‘We were organized’: Hart credits backline performance for 1st HFX clean sheet

HALIFAX – After nine attempts, HFX Wanderers have earned their first clean sheet in club history, picking up a 2-0, second leg win on Wednesday over Valour FC to advance in the Canadian Championship with a 4-1 aggregate advantage.

While Stephen Hart’s managerial opposite suggested his side created enough quality chances to score at least once, Hart thought differently – quick to credit his players for holding Valour scoreless.

“They had maybe two clear chances, the rest there was sort of half-chances,” Hart said. “I thought that was a credit to the defending we saw.”

Knowing a nil-nil result would see them through in this Qualifying Round 2 tie, Hart elected to field a 4-4-1-1 formation, creating two banks of four and Akeem Garcia and Vincent Lamy as pressing attacking players. Save for a stretch early in the first half, Valour had difficulty penetrating the Wanderers, who invited pressure from one of CPL’s possession-oriented sides.

Mohamed Kourouma gave the visitors an away goal cushion in the 57th minute. The winger’s left-footed spot-kick along the left side of the box was directed towards the near post, rather than into the box, and beat Valour goalkeeper Tyson Farago.

Just like that, with some free-kick trickery, the Wanderers were in the ascendancy.

“Yeah, [Valour had] 61% possession but the only stat that matter to me today is it was 2-0, eh,” Hart said bluntly. “We were organized in a sense that we came away with a lot of balls and the chances… I thought the backline played well both in the air and on the ground.”

Hart also sang the praises of Garcia post-match. Slotting in up top in the absence of bulking centre-forwards Tomasz Skublak and Luis Perea, the speedy Trinidad international ‘got the job done’, as Hart alluded to, having limited support in that 4-4-1-1 shape.

“He’s one of those players that you give him a job and he does his best and that’s all we can we can ask of him,” Hart said. “But I thought he was tremendous today in what he had to do a lot because a lot of times he was the lone player up front.”

Zela “Zoom” Langwa has appeared in all nine competitive matches Wanderers, quickly becoming a stalwart in HFX’s backline. The speedy fullback was impressive against Valour, recording a game-high 12 tackles and limiting Valour dangerman Michael Petrasso on the left side.

“We came to fight and, at the end of the day, the team that fought won,” Langwa said post-match. “We’ve been fighting to get a clean sheet… I think we stayed controlled.”

His opposite fullback, Andre Bona, was another reason the Wanderers walked away from IG Field with a clean sheet. The 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick made several quality clearances and even scored his first goal for the club in injury time.

The Wanderers will now progress to play USL Championship side Ottawa Fury FC in Qualifying Round 3, with the first leg set for July 10 at Wanderers Grounds. The Halifax side will return to league action on Wednesday at home to Cavalry FC (7:00 p.m. AT, 6:00 p.m. ET/OneSoccer).