City beat Fritz to go Top

Time: 7pm, January 9th, 2010
Venue: Bai Ling Bridge Riverside Park

By Alice Davis and Michael Christie

With lashings of rain for a week beforehand, some doubted if the game would go ahead. But the skies cleared on Friday afternoon, so it was surprisingly warm and dry when the top two teams of the BML took to the field at 7pm on Saturday evening. The preparations were good by all the City players, Dan and Ross gave a serious team talk before the game which was just what everybody needed. The starting line-up was Dale Neal in goal; a back four of John Philips, Tim Murphy, Yunusa Njie and Matt Wharton; Ed Cartee and Ross Conlon on the left and right flanks, with Mike O’Gorman and Ebrima Njie in centre midfield; and, Dan Calvert and Dawda Fatty up front. The new, experimental formation wasn’t really tested last weekend. Nevertheless, the management stuck to their strategy of providing more cover in defensive positions and nicking a goal at the other end rather than being drawn into a straight shootout with Fritz.

From the moment the game kicked off it was evident that both sides meant business, as did the referee who had awarded Ebrima a yellow card for a crunching tackle on the opposition before the first 60 seconds were up. Fritz looked commanding at first, but City didn’t lose spirit. Early shots from Dawda and Calvert helped the Blues reinforce a confidence they needn’t feel guilty of showing, and they had taken the reins from the champions by the end of the first ten minutes. Fritz, however, are not easy to tame, and the sides settled into a lively game at tempo, both looking for the attacking advantage.

Fritz took the first corner of the game, which was well-handled by City’s defence, but they kept possession and Fritz’s 18 tried his luck as he shot just over the bar. City persistently worked away at the opposition as Fritz tried to build up momentum. Their persistence prevented Fritz from taking the initiative and, apart from an edgy moment when a Fritz free kick went close at the 20-minute mark, City can be proud they looked like a strong, calm, organized team even under pressure.

The result of this was a string of chances, with almost everyone on the City side being able to have a go at goal. Dawda and Calvert kept up the pressure, and a long, low shot from Cartee skimmed the woodwork. But with nothing yet to show for their perseverance, frustrations were becoming visible as halftime grew nearer. As Calvert and Conlon tried to keep City from losing their calm, a couple of great saves from Dale ensured City hadn’t conceded as they walked off the pitch at 45 minutes. But they hadn’t scored, either.

At halftime, Alex Ramirez replaced Conlon on the left wing, but the game re-started mirroring the first half, this time with a Fritz player notching up a yellow card for a tackle on Ebrima in the first minute. City kept looking to score, and though the second half saw fewer shots than the first, play remained organized and the defence and midfield kept working hard to create the canvas for a goal.

An interesting piece of refereeing saw a Fritz player booked for shirt-tugging incident, but then, as if to balance out the punishment, the free kick was awarded to Fritz. As the referee grew more myopic the game became more heated. A foul near the City goal was so blatant everyone looked to the ref for the whistle. The whistle failed to sound though, and Dale was lucky Fritz did not manage to capitalize on his lull in concentration. He soon made up for the error as he was forced into making a couple of saves. At this stage Michael Christie replaced Ebrima who had worked tirelessly covering ground in the midfield all day.

At around 20 minutes, City finally reaped the rewards they had been working so hard for with a goal. The prolific Calvert guided a fine header into the Fritz net from a long speculative cross. Ten minutes later, Dawda and Calvert went close, but it was Ramirez who knocked in Fritz’s third failed attempt to clear the box to sew up what was certainly a deserved victory. Mamadi Colley replaced Calvert in the final minutes giving the Fritz defence more fresh legs to worry about. Solid teamwork was the backbone of this display, and all City’s players ought to congratulate themselves on a motivated, confident performance that had plenty of moments magic. A well-earned three points puts City two points ahead of their skilled opponents.

The defence held strong and the midfield always provided the cover to stifle the Fritz forwards. The spaces were unusually restricted so both teams had to be precise with their passing in all areas of the park. Eventually, Taipei City showed more dynamism and had more of the element of surprise going forward. Taipei City were the better team on the night. With a performance like that, some people were asking how we lost to Rogue earlier in the season. The answer is Rogue were the better team on the day, a lesson in preparation that City need to take into every game they play.

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