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Dale Saves City at the Death

Gathering at a rain-sodden Da Jia pitch on a blustery, cold day, while the Peacock opposition waited in their cars, Dan announced a 4-4-2 formation of Dale in goal, Matt Wharton at right-back and Dapper Wilkinson at left-back, with Alastair Frost and Alan Murray providing the bolster in central defence. In midfield Danny Weir on the right and Luis Mayorga on the left provided thrust, while Ebu fed and Christie sat in central midfield; up front Alex schemed in the hole behind Malcolm as the last man. Coach Dan left the sweet boot of Lionel Gonzalez and also veteran Golden Boot Dan Calvert on the bench.

The pre-match line-up and shaking of hands being delayed until 5.15, the Peacocks failing to shift from their cars until 5 – and even then being tardy about it – the Taipei City players had time to discuss which end of the pitch to attack first in case they won the toss. In the event, Captain Alex did win the toss and followed the consensus by attacking the less rain-affected end. At this point, the clay pitch was still quite firm underfoot even in the places where the ponds were forming.

The Peacocks are a team of quick, clever players, good in one-on-one situations. However, in this game Taipei City started strongly and the Peacocks needed to be sharp to withstand the first City assaults. It was never an onslaught, but Taipei City undoubtedly had more possession and put more pressure on the opposing goal in the first half hour. Ebu and Alex sprayed some excellent passes in these opening stages to create clear scoring chances. Malcolm was clear from an Alex through-ball only to be brought down by the last defender. (This was the first yellow card for the Peacocks. Possibly the defender in question was lucky not to have received a red.)

Unfortunately, the first half was marred by some arguing. City had two yellow cards very early in the game. While these may not have been deserved the referee was not disposed to stand around arguing and it was this bad atmosphere that threatened to derail the Taipei City challenge. One moment of comic relief came courtesy of the Peacocks’ goalkeeper who, for reasons only known to the Lord, decided to play ‘come and get it’ with Luis Mayorga. Luis’s challenge left the keeper in agony for a few minutes. Thankfully, the Peacocks’ number 1 got up to receive further punishment from Malcolm and again Luis later on.

At half-time Coach Dan said that the first half-hour was the best he’d seen City play this season. In defence the Frost-Murray partnership was strong. Dale had little to do in the first half except keep vigilant for the occasional long shot skidding toward goal, or gather a hopeful long cross. Matt and Dapper at full-back both managed to work passes down the flanks and, though the conditions weren’t ideal for switching the play quickly, the defenders and midfielders often combined with effective, simple passes. Alex was also busy, always an extra midfielder, linking up the play and probing for openings. Malcolm provided an excellent outlet even though he was surrounded by Peacocks. When City broke with pace the Peacocks’ defence was stretched. It’s also true that when City’s approach play was slower the Peacocks defended en masse and it was difficult to work openings. (The Peacocks are always worth playing against because they know how to defend.)

Towards the end of the first half City slowed down and allowed the Peacocks to put some pressure on the City back line. Still, with the City back line firm and determined, the Peacocks managed no clear cut chances so City thought they had every chance of getting a win as the teams headed off at half-time.

The second half began with some promise for City. Both Alastair Frost and Alan Murray often brought the ball out from defence with authority and poise. In the opening stages of this second half, City looked most likely to score. However, while City had no trouble getting the ball into the Peacocks’ half, the erratic behavior of the ball caused by the deep puddles there made it difficult for the City forwards to attack the penalty area. The best City could manage was often a hopeful shot from outside the box. And as the minutes ticked by, the pitch cut up more and more so that City legs got heavier and heavier and the ball became by degrees fickle, treacherous and treasonous. City never gave up and Alex and Malcolm in particular covered themselves in dirt and glory for the cause.

Early in the second half, Dan took Matt Wharton off and put Lionel on. Danny Weir moved to the vacated right-back berth so that Lionel could occupy right midfield. Then a little later, Dan took Luis off and put himself on. In doing this, Dan moved Malcolm to left midfield, so that Dan would be the target man.

The City substitutions didn’t change the character of the game too much. Also in the second half the Peacocks made three substitutions so they were just as fresh as City. Danny Weir did well at right-back even though it’s not his preferred position, and Lionel was game in right midfield. Dan was strong up front, and Malcolm was just as strong in left midfield, but by now the game basically was bogged down and City, who had arguably expended more effort besieging a team of Peacocks able to soak up pressure, gradually tired.

