The OldBoys squared off against the Shamrocks in the O-30’s Division 1 Semi-Final on Sunday. It was an evenly-matched, low-scoring, grind-it-out type of game with two of the league’s best defenses yielding limited scoring chances. The Shamrocks came out strong in the first half and true to form banged aggressive direct passes up to their strikers. The OldBoys absorbed the pressure and while the Shamrock fired plenty of shots the OldBoys only allowed one shot on target the entire half. But, Shamrocks #20 made the most of that lone opportunity, as he slipped into the box from a very wide angle he blasted a shot over Becker’s head and into the underside of the cross-bar for the game’s opening goal.
The OldBoys struggled to create much in the first half. The best opportunity emerged as Jens beat his man on the right wing but as he entered the box with an eye towards Matt Hureau’s free central run, the Shamrock defender took Matt down, leaving no one on the end of the pass and a referee not interested in blowing his whistle. Kinda frustrating. The Shamrocks lead 1-0 at the half.
At halftime the OldBoys made some major adjustments. We decided to put out our most attacking line-up and push hard for a goal early in the half. That left us a bit exposed at the back and Shamrock nearly took advantage as their only other shot on target the entire game hit the post. Relieved, the OldBoys pushed forward. In the 55th minute, Ernest skinned his man on the left wing, got to the end line inside the box, passed to Steve Morse for a shot from the 18 that hit Brandon, Brandon passed to an unmarked Ernest for a tap in goal. 1-1. Our halftime changes were making a huge impact.
We stuck with our attacking line-up and as we continued to pressure Shamrock the ref cut Shamrock a break on what should have been a game-changing decision leaving them with 10 players. As Matt was beating his man on the right wing he cut back into the wide-open middle and was headed for goal from about 30 yards out. Knowing he was totally beat, Shamrock #17 who was already on a yellow threw out a desperate foot and caught Matt’s heel. The referee agreed and said it was definitely a yellow he but didn’t want to send the player off. It was such a perplexing conversation with the ref because he 100% agreed it was undoubtedly a yellow card offense but in the same breath just shrugged and said of course he’s not going to call it because he didn’t want to send the player off. WTF? Shamrocks knew they got lucky and immediately subbed off #17 who never returned. Highly frustrating.
With 30 minutes still to play the OldBoys felt they had another goal in them and I’m sure the Shamrocks thought the same. Shots on target were few but the referee’s gifts to Shamrock were plenty. As the OldBoys threatened, Earnest was dragged down in the box to prevent him from receiving a pass. Again the ref was not interested. Then the dagger in the heart. In the 73rd minute, Paul and #20 were going after a ball in our box when #20 hooked Paul’s arm and dragged him to the ground hoping the ref would call a penalty….to everyone’s surprise, the ref let play proceed, still on his knees screaming for a call #20 just threw himself on the ball to force the ref to make a call, the ref still didn’t blow his whistle, then #20 picked the ball up, brought it to his chest and began to stand up, still no whistle from the ref so #20 dropped the ball to his feet and Paul kicked him as he tried to shoot. The ref awarded a penalty and a straight red to Paul. Paul shouldn’t have kicked him but it was absurd that the ref never blew the whistle against #20 for taking down Paul and handling the ball (#20 knew he cheated and even apologized for it after the game). The Shamrocks converted and held on to win 2-1. Ultimate frustration.
It was a tough loss to swallow. We clearly weren’t good enough to overcome two game-changing calls against us. The teams played each other dead even so who knows what the outcome would have been if not for the ridiculous refereeing. Too bad it wasn’t determined by the players.
Back at the pub we got over it and raised a glass to an excellent season. This was our first season in the Over-30’s 1st Division, we made it to the playoffs, we proved we’re capable of competing with the best and the lessons learned from this season will only make us a tougher team next year.
By Mark Becker