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The result that secured the London Unity League title for Soho FC, last weekend, bore a striking similarity to the game which started the Oranges’ successful campaign, now bookended by closely-fought victories over London Romans. In September, Soho had come from behind to snatch a 3-2 win at Regent’s Park and on Sunday, at a pitch backing onto a running track at the New River Sport and Fitness Centre, in front of a capacity crowd of about ten, the Oranges won 5-2 to win the first league title in their history.
Spirits were high in the Soho camp, as the team knew that nothing short of a complete capitulation involving back-to-back defeats, in this game and next week against Titans 2Brewers, would see them fail to win the league, and the team carried this confidence into the game’s early stages. Following a brief delay, during which players and officials frantically pegged in the goal nets to bring up them up to what the referee considered snuff, the visitors attacked down the right, top scorer Lorcan heading over from an early cross from Kevin.
Minutes later Rash, moved onto the left wing from his usual position behind the front two, swung a corner under the Romans bar, and again Lorcan was on hand to not quite put the ball in the back of the net. Centre-back AJ – he of the totally purposeful goal from the half-way line earlier in the season – then misjudged a header of his own, sending the ball bouncing into the path of a Romans forward, whose shot was saved by Will in the Soho goal; the opening exchanges melted the Soho optimism away to nervy fatalism.
However, a hallmark of this Soho team’s success this year has been its tactical flexibility, and the seemingly random deployment of players in positions on the pitch once more yielded dividends. Bjørn, doing his best impression of a young Phil Jagielka, having played in goal, in defence, central midfield and the wing prior to today, was deployed behind the strikers, and clipped a fine ball to the back post from the edge of the penalty area after 12 minutes. League top scorer – yes, league specifically, he will remind you of that – Cameron was on hand to head home, and give Soho an early lead.
Bjørn continued to menace the Romans defence, finding Lorcan minutes later with a nearly identical move, and doubling the Soho lead on 22 minutes with a goal of his own from outside the area. With something of a cushion the Soho fans, who today counted among their number the ever-present Soho Ultras, family members of those playing, and people who I actually met for the first time on the touchline, found their voice, enthusiastically celebrating whenever the ball would roll out for a throw-in and down the small embankments flanking two sides of the pitch.
While the cries of “Down the hill!” were entertaining off the pitch, Soho continued to put on a show on the pitch, stringing together a beautiful move countering a Romans corner seeing Cameron, Lorcan and Kev combining to play Bjørn in behind, only for the excellent Romans keeper to dart from his line and smother the final ball.
Yet the visitors would not be denied, Rash swinging in his second impressive cross of the afternoon, this one from open play, which bounced off the head of a hapless Romans defender as they tried to clear their lines; the ball ballooned backwards in a very aesthetically pleasing arc, dipping in under the bar and over the keeper to add a third to the Soho tally before half-time.
The second half continued in much the same manner, with Romans pressing hard for a deserved goal back and Soho able to exploit the space in behind the overstretched home side. Kevin connected with a long pass to Lorcan, whose flick to Cameron skidded too close to the Romans goalkeeper, before Cameron pounced on a rebounded Lorcan shot, only for his effort to be cleared off the line. His goal aside, it was beginning to look like one of those days where it just wouldn’t go in for the forward.
However, the it would soon indeed go in for Soho, with Rash again bewildering the Romans defence with a fine corner swung into the box, which Lorcan headed home to make it four.
The home side did not let their heads drop, and their play had not warranted a four-goal deficit after an hour, and they quickly rebounded. The Romans forwards pressed the Soho defenders on a ball into the Soho box, at which point Charlie swung a leg at the ball, which spun back into the grateful arms of Will. The referee judged this to have been an intentional backpass, which were it to be the case would have been the most ambitious trivela attempted this side of Ricardo Quaresma.
Yet the indirect free kick was given and, despite the home side’s gallant blast at the bundle of bodies Soho had placed on the line to defend the set piece, the orange wall held. Minutes later, however, Romans picked up a deserved goal, driving down their right wing into the space vacated by our leggy midfield, and cutting back for a forward to poke home from inside the box.
Both teams added another goal before the final whistle, Rash finding Bjørn on the Soho left, who cut back for Lorcan to add his second of the game, before the home side were able to pass their way through the heart of the Soho defence, and finish neatly to make the final score 5-2 to the visitors.
The result guaranteed Soho the title, who have dropped just two points all season, and sit atop the league table with a five point gap over Titans 2Brewers, who have one more game to play. Soho and 2Brewers, who played out a thrilling 3-2 contest earlier in the year, will meet next weekend to conclude both side’s seasons. Romans, meanwhile, have two more games to play, against East End Phoenix and Titans XXL, and currently sit in third place, just a point ahead of Phoenix having played one more game.
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