The Peacocks now began to enjoy more possession and forced some corners. Not for the first time in the game, the wind was a factor as a succession of Peacock corners seemed destined to arch into the danger zone and then fly harmlessly over the cross bar out of play.

With fifteen minutes to play, the Peacocks began to turn the tables on City. One high ball necessitated Dale to advance off his line and jump for it against some Peacock forwards. The slippery ball fell behind him, however, and looked to be going into the empty City net, and would have done but for a last ditch clearance by Alastair Frost. The resultant Peacock corner was well-taken and Dale had to punch it over the bar. The next Peacock corner was also well-taken, and this time Dale needed to punch it outside the box. Unfortunately, the ball fell to a Peacock who was able to volley a lobbed cross onto the head of an advancing forward close to goal. The header was virtually point blank and it looked a certain goal but Dale magically got down and stretched out his right arm. This was a top-class reaction save. Furthermore, Dale’s hand was strong enough to push the ball sideways. The ball eventually rolled out for another corner. Denied by a piece of goalkeeping genius, the Peacocks were not done yet! This time they took a short corner before crossing it in. The ball was cleared but this time the waiting Peacock on the edge of the box let fly with a thunderous volley, surely a contender for goal of the season against any other goalkeeper than Dale. However, Dale somehow bounded and leapt at extraordinary speed to tip the ball over the bar. This was incredible eighty mile per hour goalkeeping, and the second top-class save of the game.

Just a few minutes later, the referee blew his whistle to end the game. What had looked like a probable Taipei City win in the first half had become, by the final whistle, a near brush with defeat, avoided only by goalkeeping genius of the highest class.

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What Does It Mean To Miss Against Mitsukoshi?

The opening games of a new football season always throw up difficult questions for football teams. Sunday’s game against Mitsukoshi asked a lot of questions of City, and we will have to wait a little longer to see if this season’s group of Taipei City players has the answers.

Conceding one early goal might be considered unlucky, but conceding two definitely asks questions! There was a general lassitude running all the way through the team in that first half hour that can only be described as pathetic. Did we think we were playing Dentway? The way Mitsukoshi gave City the run-around reflected poorly not only on City’s match preparations, which was typically sloppy, but also on City’s match fitness. Perhaps nobody should be surprised that City was not match fit in their second BML game. Still, we were comprehensively out-passed in the critical opening stages. City also showed worrying indecision in their passing, heading and challenges for loose balls. Whichever way you look at it, the first half-hour was a lamentable chapter in the history of the club.

Mitsukoshi deserve credit for putting pressure on a slow-to-wake-up City. The two best players on the park, the speedy Johnson and an impressive new midfielder in the shape of No.26, were both Mitsukoshi players. The other Mitsukoshi players also played their part with quick and crisp passes. There was simply an urgency about the way Mitsukoshi played that City could not match. Given that simple truth, the City players should ask themselves whether other better teams will let them back into games.

The two Mitsukoshi goals were the result of quick balls into space for Johnson. His pace carried him away from defenders and while his finishing was not deadly he got his shots away quickly – the hallmark of a good striker – and gave no time for City’s defenders or midfield to recover. 2-0 down after twenty minutes, in a match City expected to win? City was simply not ready to play a game of football against a good team. Thankfully, things got better.

Dale started in goal, with Matt Wharton at right-back, Ricardo Abrega at left-back, and Brian McGuinness and Mamadi Colley in central defence; Danny Weir was at right-midfield, with Luis Mayorga and Michael Christie in the centre and Lionel Cassanova in left-midfield. Up front, the physically imposing partnership of Dan Calvert and Ally led the line.

Quite late in the second half, already chasing the game at two goals down, City finally rolled up their sleeves and at least started to compete. City’s first goal came from Danny Weir who controlled a speculative cross which landed at his feet just inside the box. He sidestepped twice and then passed the ball into the corner. This was well-deserved for Danny. City began to impose more pressure and create more scoring chances as the half-time whistle approached. The second goal was a header by Dan C from a corner by Danny. This was a good call and emphatic finish from Dan C.

There were other opportunities to score before half-time. For example, Lionel found Dan with a great ball to feet in the inside channel. Unfortunately, Dan hit the ball at the keeper. Ally was an engine of industry and he was one of the few City players who looked as if he was serious about this game. The tide was turning before half-time, with the Mitsukoshi players looking tired, but the fast-paced first-half had actually taken a lot out of both teams.

