The final league game of 2017 saw the Saints take on local rivals
British International School Sporting Saigon. With bragging rights and 3 points to play for, the stakes were high. Things did not start well for the Saints, as Sporting strikers’ John and White hassled and harried from the off, carving chances out for a number of onrushing Sporting midfielders. In fact, it took a Sporting goal to truly waken the Saints from their slumber. James Chandler, making a chance appearance due to an injury crisis at left-wing back for Sporting, nutmegged the ever-vocal Sean Campbell before working the ball across the box for an untracked midfielder to scuff the ball home.
One nil down and facing a torturous week in school, manager Finnigan began to bark orders at his first 11 in the style of Pep Guardiola paying a Southampton winger a compliment. With the defence pushed slightly higher and the midfield pressing their counterparts, the Saints began to get a foothold in the game, fashioning a number of chances - the best of which fell to Chuck “I’ll get the beers in” Marion. On this occasion Chuck “My round, guys!’ Marion left his teammates awestruck by his inability to finish from 6 yards. Despite a number of chances, the Saints went in at half-time one nil down.
The second half began as the first half finished, with the Saints on the front foot. James Quantrill, the living embodiment of Moussa Sissoko, was having one of his better games. Marauding forward, winning headers and fashioning chances whilst simultaneously keeping one eye on the defence. In a rare show of athleticism, the bulky midfielder received the ball in his own half and fended off his marker on a 60 yard run to win a freekick just outside the opposition’s penalty area. The resulting strike by Teague was saved well by Sporting goalkeeper O’Brien, who was having a good day between the sticks.
The Saints soon got themselves back on even footing when Alex “Ralphie” Varley pinpointed a 60 yard cross-field pass to the on-running Paul Hurley. The Irishman made no mistake and evened the scores from a difficult angle. With Hurley returning to the fold, seven other first team players expected to return in January (Burke, Sweeney, Collins, Mahon, McDonald, McCaughan and Scichilone) and new signing Blain expected to make his debut soon, competition for places are heating up.
The Saints continued to dominate after the equalizer, pressuring a defence that was comfortable in possession but uncertain in the air. Substitutes Aspin, Kane and Le all contributed to the Saints ascendancy in the second half with Kane and Le providing fresh(ish) legs in midfield and Aspin filling Connla’s hole as things got heated.
Trae Lower, who has been excellent in recent weeks, continued his fine run of form by providing width, pace and a willingness to chase lost causes (many of which came from James Teague passes). Much of his form owes to a switch from regular Bud to Bud Light with his breakfast. A change the manager fully endorses. “I fully endorse this change.” – Simon Finnigan, 2017.
With minutes remaining in the game and the Saints mounting attack after attack, it was Sporting who attempted to steal the three points. In a rare reversal of fortunes, it was the Irish who were on the receiving end of some belligerent ‘thieving’. A dangerous cross was cleared miraculously off the line by John “TeenWolf” Redmond before being bundled home by Sporting sub Alex Every. The fact that it was Redmond who knocked the ball towards his goal in the first place should bear no importance on his subsequent clearance.
Staring defeat in the face, one would expect captain Hulbert or manager Finnigan or even temporary vice-captain Quantril to rally the troops. But it was left to centre back Redmond to give the Saints a rousing battle cry. Think “We are Sparta” coupled with when Rafiki lifted Simba and Elton John sang that really catchy song from the Lion King (the name escapes me at this moment). Needless to say, the Saints were suitably roused and overcame the odds to find a late, late equalizer. Teague, striker of an earlier excellent freekick, used his twinkletoes to draw a foul from the cumbersome Sporting defence. Having politely asked manager Finnigan to be subbed on earlier in the game to take a freekick (a request that was courteously denied), Chuck ‘This round is on Me’ Marion finally got his chance to prove his credentials. From 30 yards out the American striker struck the ball true, evading the wall and O’Brien’s grasp to salvage a point for the Saints.
Whilst it would be unfair to take credit away from Chuck, the goal should really be attributed to Redmond who obstructed the keeper’s view from behind the wall. Some would argue that striking the ball from 30+ yards to score in the dying seconds of a game whilst a goal down takes real courage and skill but most will agree that it was only possible due to Redmond and his heroics.
Having rescued a point from the brink of defeat, the Saints pursued a win in the dying seconds - only for the referee to blow for full-time. On balance a point was a fair result but both teams will be eager to secure all three in the return fixture.