Guest match report by JP Casey, Soho FC
Soho FC’s nine-game winning streak in the London Unity League stuttered to an end at Weavers Field on Sunday (3 March), as East End Phoenix FC stifled the Soho attack at one end of the pitch, and took their chances at the other, to produce a 1-1 draw.
The visitors fielded a familiarly combative midfield trio of Bjørn, Dan Hall and Dan Soile, and sought to dominate the patchy, well-puddled middle of the park early on.
While both Bjørn and Dan Soile embarked on direct runs into the Phoenix half early on, they lacked a little quality in finding final balls and unlocking a well-organised defence. The team saw their through balls bounce a stride too far or their touches take the ball half a yard farther than they were expecting, and the result was a frustrating opening fifteen minutes for the visitors.
Phoenix’s shape perhaps contributed to the relatively one-sided opening, as they lined up in what looked like an asymmetrical 4-5-1, with one winger pushed on, standing on the toes of the Soho full-back on their side, to create what might technically, but inaccurately, be called a 4-4-2. Critically, this winger swapped sides constantly, and the rest of the team shuffled to accommodate the movements; as a result, the ball would at times break to a Soho wide player in yards of space, as the advanced winger was on his side and did not pressure the ball. Both Bjørn and Dan Hall enjoyed runs towards unprotected full-backs in the first half, but neither was able to fashion a clear-cut chance from the spaces.
Soho’s pressing, however, was typically effective, with both forwards, Cameron and Kevin, flitting between centre-halves and full-backs to close down passing lanes, and full-backs Adam and Charlie intervening to prevent long balls from flying down the touchline. This pressure helped create Soho’s first real chance, with Charlie heading a clearance back towards a flustered Phoenix full-back, before Rash and Cameron were able to pick up the ball, and work a shot for the latter.
The shot was well-saved by the Phoenix keeper, whose efforts were mirrored by their opposite number, Will in the Soho goal, who made a remarkable catch from a Phoenix shot fired from mere yards out from the goal. The chance proved to be the home side’s best of the half, with Soho enjoying more opportunities as the game wound towards the break, Cameron blustering through about three Phoenix defenders before teeing up Bjørn for a strike for the team’s best opportunity.
The half petered out with a mixture of skill and silliness; Dan Hall provided the latter by arguing with the referee over a decision that turned out to have been given in Soho’s favour, and a humble puddle at the base of the Soho midfield provided both by expertly intercepting a raking Phoenix pass and single-handedly stifling the home side’s counter-attack. As of the time of writing, Soho have not yet announced their player of the match for the game, and I would not put money against that positionally-astute puddle.
In the second half, Soho made a number of substitutions that would swing the game in their favour, and promptly back out of it again. Lorcan continued his return from a ligament injury, Phil entered the fray in midfield, and debuts were handed to Leandro and Dimitri.
However, the raft of changes robbed Soho of their one clear advantage in the first half: a compact and well-disciplined midfield, with Leandro in particular seeming to occupy, at various times, right-back, wide right in a three-man midfield, the hole in behind the strikers, and wide right again, now in a four-man midfield.
Through this confusion, Soho took the lead midway through the half, as Lorcan charged through the middle of the park, deftly evading the puddle that had been a thorn in the Phoenix side when kicking the other way, and firing a low shot into the bottom corner. There was an element of good fortune about the goal, with a number of peculiar bounces along the ball’s path wrong-footing, right-footing, and then wrong-footing again the Phoenix keeper who had an otherwise good game, but the quality of the run and strike were unquestionable.
Phoenix struck back immediately, pushing into the spaces in front of the Soho back four that were suddenly emptied of Soho midfielders, and putting pressure on the visitors. Soho quickly conceded a corner, from which a Phoenix forward forced a smart save from Will, but in the ensuing scramble the home side were able to poke home an equaliser before the visitors could react.
Soho searched for an equaliser, but without a firm grip on the midfield, the final stages of the game had more than an element of kitchen sink-chucking about them as the visitors looked to maintain their winning streak.
The best chance came in the final minutes, when a reintroduced Bjørn broke down the Soho left, and cut the ball back to Kevin on the edge of the box, he who had scored the 87thminute winner against 2Brewers earlier in the season. But this was a miracle too far, his shot curling over the bar and into the safety of a bush on the path just behind the goal.
A few minutes later, it was all over, and both sides reflected on a hard-fought game that really, neither had dominated. The draw keeps Phoenix firmly in mid-table, third on 18 points, and with two games in hand over third-placed Romans on 22, the result could see them begin a late charge up the table. The result saw Soho drop points for the first time this season, but remain atop the table with 28 points from their ten games, two points ahead of Titans 2Brewers with a game in hand.
The two sides meet again, at Weavers Field, home of the great puddle, this weekend, in the semi-final of the Unity League Cup.
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