St. Marys Juggernauts saw the return to winning ways and an outside chance for promotion to the WOSL’s Premier League last Friday night with a 1-0 First Division victory over London Scottish, which knocked the visitors out of the promotion race.
Both Juggernauts’ coaches were frustrated after admitting the difficult victory had been “overshadowed” by a harsh booking for midfielder James Flanagan that may rule him out of the last two fixtures.
Prior to the game, coach Flanagan stated he was tweaking his line-up a bit. However, as the night progressed, it was changed more by necessity than planned moves as the hard-fought battle saw its share of injuries and hamstring pulls.
With central midfielder Mike Weersink having left for school, the main plan was to put Stefan MacNeil into the central midfield to take advantage of his ball control and ability to set the tempo of the game, allowing for a “flatter back-line” in the process.
Ten minutes in, St. Marys lost the service of fullback Nick Martin to a hamstring injury--more later. The first half saw striker Matt Van De Walle flash his skills at the top level as he raced past the Scottish back-line and had his shot go begging past the far post.
Van De Walle turned out to be a welcomed addition as he certainly provided the needed striking option in the absence of Neil Van De Walle and Dominic Pieroni. Other than a few chances traded by each side, the first half was rather lethargic . . . and scoreless.
Things heat up
Things started to heat up at the break, not between the players but the coaches as Scottish tried to add a player to the game-sheet--stating it was allowable.
Coaches Flanagan and Moylan know the rules as well as the Scottish coaches. Although the referee said it was okay, Moylan informed the referee they can do what they want, but St. Marys would protest. As a team, it’s not allowed to add a player after the roster sheet has been submitted.
With Scottish backing down, the mould had been set for the second half. “Gord told me just after the incident ‘I am not sure the referee liked us calling him out on the rules, so we may not see the rub of the green from him in the second half,’” remarked coach Flanagan.
The second half certainly saw a change in the play as both teams went toe-to-toe, tackling and fighting for every inch on the field. The referee had his hands full on how close to call the infractions and as it turned out neither side knew where he drew the line, which made it that much more difficult for everyone.
The high-school field did get bouncing when striker Kene Mills took his cue to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and claim the only goal to seal the win. The goal came as a result of brilliant wing play by striker Evin Murray as he beat one defender with his speed and then danced around the covering defender to send a well-placed cross into the goal area.
With Mills being covered by two big defenders and the keeper, they all converged on the ball and after a crushing fight for the loose ball, only Mills was standing to head the ball into the net. The shift in the game’s momentum was jarring after the goal as the tempo on both sides of the ball and the sidelines was ratcheted up several notches.
Seven yellow cards issued
Shortly after St. Marys took the lead 70 minutes into play, Juggernauts’ midfielder Flanagan went to ground after a Scottish player cowardly racked his legs from behind and the incident brought his teammates to his defence. It resulted in seven yellow cards being flashed by the referee.
However, the instigator got off without being red carded and remained in the game. Later, the victim questioned the official’s call on an unrelated play and the referee flashed a red card for abuse of an official--leaving St. Marys a man short for the balance of the match.
The call itself seemed border line and had the home fans riled up. However, the support caused the Juggernauts to defend relentlessly as Scottish pushed hard for a goal to attempt to knock St. Marys out of the promotion race.
“I don’t think there’ll be too many people, even in the refereeing fraternity, who will say that was a clear red card,” said coach Moylan. “We see that every game in the league and I think the heat of the moment caught up with the official as the game was getting out of his control.
“You will have to try very hard to persuade me that was a booking even when Scottish clearly got away with clear booking just earlier. But we’re getting used to dealing with misfortune. We’ll live with it, deal with it, but I didn’t think it was a correct decision.”
“I was obviously very disappointed with the red card,” James Flanagan said. “In a heated promotion race game and with my players and our fans obviously seeing the player hit me from behind, I can understand that maybe the referee did not see it.
“I just decided to let it go and wanted to play my part for the team and make sure we got the result. The comment I made I hear all the time, so it is rather unfortunate. However, by the letter of the law, questioning an official is a fine line and he took it as an abuse of an official which is a real stretch in interpretation.”
With Juggernauts down a man on the defensive side, the St. Marys game came to the forefront. Central defenders Sjoerd DeWit and Kevin Thompson combined to own anything Scottish threw into the St. Marys goal area.
Juggernauts’ back-line took a hit when Evan Doupe and Andrew Gravett both came out with hamstring injuries. And after losing Martin early in the game, the situation looked real desperate. With Korey Graham and MacNeil filling in and Van De Walle moving back for Flanagan, Murray dropped back to left half leaving only Mills up front.
The team relied on Angus Moylan and Harm Vosters to own the central midfield and drive the shuffled line-up to bring home the three points. Coach Flanagan wanted to get midfielder Mike Luna back in, however, the chance never came.
Scottish (6-5-5) looked to have tied the score with 10 minutes left when a London striker had a wide open net six yards out, but keeper Aaron Wybrow threw his body at the shot and held on--not spilling the rebound. The spectacular save had the home crowd rocking and was the cue his teammates in front of him needed to get through the match.
There was one more twist in the tail when coach Moylan asked the official how much time was left in the game. Getting tossed out of the match was his answer.
“The good thing was the boys’ overall performance,” coach Flanagan said. “Scottish had an opportunity to exploit us with the man advantage, the reworked line-up and the difficult breaks from the official, but Gord and I are very proud how the team dug deep and kept their focus to take their space away and put a stranglehold on the game in the late stages.
“The results over the weekend did us no harm and the fact we played well here and got a good win in a potentially tricky game is pleasing. But the booking does take the gloss off a good team performance. It’s made life difficult for us, but we are glad to say with two games left we have a chance.”
Upcoming: Juggernauts (7-4-5) head to Norfolk (4-3-9) this Friday to take on a desperate side trying to avoid relegation. Next home game is Friday, Sept. 20, the final game of the season against Sarnia, at DCVI at 8 p.m.
With two games remaining, St. Marys is four points behind Woodstock and London Olympians AEK, who are currently tied for first place.