If ever there was a time to get over a poor performance, this was it. The Lions came in to the match against Rogue FC after a miserable and abject performance against Fritz. Indeed that was such a poor collective showing that not even a match report could be written that would come close to describing the game without thoroughly demoralizing the team for all eternity.
The Pitch of Darkness at Bai Ling, where half the floodlights are broken, and the other half point anywhere but the goal areas, was the scene of the resurrection of the Red Lions, against the team led by former Red Lion, the Gay Judas Polack. With the game being played on a Thursday night, both teams seemed to be struggling slightly for numbers, but for the Lions it was a case of quality over quantity, with the starting line up consisting of:
Christian “Scrachi” Peluso, Kim Sun Il, Jose and Genghis “Edwin” Khan in defence, Irn Bru Daz, Mirko the Carp, Andy the Bear, Fred and Spike in midfield, with Joliet James up front on his own. Your humble chronicler once more was in goal. On the bench, Mora and TB were ready and raring to come on.
In an interesting turn of events, the Gay Judas Polack managed to play because the BML ref had taken the wrong number down in the previous game when handing out yellow cards. Ant, whose appeal by the Red Lions was – in typical local fashion – completely ignored by the BML, after being yellow carded against Fritz for a tackle that the referee later acknowledged to be perfectly legitimate, was still suspended. Oh those joys of irony from the BML.
Kick off then, and the Lions showed their hand, to change sporting metaphors for a moment, immediately, giving the Rogues no time whatsoever to settle on the ball. Fair, but firm challenges were raining in from all players, as the Lions pinned down the opposition in their own half. When the ball was cleared, the respite was merely temporary, with the Lions mopping up at the back like a man in a restaurant would mop up gravy with his last morsel of bread. Nothing was going to get through. Not tonight. The Lions were possessed, eager to atone for Sunday, the smell of revenge in their collective nostrils. And Rogue FC was the prey.
In the centre of midfield, Scottish Terrier Irn Bru Daz was staking his claim to be the first Red Lion to cover every single blade of grass and every single speck of dust on both Bai Ling pitches, never seeming to tire, and shutting down the entire Rogue midfield almost singlehandedly. In fact, some could be tempted to say that he is more TB-esque than TB himself.
On the right wing, Fred was having one of his finer games, always looking for the ball and laying off an intelligent, simple pass, to feet or in to space so that Joliet James or whoever could run on to it. He and Scrachi Peluso were working together very nicely along the right, any casual observer would be thinking this Italo-Swedish combination had come straight from the catwalks of Milan or Stockholm.
Up front, Joliet James responded to some post-Fritz match accusations that he had not run enough by working his socks off, running on to any ball played forwards on the flank, and putting the opposing defence under the sorts of pressure that had seen the Lions undefeated until the previous encounter.
Despite the dominance, the Lions could not find their way past an inspired Rogue goalkeeper who made a string of fine saves to thwart the Lions attack, palming a ball over for a corner, or making one superb outstretched save when it looked as if the ball had gone past him.
But for all his fine work, Rogues were always on the back foot in the first half, the only action of note at the other end being a blocked shot by Kim Sun Il which had been struck ferociously, the Red Lions defender’s positioning absolutely spot on.
Genghis was also having a good game at left back, getting in some excellent tackles, and not allowing the Rogue winger in to any dangerous positions. In fact, having seen his performance on Sunday, the Lions defence was exceptionally wary of letting the ball anywhere near their goalkeeper, your humble chronicler making only one relatively simple save during the course of the first half.
The Lions pushed though, wanting to make this dominance count, and with perhaps a quarter of an hour left in the first half, the breakthrough came. Having won another corner after some excellent all round attacking work, the ball was floated in to the 18 yard box with pinpoint precision by Andy the Bear, where Irn Bru Daz rose like a Scottish farmed salmon to power a header past the hapless keeper for a fully deserved 1-0 Lions lead.
