the man who goes down quicker than a Mediterranean cruise ship, stole the ball off a Fritz defender on the wing, and delivered the most tempting of crosses to Fred who was waiting in the middle. The Lions attacker drove the ball in, and you thought it was 1-0 Lions, but somehow the Fritz keeper found himself close enough, and made a spectacular save.
Moments later the ball was down the Lions end, and from a not too dissimilar position, you thought it was Fritz who would go 1 up, but a combination of a fluffed shot and a decently (for once) positioned keeper ensured that the ball stayed out – for the moment at least – of the Lions goal.
Mirko was running after every ball, and Jaime and Clovis on the left hand flank were constantly under pressure but for some reason they seemed always to be out-manned, the Fritz attack being able to pull the Lions out of position, yet the final pass to that overlapping man failed to make its target.
On the right, Ant was making some excellent, well timed tackles, and on the one occasion he was beaten, just as the Fritz attacker was about to pull the trigger, the ball bobbled and off it went harmlessly for a goal kick.
The Ant-Mora combination though was not working quite as well as it had in the San Chong game, but that did not stop the two from working hard to supply the Lions attack and support the central midfield, as they made life very difficult for the Fritz opposition.
Francois was covering every blade of grass on the field, closing down the opponent at every opportunity, giving Fritz no time to settle on the ball.
Fritz were making some hard tackles, which got some midfielders whining to the referee that he should do something about it. Mao was heard to say “Stop shouting at the ref – that’s my job.”
With about a half hour gone though, Fritz took the lead with a rocket of a shot after the Lions failed to clear their lines, Mao getting a slight touch but nothing near enough, as the ball whistled in high at the near post.
The Lions tried to get back in to the game, and were unlucky not to equalize when the Fritz keeper made a spectacular save from a Thomas Costa Concordia, the man who goes down quicker than a Mediterranean cruise ship, rocket shot.
So 1-0 down at half time, but the Lions were by no means out of this contest. Rooney changed the formation to a more attacking 3-5-2, Gay Judas being brought on to partner Thomas Costa Concordia, the man who goes down quicker than a Mediterranean cruise ship, up front. Charles and Clovis were brought off, Jaime dropping to a defensive role, Genghis “Edwin” Khan on the left midfield.
And this change brought an immediate dividend, as within seconds of the restart, the Lions prowled in to the Fritz penalty area, with Thomas Costa Concordia, the man who goes down quicker than a Mediterranean cruise ship, finally being brought down, and all players – with one exception – waiting for the referee to blow for a penalty, the Polack playing a super-sub role by slotting the ball home for the equalizer. 1-1, and game on.
For the next ten minutes, Fritz seemed shell-shocked and it was the Lions who looked to build on this psychological advantage. Gradually though, Fritz gained the upper hand, and for the middle part of the second half, the Lions goal was under constant pressure, the combination of Kim Sun Il, Jaime and Ant standing resolute, making exceptionally timed tackles and blocks, as the Lions looked to retain this hard-earned point.
Your humble chronicler may or may not have also played some small part, possibly having made a save or two, during this most intense of pressure periods.
Gradually though, Fritz seemed to run out of energy and ideas, and the Lions were able to fight their way back in to the match, with the fine Lions midfield putting pressure on their opponents, Fritz no longer sure what to do in order to gain the advantage. They had given up on the usual tactics of shouting “Ai” every time a Lion was within 15 metres of them, but seemed not to know what to do instead.
As the game entered the final period, Genghis “Edwin” Khan made a fantastic block on the edge of the Lions area as Fritz looked to take a long distance shot, the Lions midfielder taking it like a man.
Sergay and Panda were brought on, Sergay fighting for every ball, perhaps a little too much given the nature of the game, and the opponents. And with just a few minutes remaining, Francois ran out of energy and cramped up fully, with Rooney being the final sub, and coming on to also make a valuable contribution for the last minutes of the game.
The ref blew the whistle for the end of the game, both teams having to settle for a point in this well fought, and evenly balanced game. The ref – it must be said – was absolutely outstanding.
The point leaves both teams 5 points behind City, who have played one game more, and with the City match coming up next weekend for the Lions, it promises to be a cracking game.