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Soho FC extended their winning streak to four games in all competitions as they overcame AFC Muswell Hill 6-0 on a cold afternoon at Regent’s Park to climb to second in the table.
The visitors came into the game leading the league with seven points from three games, and brought with them a dazzling attack that had produced 15 goals in the first three weeks of the season, the highest figure in the league. In response, Soho manager Austin moved from the 3-4-1-2 that had served the team so well for the first month of the season to a 4-3-3 to offer more solidity at the back without compromising the midfield.
However, with forwards Daiki, Rash and Lorcan keeping tight, deployed as three central attackers rather than a centre-forward flanked by wingers, Muswell Hill threatened the Soho defence in wide areas early on. The visitors pressed the Soho back four, blocking clearances and turning over possession deep in the Soho half, and could have been a goal up after seven minutes when a turnover resulted in a scramble in the penalty area that Soho were able to clear.
Muswell Hill’s pressing did lead to a few fouls in Soho territory, and while these typically come to nothing, the game’s opening goal came from precisely this situation, and quite against the run of play. The visitors conceded a free kick near the centre circle in the Soho half, and as the home side strode into the opposing penalty area, anticipating a long ball angled towards the edge of the Muswell Hill box, centre-back AJ had other ideas.
With shades of Paul Robinson against Watford in 2007, AJ launched the ball downfield, which bounced off the turf inside the penalty area, pinged off a few outstretched legs and feet, and trickled into the Muswell Hill goal to give Soho an eighth minute lead. While the Unity League Dubious Goals Panel might dispute AJ’s claim to the strike, the defender remains adamant that the goal be chalked up to his boot and, in the absence of conclusive video replays, AJ has as righteous a claim to the goal as any.
With Muswell Hill still reeling, Soho doubled their lead in the 12th minute as Lorcan, who recorded a hat-trick against Stonewall in his last game, brought down a long ball around 25 yards from goal, and charged through the Muswell Hill defence before firing a shot past the keeper.
While Soho’s shape was a novelty, the team’s style was exactly in keeping with their other games this season: compactness in defence, quick turnovers, and long, accurate passes into space in the opposition half. Both Lorcan and Daiki threatened the Muswell Hill defenders, winning headers from floated passes, and chasing down everything struck into the channels or in behind the defence, and generally keeping the defenders busy with their very presences.
However, there was a tendency for the two of them to play quite narrow, and much of their pressing was confined to the Muswell Hill centre-halves, rather than their full-backs. The width of pressing afforded by wide forwards and wingers in Soho’s conventional 3-4-1-2 was lost, and the visitors were able to exert pressure on the home side in the latter stages of the first half.
In open play, overlapping full-backs threatened their opposite numbers in Orange and the wider central midfielders, Edgar and Dan Hall, were often pulled wide to track the runs of Muswell Hill wingers, leaving Dan Soile exposed and overrun as the pivot at the base of the midfield. The visitors also deployed a particularly imposing forward, resolute of purpose and square of jaw, who would drift into the channels to overwhelm the Soho full-backs in the air, winning headers from set pieces to push Muswell Hill down the pitch.
The visitors enjoyed their best chance of the half as they won another set piece, before firing a header towards the Soho goal that was hacked off the line by Adam, displaying in an instant all the benefits of putting your full-backs on the posts on corners that seems to be so unfashionable in professional football these days.
As the first half drew to a close, Muswell Hill passed their way around the stretched Soho central midfield to give their midfielder a clear run at the Soho back four. While his shot was comfortably saved by Will in the home goal, and the half-time whistle blew minutes later, the passage was a reminder to the home side that their guests had not shot to the top of the table by accident.
The second half started with more Soho pressure, Lorcan, again, impressing in his ability to win the ball off Muswell Hill midfielders, which led to another set piece that the home side took advantage of. Lorcan nodded down a corner to Charlie, who had ventured forth from his left-back spot, who poked home for his first goal for the club, giving the Oranges a three-goal cushion.
As the second half wore on, three quite remarkable things happened in quick succession. First, Lorcan added his second of the game, latching onto a pass from James to score his fifth goal in two league games, and put Soho in a very comfortable position with half an hour to play; second, Rash made it five from a corner, not with a smart finish or a cultured shot from outside the box, but an actual header with his actual head; and third, the team morphed into a 4-4-2 as Rash was withdrawn, providing cover to the full-backs, and enabling the side to more effectively deal with the visitors’ wide attackers.
As Muswell Hill pressed forward in search of a goal, they left spaces in the midfield that were exploited by Soho on the counter-attack; the team could draw on a much larger bench than the visitors, and introduced all of their subs to continue to pack the midfield with willing legs. Striker Andy played a pass to midfielder Cameron, who had been introduced in the second half and at half time respectively, who advanced on the Muswell Hill goal, twisting and turning defenders before firing a shot into the far corner from just outside the box to complete the scoring.
The visitors threatened in the closing seconds with a few dangerous set pieces, but Soho packed the penalty area with eleven defenders to preserve the clean sheet, which they defended until the final whistle.
Following the weekend’s games, Muswell Hill dropped to fourth in the league, while Soho climbed to second, behind only Titans 2 Brewers on goals scored. Muswell Hill will travel to Charlton on November 4th, ahead of a full slate of games on the 11th that sees Muswell Hill face Titans XXL and Soho travel to north London to take on the Romans.