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Soho FC continued their prolific campaign in the London Unity League with a 2-0 victory away at Charlton Invicta; a tight, scrappy affair that saw the home side on top for large periods, but were unable to match the clinical visitors who now lead the league table.
Injuries forced Soho to adopt yet another new shape to start the game: a conventional 4-4-2, although one spearheaded by Kevin, who was given licence to roam around his strike partner Cameron. While the new shape offered a lot of attacking opportunities in wide areas, with wingers Edgar and Phil combining with Kevin and their respective full-backs, Charlie and Adam, to put pressure on the Charlton back four, which was often left exposed by a front three that didn’t track runners beyond the halfway line.
The team’s central midfielders, Bjørn and Dan Hall, combined with the wide players to create lopsided mismatches on the flanks, with up to four orange-shirted players buzzing around their confusingly similarly-coloured opposition, decked out in all red. However, these attacks often came to little, as the Soho forwards, or forward, as was often the case, were similarly outnumbered in and around the penalty area.
As the first half wore on, and the first goal would not come, the visitors descended into a slightly misplaced frenzy, as they sought, with increasing desperation, to score now, leading to a brief throwing forward of the kitchen sink, despite the game still being in the 18thminute. One particular example saw Bjørn and Dan both charge towards a Charlton midfielder trying to control a high ball just inside his own half, who had a simple task in nodding the ball over the over-pursuing visitors, allowing the home side to break on the Soho back four with remarkable ease.
Soho had not failed to score in the first half of six of their seven games coming into this fixture, with the lone exception being a nerve-shredding 3-2 victory over Titans 2Brewers that saw three Soho goals in the last seven minutes. Perhaps the team was apprehensive of a similarly nervy atmosphere descending over the game as the minutes ticked by without a goal, or were suddenly aware of the very real possibility of their winning streak coming to an end; whatever the cause, the first quarter of the game was a nervous and frustrating affair for the team.
However, the team’s excellence from set pieces remained unchanged, and Kevin, whose miraculous strike direct from a corner secured the victory over 2Brewers last year, was again able to make a difference from the corner flag. His whipped cross was headed home by Charlie after 23 minutes, and Soho found themselves leading a game they had not really dominated.
Despite not enjoying the best of records coming into the game, with just a point from their nine fixtures, Charlton kept their heads up, and enjoyed much of the play for the rest of the first half. Their front three pressed high, pinning the once-marauding Soho full-backs deep in their own half, and their midfield three were able to overrun the two in the heart of the Soho side. They, too, made the most of their set pieces, with a corner yielding a header that was nodded off the line by one of a half-dozen Orange shirts crowding the six-yard box. Charlton’s attacking play bore an eerie similarity to that of Soho, with midfielders pulling wide and wingers threatening full-backs, but little came of it as an isolated centre-forward was effectively covered by James and AJ. At half-time, both sides had played a similar game, but Soho had made the most of their set piece.
In the second half, the visitors made a number of changes. One was forced, myself coming on for the injured Edgar, but another was tactical, withdrawing a defender and introducing Rash, who had started on the bench due to a foot injury, to play in a 3-4-1-2 shape. The change immediately solidified Soho’s position; with Rash pulling into midfield when out of possession to negate Charlton’s numerical advantage, and wing-backs Phil and myself often doubling up with the wide centre-backs to thwart attacks from the flanks, Soho looked far less fragile in the second half.
Yet the job was not yet done, and as a thrilled crowd of about seven players from other Charlton teams, who had wandered onto the bleachers beside the pitch in what was presumably an afternoon break from their own athletic activities, cheered on, the home side had a number of chances. The clearest fell to one of their substitutes, when the otherwise excellent Will made the curious decision to roll the ball straight to his feet, rather than to a teammate; clearly, it was all part of a master plan, the complexities of which are beyond a simpleton such as myself, as the forward’s shot flew wide, and Soho retained their lead.
While much of the game was played with an edgy snappiness befitting a football game – Dan picked up his second yellow card of the season for a particularly satisfying-looking lunge in the first half – there was an incident that fell rather far over the line between acceptable combativity and outright violence. Adam #2, who had been introduced for Bjørn late in the second half, kicked out at a Charlton player off the ball, reportedly unhappy with some of the conduct of the home side. While I cannot comment on what the Charlton players did or did not say, it was obvious that Adam’s outburst was inappropriate, and in my opinion was lucky to only receive a yellow card for the offence. A few moments later, he was pulled back off, and Bjørn reintroduced.
As Charlton continued to press for what would have been a deserved equaliser, and we now headed into appropriate sink-throwing territory, unlike the sort Soho were indulging in in the first half, Charlton were hit on the break in the dying minutes of the game. With their full-backs pushed up in search of a goal, a clearance found Rash in the middle of the pitch, who was able to turn and play Kevin into the acres of space behind the now two-strong Charlton defence. Kevin sprinted away from the covering defenders, and dragged a low cross back for Cameron, who had toiled as an isolated forward for much of the day, and poked home a goal he personally deserved, to double Soho’s lead.
With that, the fight went out of the home side, and while they continued to push for a goal, there were no more significant chances in the last few minutes. It was an even, scrappy game that could have gone either way, but Soho took their chances, and now sit atop the league table for the first time, level on points with 2Brewers, but with a superior goal difference and a game in hand.
Soho and 2Brewers meet at Regent’s Park this weekend in a game that will go a long way to deciding the eventual league champion, while Charlton travel to third-place East End Phoenix in another weekend in which all eight teams are in action.
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