BML action returned to Bai Ling after the previous weekend’s confusion, and the Lions looked a lot hungrier for revenge over their City rivals. As the Lions assembled at the pitch, Mr Liu brought the bad news that not only was Bryan suspended, but so was Fred. This brought about some last ditch tactical changes from Chancy “Oh Captain TFC’s Captain” Cooke, opting for a much more sensible starting line up of 11 players rather than the 10 he had in the last game.
With Volker in goal, the Lions outfield lined up:
Kim Sun Il and Charles in central defence, Genghis “Edwin” Khan, Sergay, Mirko the Carp, Mike the OG, Carl and Mora, with TB and Panda up front. On the bench were Andy the Bear, Clovis, Thomassini, Mike the Lionheart (who arrived late), Jose Roberto (who arrived late) and – God help us all – Mao.
The Lions started well and looked like a team more up for the challenge, quite possibly because City had played the previous evening, and only had – at the time – one sub available. Still the Lions pressured, and shut their opponents down well, not allowing them time to settle, the team keeping their slim title hopes alive, knowing that nothing less than a win would do.
The first few minutes were bereft of goal scoring opportunities, all the play being in the middle of the park, neither goalkeeper being tested for the moment. Sergay received a yellow card for a most blatant hand ball, and this poor, weak challenge mirrored his performance on the day. He was swiftly brought off the park, replaced by Andy the Bear.
But as the middle of the half wore on, things were about to change. Mora received the ball on the right wing from a dainty little pass from Mirko the Carp, and sensing City’s midget keeper Dale off his line, lofted in an audacious lob over the keeper which – to the untrained eye – may well have looked like a slightly mishit cross, and despite the midget leaping (for leaping read tripping over), the ball went in for a perhaps unlikely and unexpected 1-0 lead for the Lions.
City’s response was alas swift and Dan Calvert was either asking his team mate for some spare change, or modifying the tactics, no one really knew, but they pushed forward, trying to put the Lions defence under some pressure. A succession of corners proved relatively easy for the Lions to deal with, but getting the ball under control enough to feed the front two seemed difficult.
City were pushing forward, hassling the Lions’ midfield, and putting the Lions defence under some pressure, one player finding space in the 6 yard box before bringing out a top drawer save from Volker, making a point-blank block.
Shortly afterwards though City scored, the Lions defence not clearing, and the attacker slotting the ball to bring the scores level at 1-1.
And more drama soon followed when Alex Ramires was brought down inside the penalty box, and the ref awarded the penalty. Thankfully for the Lions, it was Volker in goal, so there was never any doubt that the penalty would be saved. Ramires, however, did make it most easy for the Lions keeper, shooting a penalty that compared with Tim Brown’s weak efforts before his lifetime penalty taking ban came in to force.
Half time came then, and both teams came in level, the Lions not at all out of this game, and having played well enough to give them the confidence for the second half.
And it was the Lions who raced out of the blocks, with Mora timing his run to perfection as the City defence was ripped open, selflessly passing the ball to Panda, with Midget Dale way out of position. Panda merely needed to tap the ball in but as the ball was about to reach his foot the most cruel bobble known to man happened, Panda unable to react in time and the City defenders breathing a collective sigh of relief as they cleared their lines.
Not long after that Panda had a second opportunity, but with the goal at his mercy, alas the Lions forward shot wide. From the sidelines it looked easy, but Panda had worked well to get himself in to a shooting position.
In games against City you need to take these chances, and with Thomas now on for TB, Mike the Lionheart on for Mirko, and Jose on for – your humble chronicler believes – Genghis, the Lions pushed for the win.
And with the 4-3-3 formation, City were now able to exploit the holes in the midfield, bringing out yet another top drawer save from the Lions keeper Volker, who did exceptionally well to stretch far enough when the ball looked like it was flying in to the top corner.
But the pressure was now being put on the Lions goal, and with Clovis now on the field for his weekly 15 minutes of football, the Lions keeper was beaten. Thankfully Clovis had positioned himself perfectly for the shot, and was able to clear off the line.
For several minutes the Lions were not able to get the ball out of their own half, and with just a few minutes left, a shot came in which Volker saved, but perhaps could have done better with. Two defenders and the goalkeeper rushed out to get the ball, the attacker making it there first, and slotting the ball towards the line.
Charles though was sauntering in and you thought he had it. But from where your humble narrator was standing, it looked like he played the ball in to his own net, although he did state categorically after the game had finished that the ball had crossed the line before he got there.
Mora by this time was absolutely shafted and wanted off, but there were only two minutes left, and – oh for the love of Christ – one sub. Mao was brought on.
With the seconds ticking down, the Lions got a free kick in a dangerous position, from which Mao was blatantly pushed in the back. Alas the ref did not see it, the ball was cleared, the whistle blown for full time.
A lucky win for City, yet again, who seem to be able to grind out the results when the times get hard. The Lions hopes for the title are now well and truly over, but the fight for 2nd and 3rd place is still on. So as the Lions move in to the final weekend of BML games against Fritz and Hong Min, they can take the positives out of the City game and take on these final two opponents with still so much to play for.