At half-time, Lionel made way for Alex R, while Ally came off for Omar. Both Lionel and Ally had played some good football, and they were unlucky to be coming off because quite honestly it could just as well have been anybody else.

With Alex R providing some much needed bite and drive, and Omar playing with invention, the stage was set for a siege of the tired Mitsukoshi players. It was now that the Mitsukoshi goalkeeper decided to come out of his shell and make some good saves. There were a few good chances and several half-chances for City but no firm finishes. The only tactic Mitsukoshi had left was the quick breakaway spearheaded by Johnson and orchestrated by No. 26, but they had little real support because all the other Mitsukoshi players were defending behind the ball. While City dominated the second half and really should have scored, the truth is that City was only able to do this because it was less tired than Mitsukoshi, who had already shot their bolt completely.

The only bolt on display from City came from Alex R. While others either shot straight at the goalkeeper or side-footed lamely, Alex R finding the ball at his feet on the edge of the box, hit it with both power and precision. Did the goalkeeper get a finger to the ball before it cannoned back off the bar?

City managed to put the ball in the back of the net once, but the goal was disallowed. After some good passing down the right, Omar was near the bye-line and in a position to fire the ball behind the Mitsukoshi line of defenders. Instead, he turned brilliantly and gave a short pass on the floor, teeing up Christie who was running into the box from behind. Christie’s powder-puff finish was deflected by a Mitsukoshi defender into the net – almost certainly the only way it was going to reach the net – and City thought it had gone ahead for two seconds, until the linesman raised his flag. Although he had not touched the ball, Dan C was ruled offside for blocking the goalkeeper’s sight of the ball.

In the last three minutes, City (in the person of was it Matt W or Brian McG?) launched a good cross into the area where Omar and Dan both gamely went for the same header. Unluckily, Omar’s effort rebounded off the bar. A few, short minutes later the referee blew up and the game was over without any kind of sense of climax.

City Dent Dentway in Season Opener

Time: 1pm, Oct 28th, 2012

Venue: Bai Ling Bridge Riverside Park

By Michael Christie

On a dry pitch sprinkled in misty drizzle, City met Dentway in the opening game of the BML. It was the first game of the season and it showed! A very fast, skiddy surface meant that it was a day for passing strictly to feet. Sadly, lateness was possibly one more factor in City’s failure to open their season in tip-top form!

The starting eleven was Dale in goal, Matt Wharton at right-back and Dapper Danny Wilkinson at left-back, with Brian McGuinness and debutant Alan in central defence; Danny W, Alex R, Christie and Lionel C were spread across the midfield from right to left; and Big Dan C and Big Andy, making his City debut, started up front. (The Dentway defenders must have been cacking themselves before the game but they stood up to the big guys quite well, to their credit, when the whistle blew.) Ian Edwards started on the bench.

The game itself? There was a lot of good passing football from City, and Dentway could rarely get hold of the ball. However, one City player said we only switched the play once in the whole of the first half! On the plus side City attacked with pace. On the minus, there were, as one City player said, “blind alleys.” The City debuts of Alan in defence and Big Andy up front were creditable. In fact, everybody made some good contributions. Lionel C and Alex R played well in particular.

City opened the scoring courtesy of an excellently weighted through ball from Lionel to Dan. With a deft touch on the ball, Dan turned, beat his marker and finished with force. The next team to score was Dentway! From a free-kick on the right flank, Dentway floated in an inswinger over a four-man wall which was not adequately cleared, leaving a Dentway the simple task of poking the ball in at the far post. This was the one blemish on an otherwise spotless performance by the new-look City defence!

City responded with a goal. After some good work by Alex R, Lionel C and Danny W, Dan C was through. The goalkeeper parried his shot but Lionel C was in position to finish with a clinical left-footed half-volley. 2-1! City extended their lead a few minutes before half-time with a good far post header by Brian McGuinness from Alex R’s excellent corner.

3-1 was not a bad score to be holding going in at half-time but the City players were vaguely aware that they were not playing like champions. Anyway, at the start of the second half Big Andy made way for Ian Edwards, who looked sharp. The second half was, if truth be told, hard work for both City and Dentway. To their credit, Dentway kept looking for a goal and often passed the ball well even if they didn’t trouble Dale. City had some more good chances but, except for another strike from Dan, couldn’t add to the scoreline. Matt Wharton was the supplier with a long ball from right back that was misjudged by the central defender. Dan latched onto it and ran through finishing excellently off the post.