After taking the lead, the Lions were on the back foot for a couple of minutes as Rogues tried desperately to get back in to the game, but the Lions defence held firm, the improvisational back four standing firm to deny any goal scoring opportunity for their opponents. And gradually the Lions gained possession, and momentum, and once more the pendulum swung in the Lions’ direction, the pressure once more being mounted on the Rogues’ goal.
Yet for all the pressure, the Lions were unable to build on the slender advantage, and half time arrived with a slender 1-0 lead for the Lions, and both teams knowing that this game was still far from over.
Jose needed to come off, and was replaced by TB which meant that Mirko needed to drop in to defence for the 2nd half. Kim Sun Il mentioned that the Rogues had also brought on a sub up front, a player whose talent was his speed. And this was plainly seen within seconds of the restart, as the ball made its way in to the Lions penalty area, only for the aforementioned Rogues player to zoom through all the defenders and find his way to the ball. Thankfully his way to goal was blocked, so he was pushed wide, the danger being cleared finally by the Lions defenders.
For the first ten minutes of the second half, it seemed like the Rogues were the hungrier team, perhaps buoyed by the fact that the Lions had only scored one when in truth they should have been out of sight by the break. Yet the Lions, now kicking against the wind, gradually fought their way back in to the game, winning possession by a truly possessed midfield that just would not lay down. Tirelessly the entire outfield team fought for the ball, hustling for everything, pressuring and making sure that the opponents made mistakes.
But once more there was a lack of harmony within the team. Perhaps this slender lead just edging the Lions tempers enough. Mao sliced a drop kick direct to the opposing attacker, Mirko the Carp shouting out “Concentrate”. Thankfully the ball made its way back to the Lions keeper, and the next drop kick went way over Mirko the Carp’s head.
Shortly afterwards, Joliet James made a comment in his famous Sicilian dialect to Christian “Scrachi” Peluso, and whereas it was obvious to most that he meant to say “don’t worry Christian – the next one will be fine”, he mis-spoke ever so slightly, the translation instead coming across as “You paesano son of an Albanian whore”.
Needless to say, Scrachi was slightly upset at this.
Immediately after this confrontation, the Lions had a goal kick. Mao asked Scrachi to take it. Scrachi, the paesano son of an Albanian whore, refused. Mao took the kick.
Miraculously, whereas the kick itself was nothing truly special, it did actually make its way to Irn Bru Daz, who in turn passed it out to the right wing, where the ball landed at Fred’s feet, he went past his defender, played the ball in to Joliet James who tonked the ball past the hapless keeper, giving the Lions a 2-0 lead, and a bit of a cushion.
And still Rogues did not capitulate like they did against Hong Min. Instead they came out fighting, and put the Lions under pressure once more. They forced a series of corners, the Gay Judas Polack deciding that the weakest link in the Lions defence was the goalkeeper (God knows who told him that State secret), so he put the ball on the Lions number 17. Three times he tried, three times the Lions keeper punched to safety or caught the ball. Yea, how do you fecking like that you Judas tosser?
Somewhere along the line, El Frijolero had come on, and I have no idea who he replaced, but anyway this is not relevant.
With just a few minutes left to play, the Lions played some more sweet possession football, and finally the ball made it through the middle to El Frijolero who scored an absolute stunner. If his winner against Peacock a few weeks previously had been a tad fortunate, then this was anything but. The shot was hit so beautifully, it curled, it dipped, it looped over the keeper and in to the net. 3-0 and a truly unassailable lead. Rogues resistance was now completely broken, and there was no more action of note at the Red Lions end. Actually, there was also no more action of note anywhere, with Rogues not offering anything, and the Lions now knowing the game was done and dusted.
It really was a team performance to rival the one which saw the Lions beat Peacock a few weeks earlier and one which would definitely have those watching (not that there was anyone) worrying about how to beat them. The ghost of Fritz games past had been put to rest, the Lions were back, and the rehashed joke about the Rogues (see post passim) could once more be circulated.
Gong Xi Fa Cai!