LONDON - St. Marys Juggernauts found themselves in a real tough spot with only 11 players available and then having to play in very horrid conditions with the rain, high winds and cold weather here Saturday afternoon against London America, yet they pulled off a major 4-2 win to maintain third place in the WOSL’s First Division standings.
London America, with a team of 16 players, looked in real good spirits and ready to put Juggernauts to the sword.
Juggernauts (5-3) started a man short and the America side, with the wind at their backs, took advantage of the situation. The London side jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when they threw a ball over the top of the backline and with keeper Aaron Wybrow rushing to claim it found the ball ran slower than expected on the long grass and saw an America striker fire it past him.
America (4-1-5) acted like the strike was expected to be the cue for an avalanche of goals, it failed to arrive. St. Marys knew it was a bad break, but nonetheless the London side was relishing the fact they had an early lead on the undermanned visitors.
The play seemed to settle down when America scored another goal out of nowhere with a shot fired from just outside the 18-yard box. With keeper Wybrow at full stretch, the shot caught the post and skimmed in.
Just then Juggernauts’ 11th man arrived to even the playing field. St. Marys, stung by the goal, eventually settled back into their rhythm without being unduly troubled.
Juggernauts knew the next goal was critical, but if they could get to half-time only down by two they felt the wind in the second half would work to their advantage. With the full line-up St. Marys started to press the America squad as they drove at the bigger yet slower opposition’s backline.
The diamond midfield of Korey Graham, Dominic Pieroni, Justin Soonteins and Neil Van De Walle, and with Evin Murray in striker position, Juggernauts had the skill and speed to attack and it eventually paid off as the group with some solid passing saw Van De Walle break past his marker and send a cross into the America goal area. Soonteins was the first to react as he headed home the comeback goal.
St. Marys played doggedly in the final minutes of the half as the wind looked to provide the opposition with two extra players. America attacked Juggernauts’ net again and again with shots from distance, but couldn’t find the potent strike necessary to get another ball across the goal line.
At the break, coach John Flanagan made adjustments to the line-up to get the right balance for the squad knowing the team now had the huge wind advantage.
“The boys actually felt having no subs was an advantage as having to come on as a sub in these conditions was not the best situation,” noted Manager Wayne Murray.
Early in the half, Juggernauts counter attacked quickly and with Graham overlapping from his fullback position found Van De Walle who drove at the heart of the America defence. Graham continued his run and the America defence worried about all the other St. Marys attacking options failed to pick Graham up and Van De Walle smartly passed back against the grain.
With Graham breaking to the top of the 18-yard box, he fired a left-footed rocket to the top corner to get the visitors back on even terms (2-2) with a huge surge of momentum.
Juggernauts eventually took the lead when midfielder Paul Wunder fired a lazy shot on net and turning away then realized by the reaction of his teammates that it actually slipped under the London keeper. The America team spirit was vocally breaking down while St. Marys continued to skyrocket.
As the horrid weather conditions continued to worsen, Juggernauts play continued to rise as they attacked the American net. Eventually off a corner kick, Evin Murray swung a beautiful left-footed shot towards the top of the 18-yard box and the strong wind saw the ball curl right to the goal line with Soonteins getting his head to it to beat the keeper for his second of the match.
The last stages of the game was tricky for Juggernauts as they had three players on yellow cards, and another card would see the offender off the field, but coach Flanagan did not want the team backing down and counted on the boys to avoid any questionable tackles.
“Our backline was card free so with veteran Stephen Treadway leading the way he marshaled teammate Jake Dickey who found every high ball fired into the Juggernauts’ goal area. Dante Pieroni, along with Andy O’Connell and Graham as outside support, allowed America only shots from a distance.
Keeper Wybrow was outstanding as he skillfully secured all balls fired at him. “It was obvious America was hoping he would spill some shots in the slick conditions, but it never materialized as Wybrow displayed hands of steel,” Treadway reported.
“What a show of resilience and character,” proudly summed up coach Flanagan. “We had to play a lot of football to come back from two down. Credit to the players; they were outstanding.
“The players today would not give in to the opposition or the weather of having no subs. They earned themselves the win and we can’t be any prouder. Every single player ran through brick walls and we knew they were exhausted and sore, but to see the smile on the faces after the game said it all.
“Every one of them lifted their game today,” he added.
Upcoming: Juggernauts’ next WOSL match is this Friday, July 3 at home against Sarnia at the DCVI field at 8 p.m.
In other St. Marys soccer action this week, the U-18 boys host Byron Thursday, July 2 at 8 p.m. and the St. Marys Spartans have a home game on Saturday, July 4 against London Croatia at 4 o’clock, with both games at the high school field.