It stayed at 4-1 for the rest of the game. After the final whistle, City walked off the pitch with pride intact if not enhanced by a serviceable performance against a decent team also playing their first game of the season.

MAN OF THE MATCH – LIONEL

City Prevail in Weekend Double Header

Venue: Bai Ling Bridge Riverside Park

By Michael Christie

Two games in two days is not recommended for a footballer’s health or for his play, yet, with four games left to play and firmly seated in the driver’s seat with all eyes on the prize of the BML Title, that was what was required of Taipei City against the rookie boys of San Chung High School on Saturday, May 12th and against the redoubtable Red Lions on Sunday, May 13th.

Saturday’s Kids Test City– Raw

The teenagers of San Chung are maturing all the time and proved it by givingTaipeiCity a stiff test. For seventy minutes San Chung held City to 1-1. Indeed, the boys passed the ball effectively and made City run hard. The game seemed to be heading for a draw until, with twenty minutes to go, substitute Luis Mayorga came on and immediately stamped his presence on the game. With his trademark mixture of guile and speed he snaffled his first goal on eighty minutes and then decided one was not enough so scored again to make the final score a flattering 3-1 to City.

Sunday’s Lions Test City– Roar

The Lions had a few of their players unavailable but still came to win the game – if they could. The first half was a leaden display from both teams, with neither team really deserving to score. However, after some sloppy play in the middle of the park from City, the Lions fed the ball to their right winger. He attempted a cross but got a lucky slice and the ball looped over the stranded Dale into the net. City pulled one back later through Neo King. It was 1-1 at the break.

The second half started off as drearily as the first, but with half an hour gone Oscar Auguilera came on to make his long awaited debut for City – what a difference he made! His first touch and incisive running was enough to create several chances for his team-mates. City looked like a good team again. Through a combination of wasteful finishing and good keeping from the Lions’ Volker, however, City couldn’t score. With only five minutes left on the clock, though, Oscar fed Neo through the middle and with that finish parried by the keeper and rolling into touch for a corner, Oscar showed magical pace to slide – a two-second, three-yard slide – and jab the ball into the net from the tightest of angles. 2-1 to City!

Peacocks and City Share the Points

Time: 3pm, April 15th, 2012

Venue: Da Jia Yingfeng Riverside Park

By Michael Christie

In their previous match, City beat the Peacocks through a Brian Fitzpatrick goal. The Peacocks had given City a really tough game, and probably deserved a draw. This time, on a windy, overcast but still overly warm Taiwanese April day at Da Jia Riverside Park, the Peacocks gave City a similarly tough game.

City had not played for three weeks, which is a long time when it comes to playing football. Dan settled on a starting line-up of Dale Neal in goal, Matt Wharton at right-back, Brian McGuinness and Tom Clarke in central defence, and Mamadi Colley at left-back; in midfield, Danny Weir, Alex Ramirez, Michael Christie and Brian Fitzpatrick occupied the right, central and left positions; and up front, Luis Mayorga partnered Dan Calvert. The strong bench had Neao King sitting on it, later augmented by Ebu Njie and Oumar Senoussi .

Possibly City failed to frighten the life out of the younger Peacocks in the first ten minutes. City managed to have the lion’s share of possession in this opening period, but looked a little rusty in their link-up play. Seeing this, the Peacocks started to move and pass, effectively on occasion. Their attacks were sporadic, but the City defence needed to be sharp to stifle them. City pushed up on the Peacocks’ whenever possible and without looking sharp still had most of the possession. This was the pattern of play for pretty much the whole of the first half.

There were plenty of talking points. The frequency with which the linesman called offside had the City forwards seething. There were also two possible handballs from the Peacocks in their penalty area. Once, close to the six yard box, in a position to shoot, Fitzpatrick laid the ball off to Calvert. Calvert’s shot appeared to be going in but hit the post. Did it “brush” a Peacock hand close to the line? For all of City’s pressure, however, there were next to no clear cut chances.

At half-time, Brian McGuinness and Brian Fitzpatrick came off. Mamadi went to central defence and Oumar Senoussi came on at left-back, while Luis went to left-midfield and Neao came on up front. The second half continued more or less where the first had left off. City had most of the ball and the Peacocks were content to defend deep in the hope of getting a breakaway. Encouragingly, when the Peacocks launched a long ball Dale was always out of his penalty area in double quick time to beat the Peacock forward to the ball.

