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On a hot, windy day at Regent’s Park, Soho FC pressed and passed their way to a deserved 3-2 victory over London Romans in a hugely entertaining game to kick off their London Unity League season.
From my perch on the Soho sideline, the oranges’ commitments to both pressing and passing were obvious, and both elements were key contributors to many of the five goals scored on Sunday afternoon. The game started ominously for the oranges, as the team tried to play out from the back under heavy pressure from the Romans forwards, leading to an overhit pass down the Soho left that gave possession back to the visitors, who were able to overrun a confused Soho backline, before Jay Lemonius could grab the lead with a smart finish after just six minutes.
The Romans almost doubled their lead when they were able to overlap stranded wing-back Edgar, again on the Soho left, and drive into the penalty area, only for the striker to scuff his shot harmlessly into the hands of Bjørn in the Soho goal.
However, Soho rallied, and were able to wrest control of the game in the middle of the first half. Rash, accustomed to playing in behind the strikers, was deployed as one of two central midfielders in a 3-4-1-2, and his range of passing from a deeper position stretched the Romans defence horizontally, with accurate passes to Edgar and Kevin on the flanks, and vertically, with debutant Daiki a constant threat in behind the Romans defence. Lorcan, playing as the ‘1’ in the formation, was equally adept, and hit a fine pass to Daiki behind the Romans defenders in the 16th minute, although the forward was unable to finish the move.
Many of Soho’s attacks came down the right through defender Phil, and Kevin, whose pace, trickery and willingness to take on full-backs, was a constant menace to the Romans defence. Immediately following Daiki’s chance, he was fouled on the right wing as Soho again attempted to stretch the field laterally. Kevin swung the ball into the box from the following free kick, which was knocked down by Cameron for his strike partner Daiki to poke into net, giving him a debut goal and Soho an equaliser after 18 minutes.
Not satisfied with levelling the score, the oranges pushed on and were immediately rewarded. Cameron and Daiki pressed the unsettled Romans defenders relentlessly – the former dominating in the air with his head and the latter seemingly trying to tackle an opponent with his head at one point – and when a loose ball fell to Kevin just inside the box on the right, he was quick to beat his hapless full-back, shift onto his left foot, and fire a shot past the Romans keeper into the back of the net.
Much of the first half followed this pattern: of high Soho pressing complimented with neat, quick passing to exploit spaces in behind a Romans defence that was increasingly drawn out of position in search of an equaliser. Lorcan made an early bid for goal of the season by running through three Romans defenders on the left wing before firing a shot wide, and Cameron sprinted in behind the defence in pursuit of a delightful Kevin through ball, only to chip both goalkeeper and goal to leave the score at 2-1 late in the half.
The Romans had their chances, returning Soho pressing with pressing of their own, and were it not for a smart save from Bjørn in the 31st minute, the home side would have again turned over possession in their own third and conceded. Yet it was the oranges who were more clinical, Kevin and Cameron combining to nick possession from the bewildered, and by this point thoroughly fed-up, Romans full-back, and exchange passes, before Kevin drilled in his second of the game minutes before half-time.
With no substitutions at the break, the second half started exactly as the first had ended, Kevin finding acres of space behind the Romans left-back, who surely awoke in a cold sweat at three in the morning hours after the game, his nightmares filled with the horrifying vision of the back of an orange number seven jersey speeding away from him from a long ball from kick-off. Cameron’s shot was blocked, but Soho could have been 4-1 up within ten seconds of the restart.
Daiki could, and perhaps should, have added more goals to his tally, catching a defender in possession before firing straight at the goalkeeper, and then receiving a neat pass from Dan in the right-hand channel, before shooting wide. The Romans responded with a period of pressure of their own, which produced a goal rather from nowhere that made for a nervy last half-hour for Soho; Jay pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the Soho penalty area and booted a shot goalwards, which dipped and swerved over a perplexed Bjørn to give the forward his second goal.
The first hour of the game had been played at a tremendous pace, in which neither team ever seemed to have much possession. The game was instead a blistering back-and-forth of counter-attacks, wind-dragged long passes and pressing all over the pitch, and the fatigue began to show as the final quarter of the game slowed down, and became more fractured. Adam #2 was brought on, before being replaced following a head injury, and Adam and Austen found themselves introduced on the wings to stretch the pitch, as Kevin and Edgar moved into more central positions. The additional width helped to declutter a central midfield that, at times, had ten players from both sides buzzing around within its borders, and enable Soho to return to their expansive passing game.
The latter stages of the game also swung between the sublime and the ridiculous. Charlie, the left-sided Soho centre-back who put in an excellent performance, pulled off an audacious and arguably unnecessary pirouette in central midfield to ghost past a Romans defender, before another Romans defender jumped into the back of Lorcan in central midfield, fouling him, and screaming to the winds: “I pushed you and I enjoyed it!”
Exasperated self-defence? Attempted witty comeback? Bizarrely misplaced flirt? The defender’s meaning was unclear, but the fact that it was the very same defender who had been so relentlessly pressured by Kevin could explain his somewhat frustrated demeanour.
Soho were now exhausted from 90 minutes of pressing in the September sun – personified by Cameron who, upon his substitution off the pitch, looked ready to collapse in a heap – and the Romans, buoyed by the fear of defeat, continued to press. They must deserve particular credit for covering as much ground as they did despite only having 12 players, one of whom was injured early in the second half, and they came close to taking a point from Regent’s Park.
One of the Romans midfielders, seeing Lorcan’s mazy dribble in the first half and Charlie’s spin in the second, decided to one-up them all by switching play to the left wing with a rabona pass, from where the visitors pierced the Soho defence and fired a shot past Bjørn, only to have it hacked off the line by a retreating James; not quite a goal, but just as effective, as it ensured Soho kept their one-goal advantage into the final seconds.
A few slowly-taken Soho corners later, the referee blew the final whistle, ending a frenetic game which yielded five goals, and three points for Soho.