With a huge amount of Lions away for various reasons, the weekend arrived with the Lions looking as though they may have trouble fielding a full team. Fred was due back, arriving in Taoyuan shortly after kick off, Paddy the Monk and Andy the Bear were still enjoying the exotic climes of Thailand, Mirko the Carp was being supersized, Ant was suspended, Bryan was away, Jarkko was back in Finland, Volker and Genghis “Edwin” Khan were in a love motel in Shanghai, Clovis was jealous of the previous two, and had decided to wimp out feigning injury… the list just goes on.
Thankfully though, twelve Red Lions did finally assemble at the
Shi Lin Community Gymkana Stadium Bai Ling pitch as Fritz went about beating the reigning champions Hong Min, maintaining the pressure on the top two teams, Lions and City. For the record, those twelve are: Kim “Butterscotch” Sun Il, Paul “Don’t call me Ginger” Hemingay, Charles and Jose-Roberto in defence, Jaime, OG, Thomas and Sergay in midfield, with Panda and Tim “Brutus” Brown up front. Mora was sub. Mao was in goal.
Sanchong, on the other hand, have shown themselves to be the JFC of the BML, turning up early and warming up for 2 hours prior to the game, with a squad of about 20.
The late kick off meant that it was a little cooler, with perfect conditions for football, as the sun sank slowly somewhere over the other side of the river. Sanchong had a lot of the play in the opening minutes, but the Red Lions midfield quartet chased every ball, allowing the opponents no time whatsoever to mount a meaningful attack.
Up front, despite plenty of running, TB and Panda were not able to find the sort of space they needed to put the goalkeeper under pressure.
OG and Thomas were instrumental in their running, with OG impressing not least of all because he had just played 90 minutes for Carnegies in the CPL. On the wing, Sergay and James were also both making impressive runs, opening up some space, but the final ball was failing the Lions, and Sanchong managed to clear pretty much everything without breaking in to a sweat.
At the back, the impressive Lions defence was holding firm, playing a fairly deep back line to counter the threat of Sanchong’s fast attackers.
The first 15 to 20 minutes saw very little action of any kind, Sanchong looking like a mid-table team, the Lions struggling to string passes together on this most bobbly pitch. The first goal mouth action of note came when Sanchong opened up the Lions defence, the attacker placing a low shot in the corner of the goal which Mao managed to get a hand to, knocking it off for a corner.
With their obvious height advantage, the Lions were able to win just about all aerial challenges, so clearing the ball from the corner kick was not the most difficult of issues. However the opponents did occasionally try to mix things up with a short corner, the Lions keeping awake to this ploy, and closing down well.
As the half wore on, the Lions gained more of the initiative, but despite the hard work of the midfield and attackers, those final passes just lacked precision, and despite most of the play being in our opponent’s half, the Lions just could not find a way through.
Not long before the half time whistle, it was the Lions keeper who was once more called in to action as the defence was split by a beautiful pass, the Sanchong attacker in on a one on one with the Lions keeper who somehow managed to get the slightest of touches with his foot to force a corner.
From the corner, the call of “AWAY” was heard, as the ball made its way over towards Hemingay, the Lions player ending up under more pressure than he needed to be, as he ambled across that one metre to finally clear the ball.
Half time then, 0-0 the score, and a pretty even match with the Lions having more possession, Sanchong shading in terms of chances.
Chancy “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” Cooke decided not to make that one change at half time, and gave those words of wisdom that we just needed to pass to feet and the chances would come.
And come they did. Almost immediately after kick off, the Lions surged forwards, sensing that they had survived the worst of what Sanchong could aim at them, the kids looking slightly disinterested in the second half, perhaps having heard Jaime’s comment that the dreams of Taiwan youth were about to be destroyed.
From a corner the ball was bundled home, but the referee spotted an infringement on the goalkeeper, and so any Red Lions cries of injustice were muted.
TB was then brought off, Mora replacing him up front, as the Lions used their sub early. All of a sudden, Jaime and Mora were combining well and putting pressure on the Sanchong defence. With the support of OG and Thomas, as well as Sergay on the right, Panda and Mora were now linking together nicely, finding space to get shots off.
This sustained period of pressure was rewarded fairly early in the half when the Lions were awarded a free kick just outside the Sanchong penalty area. The ball was floated in by OG to Panda who headed the ball back across the goal, allowing Jaime to tonk the ball in past the despairing dive of the Sanchong goalkeeper to give the Lions a fully deserved 1-0 lead.
If Sanchong had looked disinterested at the beginning of the second half, then full boredom was not setting in, the youthful Sanchong team completely deflated and lacking fight. And with that the Lions pushed forwards, sensing another goal to put the game out of reach.
Within a couple of minutes of the first goal, the second one came, with Jaime receiving the ball on the right wing, delivering a low, hard cross to Panda who swept the ball nicely past the keeper, in pretty much the same place as Jaime had scored the first.
2-0 Lions, and essentially game over. The Lions now had all the possession, Sanchong looking like they just wanted to go home to watch Doraemon reruns on TV.
Darkness had now set in, the floodlights delivering a pitiful amount of light on to the pitch, but the Lions were arguably now playing their prettiest football, those beautiful single touch passes now finding their intended recipient as Sanchong gave the Lions more space and time, Thomas and OG now given free rein to marshal the midfield as the Lions pushed forwards.
Sanchong now hardly threatened at all, but in the final few minutes of the game they did mount one final challenge, a cross coming in from the Lions’ left wing where Kim “Butterscotch” Sun Il had two players closing in on him as the cross was delivered. Right at the very last second he dummied the ball, allowing it to go off for a goal kick, the look on the two Sanchong players saying something along the lines of “You fucking cunt” as they had been fully sucked in by the veteran’s move.
And that just about summed up the threat of the Sanchong team. The Lions saw out the final moments of the game with no real danger to Mao’s goal in the second half, another vintage defensive performance by the back four.
All in all, it was a very good fighting performance by the twelve Red Lions who know that they will need to play more of this kind of football next weekend in the big game against Fritz. With City also dropping points against Peacock, the Lions were able to move to within three points of the league leaders, the title race now truly wide open.