After the opening ten minutes, Ebu came on for Christie in central midfield and coordinated play well in the middle. City laid siege to the Peacocks and some desperate defending was needed, but there were still no clear cut chances for City. The Peacocks basically defended their penalty box tightly and restricted to City to long shots. For about twenty minutes only City looked like scoring, though.

The final stages of the game saw City tire and the Peacocks regain some initiative. The last fifteen minutes really were too close for comfort for City. The Peacocks began to launch breakaways and only poor finishing saved City on two occasions. Then, in the last ten minutes they took the game to City somewhat. Possibly City was more relieved at the final whistle!

Cushty against Mitsukoshi

Time: 7pm, March 24th, 2012

Venue: Bai Ling Bridge Riverside Park

By Michael Christie

In unseasonably cold weather, Taipei City took on Mitsukoshi in the first game of the weekend double-header. Rightly concentrating on the here and now, Dan Calvert asked his squad before kick-off to forget about Fritz the next day and just do their best to beat Mitsukoshi, a team capable of surprises. Dan named a 4-4-2 formation of Dale Neal in goal; Ricardo Abrego, Brian McGuinness, Tom Clarke and ‘Dapper’ Danny Wilkinson at the back; Danny Weir, Ebu Njie, debutant Michael Crossley and Omar Malcolm in midfield; and, Brian Fitzpatrick and Dan Calvert up front. On the bench were Luis Mayorga, Oumar Senoussi, Karim Chan and Michael Christie.

The first twenty minutes belonged to City, with two quick goals. The first goal came courtesy of Danny Weir intercepting a wayward Mitsukoshi pass in midfield, and carrying and passing the ball at pace to Dan Calvert, who finished coolly running at high speed. The second goal came from Omar Malcolm after sustained pressure. Again Danny Weir caused problems for Mitsukoshi with incisive dribbling down the right flank. He crossed the ball inside to Dan Calvert, who shaped to turn and shoot but slipped. However, with his back to goal Dan Calvert spotted a through channel for Omar Malcolm and back-heeled smartly into the space, about seven yards from the bye-line and eight yards from the goal. Malcolm elected to drill the ball into the opposite corner.

The early 2-0 score-line was the result of an energetic and intelligent all-round display by the City team. In a free role behind perennial lynchpin Dan Calvert, Brian Fitzpatrick found space and orchestrated several attacks. Making his debut, Michael Crossley was composed and crisp, working well with Ebu, who showed with his zest in attack why Taipei City is always better when he’s around. On the flanks, Danny Weir and Omar Malcolm were both in great form. Needless to say, all the defenders joined in the flowing passing, when they weren’t walking around with the Mitsukoshi forwards in their pockets. (Actually, Mitsukoshi’s Johnson is always a threat, but with Taipei City having so much possession there wasn’t much he could do.)

In truth, City stepped off the accelerator in the last twenty-five minutes of the first half. This meant that Mitsukoshi were able to come forward and sometimes embarrass City a little, but even then City had the lion’s share of possession and Dale was never troubled. Just before half-time Dan Calvert found himself free in the penalty area on the left. In a position where a ball across the face of the goal would have been a better option had there been a City player in position, Dan shot and the ball wriggle between the keeper and the near post. 3-0 at half-time!

At half-time Dan made three straight changes. Off came Danny Weir, Brian Fitzpatrick and Ebu; and on came Luis Mayorga, Omar Senoussi and Karim Chan.

City started the second half with urgency and pressed forward on Mitsukoshi again. Mitsukoshi did not enjoy being pushed back, but without real breakaway chances they had to lump it. As in the first half they occasionally worked some good moves in midfield and created half-chances, but that was all. With about fifteen minutes gone, Brian McGuinness came off for Christie. Karim dropped back into central defence with Tom, so Christie could partner Michael Crossley in central midfield.

The last half-hour of the game was played at a fair if not breakneck pace. City kept control of the game for most of the time. A further goal came from Omar Senoussi, put through by Malcolm (is this right?). And, in the last ten minutes Dan Calvert shot powerfully from outside the box to claim his hat-trick. His shot had enough power to go through the keeper!

Except for an injury worry to Brian McGuinness, this has to go down as a good day for City. 5-0 against a decent Mitsukoshi team, and without any obvious overexertion ahead of the Fritz game the next day, City cannot complain.