The Taipei Red Lions came through a potentially tricky opening day fixture against International in the BML with a hard fought, yet rather complacent performance. In his first competitive match as captain, Godfather decided to select 16 players to play, those failing to make the cut deciding to stay home and sulk rather than head to Bai Ling to support the team. Obvious exceptions to this were Lions stalwarts Paddy and Rooney, on their collective triumphant return.
Godfather decided to rest himself, obviously still disgusted at his own performance against JFC a couple of weeks back, allowing Mirko, Salah, Ian and Ichi, the North Korean border guard, to play the midfield roles, with Christian, Ant, Genghis and Paul “Ginger Elvis” Hemingay at the back. This left Jaime and Tim “Brutus” Brown as the North American force up front. Your humble narrator was placed between the sticks. Alongside Godfather on the bench were Clovis, Charles, Fred and Alonso, who obviously has inherited Fred’s mastery of arriving late.
Tim “Brutus” Brown was surprisingly named as on-pitch captain, and he duly won the coin toss, electing to play with the wind in the first half, despite his own wish not to. International kicked off, and that was about as much as they saw of the ball for the first 5 minutes. Once the Lions had won the ball, Ian getting a nice early challenge in, the Lions looked extremely comfortable on the ball, passing to feet and in to space, International chasing shadows as the Lions enjoyed almost entire dominance in terms of possession.
But the problem with having possession is that unless you take shots on goal, possession essentially counts for nothing and with a host of quick midfielders and attackers, International were quick on the break on those brief moments where they did actually win the ball back. Ant made some most excellently timed, strong tackles on a couple of attackers as the Lions played physically, trying to intimidate the opponents. Indeed, the entire Lions back row needed to be alert on several occasions in the initial period, although the Lions goal was never really in any danger during this time.
Having said that, it was the Lions keeper who was brought in to action first, easily holding a tame shot that was sent in directly at him. Still the Lions were pushing forward, looking for an opening, and around midway through the half the Lions registered their first shot of the game. Now that they had worked out where the goal was, and what was needed to be done, a few more shots were taken, one bringing out a fine reflex save from the International keeper as it took an interesting bounce.
One the Lions left wing, Ian was combining nicely with Jaime up front, Mirko and Salah in the centre of midfield were simply dictating terms, and Ichi on the right wing was finding plenty of space. Tim “Brutus” Brown chased every ball that came even remotely his way, shutting down the defenders, allowing them no time to settle, making sure that the Lions could win back the ball in midfield.
However when the Lions switched to the areas of space, instead of running across to help out, the Lions collectively admired the fact that the pass had made it to the intended recipient and thus left the player to fight all on his own. Alas this happened on more than one occasion, and the Lions were left to chase once more to win back possession.
With around a half hour gone, some great play on the Lions right saw Jaime and Ichi playing some intricate passes before the cross came in low and hard. The on-pitch captain timed his run to almost German-esque precision, Tim von Brownhausen tucking the ball away for a deserved 1-0 Lions lead.
If the Lions thought that this would kill off the opponents, they were wrong, and indeed International responded with some asserted pressure of their own, winning a couple of free kicks just outside the Lions area, the Lions keeper asking for a wall on only one occasion, the ball flying way over the bar. On other, wall-less occasions, International seemed confused, and could muster only a very weak shot which finally trickled through to the Lions number 17.
As the half wore to a close, International won a corner from their left wing, the ball being swept in, cannoning off Ant’s boot towards the Lions’ goal, bringing out a fine reflexive save from your humble chronicler.
There would be no more noteworthy action in the first half.
Godfather changed things around for the second half, bringing himself on in place of Ichi, Salah now switching to the wing, Fred going on up front for Tim von Brownhausen. Charles was also introduced in place of Genghis, with Alonso and Clovis left on the bench to come on later.
The second half initially saw a bit more fight from the Lions although complacency was still the biggest threat. International were swift to counter attack when the Lions lost the ball, and the Lions were slow in getting back occasionally. Thankfully the back four of Ginger Elvis, Christian, Charles and Ant stood firm, making well timed challenges whenever needed, Ant’s communication faultless as he arranged cover in the centre of defence when he needed to go wide.
In midfield Mirko and Godfather were fighting hard to win possession on this narrow pitch B at Bai Ling, the BML organizers obviously having done a fine job of doing nothing whatsoever to improve the quality of the playing surface during the off-season. Fred too was making himself available, finding space and competing for every ball as the Lions looked to increase their lead. Ian on the left wing saw a lot of the ball, interlinking with the attack on several occasions.
The Lions though got just the opportunity they were looking for after perhaps a quarter of an hour Salah danced through the middle before firing home from what seemed like a most tight angle to give the lions a 2 goal cushion. However this goal, coupled with the Lions’ over-confidence and the introduction of Henry, the man who is the BML whore, having played for almost every team in the league, saw International grow in confidence. The Lions were now on the back foot, Ant once again being brought in to action as the International attack and midfield streamed through the Lions. Thankfully most of the International players are selfish tossers, who want to beat every single player before slotting the ball home, thus covering themselves in eternal glory. This plan was ever so slightly flawed as the combination of Charles, Ant and Christian crowded those players out.
And when you thought all the guy needs to do is pass the ball out to the two unmarked attackers on the International right wing, instead the attacker decided to take one more touch, then another, then another before losing it, allowing the Lions to clear. International did threaten the Lions goal a little more though, a low hard shot from the left was not held cleanly by the Lions keeper, but thankfully he was able to pounce on the rebound before anyone else.
Shortly afterwards, a rasping shot was hit from inside the area, Mao getting the slightest of touches as the ball just went wide of the far post. As Jaime so eloquently put it, the Lions keeper landed like a sack of potatoes. The referee signaled the goal kick.
Alonso was brought on, as was Clovis, as the Lions looked to shore up this lead, and with the Lions now creating few chances up front, a more defensive battle was on. But shortly after the introduction of the final sub, the Lions were down to 10 men, Salah getting a facial injury. But thankfully the Lions opposition was not able to make anything of their numerical advantage.
As the clock wound down, Clovis valiantly went in for a header against the International attacker (already yellow carded) who decided to try an audacious overhead kick, missing the ball completely, instead connecting heavily with Clovis’ head. If Mao had previously landed like a sack of potatoes, then Clovis landed like a sack of lead potatoes. The referee had no choice but to give the International attacker his second yellow, International down to ten, the Lions now down to nine.
And just over a minute later, the ref blew his whistle for the end of the game, the Lions having ground out a far from convincing victory. 3 points, however, were in the bag, although they will have to perform better than this in coming games to mount a challenge on the BML title.
At the end of the match, the International attacker who was sent off came over to apologise to Clovis.
“If your heart is as soft as your eye,” he said, “I know you will forgive me.”
“If your dick is as hard as your foot, here’s my phone number.”