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Titans XXL offered stiff opposition for a Soho side that rarely looked at its best last weekend (17 February), but were unable to prevent the league leaders from grinding out a 2-1 victory at Duke’s Meadows.
Soho’s season has been one categorised as much by frequent changes in personnel and formation as it has performances on the pitch, but manager Austin managed to surprise the team by, paradoxically, sending them out in a familiar formation, a compact 3-4-1-2. With top scorer Cameron absent, James Abbotts and Lorcan, returning from a lengthy injury lay-off, were asked to lead the line, and the rest of the team instructed to play directly towards them, and pick up knockdowns and layoffs.
While the forwards played admirably, chasing long balls and holding up play as best they could, behind them, the team struggled to retain possession and effectively challenge for the ball in central areas. Whether competing for headers from goal kicks, or fending off tackles from a three-strong Titans midfield, the team missed usual starters Dan Soile and Bjørn in the middle of the park.
Yet Soho had the better chances in the first half, with a lot of joy coming from the link-up play between attacking midfielder Rash, and a combination of Dan Hall and Sam pulling wide to the left from midfield, and Phil and myself – whose inclusion was perhaps a key contributor to the aforementioned lack of physical assertiveness in central midfield – pulling right. Sam fizzed a shot at the Titans keeper, who was able to parry before smothering James’ follow-up from the six-yard line, and it began to look like one of those games where a goal simply would not come.
At half-time, coach Connor made it clear that a much-improved second half performance would be needed from the side, and Soho began the second half with a renewed vigour. The long balls began to stick, and the visitors were able to begin winning the kind of set pieces, deep in Titans territory, from which they have built much of their success this season.
It was from one of these set pieces that the game’s most dramatic, and elsewhere curiously underreported, incident took place. Rash swung in a typically accurate corner, which bounced off a head at the near post and fell to myself on the six-yard line. With the grace and skill of someone who definitely knew the ball was coming towards them, I completely purposefully directed the ball goal-wards with my chest; the keeper was stranded, the defenders out of frame, and it looked for all the world that Soho would take the lead.
However, the goal was cruelly, and indeed literally, snatched away, as one of the Titans defenders flung their arms towards the ball and clawed it out of the air before it could cross the line. As Dido cried to the heavens following Aeneas’ departure, the Soho players and touchline turned to the referee in tragic disbelief, calling for a penalty, the dismissal of the offending player, and nothing less than eternal hatred against the whole Titans line.
Yet the referee was not moved, claiming to have not seen the handball. Enraged visitors surrounded the referee, pleading their cases – so vehemently, in fact, that captain James Riley was shown a yellow card for his comments, which he was particular to remind me that included no profanities – but nothing came of it. The scores remained level, and Soho had nothing to show for their improved second-half performance.
The incident inspired Soho to kick on, and they maintained the pressure on the Titans goal, scoring almost immediately afterwards. Rash capped his impressive performance with a goal, and both wide players, including substitute Edgar, found greater space to exploit behind Titans wide players, who pushed increasingly far up the pitch in search of an equaliser. Connor, who had been substituted on in an attempt to prove the efficacy of a new adage, “do as I say, and as I do”, then doubled Soho’s lead with a neat finish from inside the area, and the visitors looked comfortable.
However, the home side were not deterred, and pushed hard for a goal in return. While centre-backs Adam and AJ were largely untroubled in open play, and goalkeeper Will had swept up long balls played behind the defence effectively all game, the home side was able to halve the Soho lead from a corner late on, which made for a nervy last five minutes for all involved.
Yet it wasn’t enough, as Soho were able to hold on to their lead in a game whose closing stages were marked by not one, but two instances of players being blootered in the face; first, the marauding Sam took a boot to the face, and then substitute forward Mark thundered a header from a Titans goal kick back from whence it came to keep the ball away from the Soho goal. The Oranges had never really gotten going, but celebrated a scrappy and dogged victory, that kept them atop the league table.
The Soho relief was doubled by the news that, on the very next pitch to the game where they had played, Titans 2Brewers had played out a wildly entertaining 4-4 draw with East End Phoenix FC, the drama of which prompted calls from those on the Soho sideline for a variant of Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday, albeit one that keeps us abreast of all the developments in the London Unity League in real time.
2Brewers’ draw could prove to be two points dropped, rather than one point gained, in the title race, as Soho now sit two points clear at the top of the table, ahead of 2Brewers, and with a game in hand on their nearest rivals following the cancellation of last week’s clash due to a waterlogged pitch at Regent’s Park.
Titans XXL next entertain London Romans FC on the third of March, while Soho have postponed their game with Charlton Invicta FC this weekend in favour of entering a team into the FA People’s Cup, and will resume league play with a trip to East End Phoenix, the first meeting of the two sides this season.
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