Some might see it as two points lost. Others may see it as a point gained, but whichever way you look at it, there can be no denying that the Red Lions were involved heavily in a battle with Hong Min, the champions of 2010-11. Many Red Lions will no doubt be waking up with battle scars after a hard-fought game, with each and every player in the squad playing a significant role in making sure the Red Lions remain unbeaten so far this season.
With Godfather electing on a 4-4-2 formation, the Lions starting line up was Christian “Scrachi” Peluso and Paul “Ginger Elvis” Hemingay as full backs, with Charles and Ant in the central defensive positions. In midfield, Ian “Jimmy Glass” Billett and Ichi took the wings, with Andy the Bear and Godfather in the middle. Up front were Jaime and Fred. Your humble chronicler was once again to be found in goal.
The rain was never going to make this game an easy or pretty one, but perhaps it did suit the Red Lions a little more, and with this knowledge the defensive line was pushed up to allow any through balls to – hopefully – be picked up by the Lions keeper. But for the opening few minutes, the Lions didn’t even get a sniff of the ball, Hong Min happy to play possession, passing it around at the back, looking for an opening on the wings. The Lions midfield and defence though were alert and waiting for the runs of the Hong Min attackers, and so very little action was to be seen in the initial period.
The Red Lions central midfield of Andy the Bear and Godfather was kept busy, shutting down the opposition and making tackles, forcing the opposition back to try to start another attack, Jimmy Glass on the left wing was making some excellent runs, and linking well with Ginger Elvis at the back. On the right, Ichi and Scrachi also seem to have developed an understanding, although perhaps one could suggest that they were a little too close to one another on occasions. Up front, Jaime was his usual no nonsense, gung ho self, making sure that his opponents were very much aware of his presence, with Fred also in no mood for generousity.
But the first goal mouth action of note was at the Red Lions end, after a good through ball on the Hong Min right wing allowed the number 33 to be played in for a one on one with Mao in goal, the Lions keeper making the save before the ball was cleared to safety.The Lions opposition was on the offensive now but Charles and Ant kept their concentration high, making important, strong and fair challenges to keep the opponents at bay.
The Lions attacking chances were few, but on one occasion half way through the first half Jimmy Glass whipped in a pinpoint cross from the wing to Jaime who rose like a salmon with what looked like a free head to power the ball past the
useless hapless keeper. Your humble narrator is firmly of the opinion that he would have saved this one too. 1-0 Lions, and perhaps not fully undeserved.
Hong Min responded immediately, turning the heat up on the Lions midfield and defence, but with the Red Lions back line remaining firm and very well organised their opportunities too were limited and they quickly ran out of ideas. As the half started to wind down, off went Andy the Bear with an injury, his replacement being Mirko the Carp who slotted in seamlessly to fill the void in central midfield.
The Lions keeper was called in to action once more though in another one on one situation, again making good contact with the ball before collecting the rebound as it bounced and skidded off this most slippery of playing surfaces.
Hong Min now looked truly as though they had no more ideas as to how to wear down the Red Lions defence, and for the final few minutes of the half, the Lions were playing the sort of possession football that is such a joy to watch, with plenty of short sweet first time passes to feet, movement off the ball.
Half time came and the rain increased in intensity for the occasion as the Lions trudged off the pitch. During the break the playing conditions deteriorated and the puddles that had appeared in the first half had now become lakes.
As the floodlights came on for the second half, the lights having been turned away from the goal areas even more than previously to ensure good illumination in the middle of the park, and total darkness for the 6 yard areas, it was the Lions who once again dominated the opening seconds of the final 45 minutes, keeping possession and playing short, sweet passes on the sort of surface where – perhaps – it might not have been quite the right tactic to do so. As the ball got stuck in the water regularly, the Lions failed to change their tactics to playing on the right wing, where the puddles were fewer, or even to the England national team’s pastime of route one football.
And as such Hong Min took advantage on several occasions. Many times, the central defensive combination of Charles and Ant was called in to action, standing tall as giants to make sure that there was no way through for the Hong Min attack. Hong Min were awarded a free kick just inside Lions territory which was floated in to the area, and it looked as though the Red Lions keeper had perhaps come too far, and was about to be lobbed from 50 metres, but your humble scribe flapped at the ball, getting the slightest touch which just took the ball off its’ original course on off for a corner.
Mr Liu was doing a good job as referee, with Hong Min handling the ball, but the Lions in possession, Mr Liu shouting “Play” to keep the game flowing. The Lions then lost advantage, the ball then came off a Lions hand, but Hong Min were in possession, Mr Liu once more reiterating his desire to keep the game moving by the lack of whistle action.
He certainly was not going to be sucked in by the blatant dive of the number 33 once more as he entered the Lions penalty area, lost control of the ball under a little bit of pressure from Ant, and then fell to the ground demanding a penalty. Mao would have had it anyway, as the shot would have gone to the Lions’ keeper’s left. Mr Liu signaled goal kick for the Lions, the back four of the Lions all repulsed by the cheating tactics of their opponents.
The Red Lions however were losing composure at times, panic perhaps setting in as they tried desperately to hold on to this slender lead. On several occasions the ball was knocked off for a thrown when it could have been hit up the field, or even sliced off for a corner, but despite knocking at the door, the entire team played its own role in ensuring the ball was cleared.
This is not to say, however, that there were not a few scares on the way, with one cross coming in from the Hong Min right flank, Charles going in with a diving header but also flying in a little too low, the ball skimming off his head and was goal bound until a reflexive save from the Lions keeper kept the ball out of the goal, spinning off for yet another Hong Min corner.
Time was beginning to run out, Godfather’s energy had already done so as he lay in a puddle with cramp. To preserve this lead, time wasting tactics were now employed by the Lions, as a series of substitutions were made, Mora coming on, Panda coming on and leaving his mark on a Hong Min defender within a matter of 11 seconds.
Several niggly tackles were now being committed by both sides, some poorly timed, some just because Hong Min are a bunch of uber-aggressive cheating twats.
With just minutes to go before the final whistle, and the Lions hanging on in there, Hemingay was penalized for a push in the back just outside the area. Mao in goal arranged the wall where he wanted it, but instead of staying where he was told to be, Ichi instead got pulled to the right by Jimmy Glass. The Hong Min attacker took full advantage of this gaping hole with his free kick. The ball was bent
like Clovis round the wall and hit the inside of the post before rippling the net.
This seemed to affect the Lions, the heads seemed to drop for a moment, Hong Min now looking the more likely of the two teams to get a winner, but Genghis was brought on for the final two minutes, Tim “Brutus” Brown for the final 60 seconds, as the Lions stood firm for a most hard fought of points.
After the game the Lions headed to Frankies for post match drinks and banter, Paddy the Monk sizing up Clovis’ new boyfriend by giving him a good squeeze in the crotch. Mike Leonhard also turned up – his first public appearance in Taiwan since getting hitched. Somehow too Judas was invited to our sponsor, where he failed miserably to buy a round, the cheap Polish bastard.
Up next, Taipei City, and the Lions can expect another hard game against the current champions who once more dropped points at the weekend. This season’s BML is truly wide open, and there is no reason why the Lions should not be right up there in the mix at the end if they can produce splendid team efforts like this one throughout the season.