FIRST HALF ACTION
Being only the 2nd game for each of these two sides, the first ten minutes seemed to be a “feeling out” stage. Both sides seemed content to take slow-building runs at each other in turn. Very back-and-forth but minimal actual “attack.”
After that initial stage, Valour seemed to figure out where to be aggressive in their defending and a few turnovers and opportunities revealed themselves as a result of their efforts.
After an injury to Wanderers full-back Peter Schaale forced a substitution, it seemed to be all Valour for a few minutes while Halifax sorted themselves out. This disorganization led directly to the Andrew Jean-Baptiste goal in the 20th minute. The Valour captain scored the lovely header off of a perfectly placed corner kick by Keven Alemán.
Giving up the opening goal appeared to wake the Wanderers up. Halifax had the majority of offensive chances for the next twenty minutes or so, including a controversial no-goal call on a shot that rattled the framework before bouncing straight down off the goal line. The shooter, Alex Marshall, and the entire Halifax bench were quite adamant that the ball was over the line, but the referee, Carly Shaw-MacLaren, disagreed. The Canadian Premier League does not currently employ goal-line or video replay technology, so that moment will likely be a talking point for the next week or so.
The last 5 minutes of the first half were very Valour-forward.
Overall the ebb and flow of this match felt relatively even from where I was sitting.
The first ten minutes of the second half were basically free kick after free kick for Halifax as Valour couldn’t seem to keep their extremities to themselves. Winnipeg foul after Winnipeg foul had the Wanderers attacking for the bulk of the opening minutes.
At this point of the match, I think there isn’t a single human on the pitch that deserved the “Man Of The Match” title more than Valour skipper, Jean-Baptiste. Not only did he score the opening goal, but his positioning and hustle allowed him to block quite a few passes, clear more than a couple of crosses, and single-handedly frustrate the entire HFX attack. It looked as though he had magnets in his boots at points with the number of times he was perfectly positioned to make a huge clear.
Halifax was clearly controlling the play in this half, but what Valour lacked in possession, they certainly made up for in quality counter-attacking opportunities. Much like their match on Sunday against Forge, Valour’s main strategy seemed to be to control the angles and passing of their opponent, get aggressive in their tackling, and be ready to turn on a dime to initiate the counter. When I asked Head Coach Rob Gale if that was supposed to be the game plan, he said, “it certainly wasn’t on purpose.”
Despite making goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois stretch a bit with a few decent shots from outside the area (and one excellent header by Andre Rampersad which Sirois also stopped), Halifax was simply unable to break through the Valour backline in an effective way. The more effort they threw into it, the more frustrated they seemed to become.
Valour FC made solid use of all 5 substitutions allowed, which kept fresh legs moving for Valour’s defence. In no time at all, William Akio made Gale look like a genius. Akio was subbed on in the 78th minute and managed to score Valour’s 2nd goal by the 89th minute, all but securing the victory for the hosts.
Halifax outshot Valour 25 to 12, but the big difference was in the “Shots On Target” column, where Halifax only edged out VFC 8 to 7. Valour was able to keep the Wanderers outside and didn’t give up more than a few decent opportunities in their own box. That says a lot, as Halifax is certainly no joke, having finished 2nd in last year’s “Island Games” tournament in Prince Edward Island.
Valour will be quite pleased with themselves, not only having now defeated both the first and second-placed clubs from last year, but also finding themselves on top of the table with 6 points. While it’s early in the year, this type of confidence-building experience can be a great launching point for a squad that seems to be written off by a lot of the media but is clearly determined to prove them all wrong.
Gale said he’s not really satisfied with where the team is, as far as executing the game plan he has designed, but he did praise the heart and determination displayed by his players. They have just two days off before their next match, after only getting two days off ahead of tonight’s match. Gale is very happy with the production they’ve managed given the short time they had to train, but after acknowledging that they’ve played decently in these two matches, he seemed excited about the future saying, “just wait until they’re fit!”
This season is looking good so far for Valour, who will hope to carry this momentum into Saturday’s clash with Athletico Ottawa.