International Boys Test City

Time: 7pm, January 8th, 2012
Venue: Bai Ling Bridge Riverside Park

By Michael Christie

Rescheduled to 7pm for arcane reasons unknown, the Bai Ling pitch had slightly longer to recover from the rain but it was still a wet, stodgy surface. Covered in sand, there were no puddles and it was not too slippery, but the bobbles made for some unpredictable bounces in a competitive match.

Without Ross Conlon’s customary input – his focus and enthusiasm was missed – it was left to Dan Calvert to give the pre-match team talk. He decided on a traditional 4-4-2 formation, with a back line of Dale Neal in goal, Matt Wharton at right-back, Brian McGuinness and Tom Clarke a central defensive pairing and Mamadi Colley at left-back. In midfield, Luis Mayorga was on the right, Alex Ramirez and Michael Christie were in the middle and Brian Fitzpatrick was on the left. Neao King and Dan Calvert were united up front.

The opposition mostly consisted of some obviously not fully mature but still well-fed schoolboys, bolstered by no less than two one-time City players, Jamaican Oliver Harley and New Zealander Richard Fisher.

The first ten minutes were a little tentative from both sides. Still, City pushed up more solidly and so had the better of this crucial period. City worked hard to close down space, while International had not yet found their confidence or their range.

Some good build-up play from City released Luis down the right flank. Having got behind the line, he crossed on the ground for Dan to run onto at the near post. Dan managed to push the ball and go outside the outstretched foot of the defender at the near post but the foot was stretched out quite long and Dan went to ground with a thud. In spite of complaints from the International defence, the referee was sure it was a penalty and so up stepped Brian McGuinness. His firmly struck kick beat the keeper and City was 1-0 up. A few minutes later City came forward again, though this time the keeper gathered the ball safely in his arms. Ah! The ball is never safe. While his defence was still pushing up out of the penalty box, with their eyes fixed somewhere up the field, he decided to throw the ball out to one of them. Unluckily, it hit the back heel of an unwitting defender and bounced back towards Dan who, alive to the opportunity, beat everybody else to the ball and clinically clipped it past the keeper.

International was a little shell-shocked to be 2-0 down with only twenty minutes gone. They were unlucky but didn’t give up playing football. Deciding to take the game to City, they were beginning to look dangerous. It was uncomfortable for City at times in midfield, though with Matt, Brian McGuinness, Tom and Mamadi composed at the back, International only managed a few threatening moves and no clear-cut chances. The offside trap worked well for City. Going forward, City had some good spells in possession, with Brian Fitzpatrick on the left, Alex Ramirez in the middle and Luis on the right all instrumental in some good link up play with Neao King and Dan Calvert up front. City’s third goal came when Dan latched onto a through ball in the inside right position and passed the ball inside to Neao, who had the speed to take the ball outside the defender and the composure to finish from a tight angle. While City was good going forward, International was able to find space for breakaway attacks. The youngsters were also becoming more confident in their skills, and while they sometimes lost the ball by attempting too much they also embarrassed some City players somewhat. As half-time approached, the game took on an ‘end to end’ character. Luckily for City, there was another goal. Alex Ramirez in the inside left channel set up a perfectly weighted ball for Neao to run onto on the edge of the box. Neao took one touch and again sped outside the oncoming defender to finish from another tight angle. The ball found the same spot just inside the far post for Neao both times!

4-0 up at half-time was not an accurate reflection of the balance of play, perhaps, but City had clearly won the contests in the areas of the pitch that mattered. A pleasant surprise was in store forTaipeiCityat half-time. After four years away and just two days after Ross had left the country, a veteran of Taipei City FC’s inaugural BML title-winning season, Omar Malcolm was back!

One change was made at half-time, with Oumar Yassouf coming on for Brian Fitzpatrick. The first ten minutes of the second half were subdued from International, and City looked to press forward. Possibly one of the best City moves of the season involved only Luis Mayorga and Dan Calvert interchanging passes all the way up the right flank, culminating in a left footed effort from Dan only just going the wrong side of the post. However, International gradually began to pick up more momentum. City took off the tiring Christie and the sterling Wharton for Daniel Wilkinson and Stoyan Todorov ten minutes into the second half. Stoyan was a straight swap for Matt at right-back, while Danny came into central defense allowing Brian McGuinness to go into the vacated central midfield position. City enjoyed some good football but with nothing to lose Continental were pressing forward now with gusto and making life difficult. They missed a few decent chances including one point-blank tap in, before they got a breakthrough goal. The crucial difference was that they were now finding space and getting behind the City defence. Sensing blood, they were more adventurous in their attacks, launching more balls behind the City defence. Only some brilliant last-ditch defending by Tom saved City at two particularly chary moments. Dale also distinguished himself with a brilliant save from a long-distance free-kick. International were not to be denied a second goal, though, which came through sustained pressure. Malcolm came on for Luis at around this time, with twenty or so minutes to play. At 4-2, City was not sure whether to attack or defend while International was only attacking. A hopeful punt from distance was enough to give International another goal. The last ten minutes were going to be tense for City. In the end, though, an excellent corner kick from Alex was met by the head of Tom, who ensured a final 5-3 victory.

In conclusion, this was a hard game for City. International will surely take points off good teams so City can be thankful for making the most of their chances when they had them.

TaipeiCity FC 5 – 3 International

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