Guest match report by JP Casey, Soho FC
In their second top-of-the-table clash in as many matches, Soho FC pulled off a dramatic comeback to maintain their perfect start to the season, scoring three times in the final seven minutes to overcome league leaders Titans 2Brewers.
The home side, who also boasted a perfect record coming into the game, and led the league with 12 points from four games and an impressive return of 19 goals scored and just four conceded, dominated the early stages of the game, fielding three central midfielders to wrest control of the middle of the pitch from Bjørn and Dan Soile in the heart of the Soho team.
Ahead of them, Dan Hall, Daiki and Kevin operated as a line of attacking midfielders in behind Lorcan up front, but they were frequently dragged back to help bolster the Soho midfield; while this restored some balance to the middle of the pitch, this often left just one or two isolated Soho players in the Titans half. This weakened Soho’s counter-attacking game, which had led to considerable success over the first three games of the season, as long balls downfield would bounce off Lorcan and the wingers, dribbling harmlessly out of play for throw-ins.
This backward-looking focus also contributed to the game’s first goal; perhaps fearing being outnumbered from a corner, Soho packed their penalty area with all 11 players. But instead of dissuading the Titans from trying to break down the massed defenders directly, it emboldened the home side to throw all but a few of their own players into the Soho box, and the resulting corner was swung into a rectangle of grass that contained roughly half the population of west London; the Titans were able to get to the ball first, and head home the game’s opener.
A combination of the uneven pitch and defensive errors then conspired to double the Titans’ lead. Indentations and bumps on the pitch, which affected both sides equally and contributed to the afternoon’s largely aerial affair, interfered with Soho’s passes in their own half, and quickly a ball was bouncing back behind the team’s defence and towards the goalkeeper Will. However, a miscommunication between Will and retreating centre-half AJ caused the players to clear each other out, and leave a gaping hole in the heart of the Soho defence, through which a Titans player darted to add the home side’s second after half an hour.
At half time, full-back Adam was replaced with Phil, and Edgar was promptly chucked on alongside yours truly to replace Daiki and Dan Hall respectively; the team’s shape was now closer to a 4-3-3, with myself, Bjørn and Dan Soile in the centre of the pitch, and Kevin and Edgar supporting Lorcan, who continued to fight for headers, chase loose balls, and cover every blade of grass in the Titans half like a young Ivica Olić, circa 2009.
Yet the Oranges struggled to create chances, with many of the long passes and through-balls in behind that formed the basis of the teams’ attacking play rendered ineffective against a Titans defence that was willing and able to sit deep and clear balls to touch.
The team’s tempers were also starting to fray as their attacks seemed to go nowhere; half a dozen Soho players surrounded the referee when he refused to award the visitors with a penalty, which, on another day, could have been given, and AJ added to his personal record of players body-checked today by clattering into a nippy Titans forward. He was somewhat lucky to only receive a yellow card for his troubles, and even more fortunate to not see a straight red when he pulled down a counter-attacking Titan late in the game who was speeding towards the Soho goal.
As Soho became evidently more desperate, the team began to inch up the field, the back four now encamped on the halfway line, launching high balls into the Titans penalty area like artillery pieces wheeled to the top of a hill to blast cannonballs at an enemy encampment on a neighbouring mound. First Bjørn, then Dan Soile, then even AJ, stationed themselves alongside Lorcan, amongst the Titans defenders, to add more muscle to the team’s front end, great Carthaginian war elephants stomping and thrashing around the tired and overwhelmed enemy lines, as myself and Edgar buzzed around the fringes of the Titans penalty area, scuttling back and forth like deckhands desperately trying to bail out a sinking rowboat, recycling possession, playing balls out to the wings, and trying to stop the whole messy thing falling to pieces; yet a goal would still not come.
Having had almost all of the ball for the majority of the second half, Soho were finally rewarded with an echo of the Titans’ first goal; a corner was whipped in towards Charlie, who too had charged forth from his position in the team’s defence, who flicked the ball onto a bemused Titans head, from where it bounced past the goalkeeper and into the net. After 83 minutes, Soho’s bombardment of the Titans penalty area had finally cracked their defences.
Minutes later, a near-identical goal was scored to level the scores, Kevin’s in-swinger guided home by a thumping header from Dan Soile. Two goals in two minutes, and suddenly the game flew wide open; the Titans began to push forward, looking to restore their lead, and created passages of play that saw AJ nearly sent off, and myself sent flying as I feebly tried to tackle a much more physically resilient Titans midfielder. Soho captain James, who had been left alone to valiantly protect the Soho half during his side’s frenzied charge for an equaliser, was instrumental in reining in the war elephants, pulling players back into position and orchestrating a suddenly desperate defence.
The Oranges withstood the late Titans rally and, in the 89thminute, won a corner to relieve some of the pressure on their own goal. Kevin, who had worked both flanks tireless all game, swung the corner in from the left wing. And in it kept swinging. And in, and in, and in, eventually hitting the top corner of the far side of the goal, nestling at the bottom of a pile of crumpled Soho and Titans bodies, all of which had been flung at the swerving ball in a desperate attempt to direct its path.
But it hadn’t been touched. Kevin had scored direct from a corner. In the 89thminute. The home side were heartbroken and the visitors yelped in delight; when the referee blew the final whistle just moments later, there was an eerie sense of disbelief around the pitch, as the events of the last seven minutes had not sunk in for anyone involved.
As both sets of exhausted players left the field, the league table confirmed what, for many, was barely believable; the Titans remain at the top of the league, with 12 points from five games, but Soho are right on their heels, with 12 points and a game in hand, just behind the league leaders by a single goal.
This weekend, the Titans will look to restore their three-point lead as they play their own second team, the Titans XXL, before a full round of matches on December 2ndwith Titans hosting fourth-placed AFC Muswell Hill, and Soho taking on third-placed East End Phoenix.