Victorious again at home, HFX turn focus to building road mentality

HALIFAX – In the final home game of the Spring season, HFX Wanderers FC yet again picked up points in front of the raucous crowd in the Kitchen.

With a 2-0 win over Valour FC on Wednesday night, the Wanderers have now picked up points at home in all CPL games except for one — a week ago against the eventual Spring title-winning Cavalry FC.

“It’s a comfort thing. I think they are playing for their family and the crowd,” said HFX coach Stephen Hart after the game.

“It’s not that we’ve played that badly on the road either, let’s be honest.”

The road, however, presents different challenges for Hart’s side – they’ve yet to win away from Wanderers Grounds, after all. Hart pointed to the example of other teams with players with USL and national team experience who are more used to life away from home.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit of a learning curve in how to travel and deal with the travel and play the games away. For a lot of our players, this has not been part of their life before,” said Hart.

“It’s a learning thing for most of us. I don’t think Christian has sat on this much aeroplanes in his life,” Hart said while drawing a laugh with Christian Oxner sitting beside him.

While Oxner has primarily backed up veteran Jan-Michael Williams in between the sticks, the Halifax product made four saves to pick up the clean sheet. The biggest stop of the night came in the final moments of the first half when he point-blank stopped Calum Ferguson.

“We were mentally slow to deal with two second balls and Christian dealt with it very, very well,” said Hart. “I don’t think he actually saw them, he’s just, that’s his game, his reflexes are amazing and he kept us in it. Or else it would have been, we would have been in a serious dog fight to try and get ourselves back in the game.”

Defender Alex De Carolis said playing at home gives his team extra confidence before the game.

“Every home team has an advantage because this league is so hard to play on the road but I think we really have a good advantage and we’re all comfortable here,” said De Carolis, who finished the night with three clearances.

In addition to work in practice ahead of the game, Hart’s message to the team before the match was straight forward and seemingly effective.

“I wanted them to try to not play with any sort of fear,” said Hart.

“The message was to go out and look at every game from now on as building for the second part of the season and the cup.”

With the focus on the Fall season and Canadian Championship and a stretch of three games in eight days, it wasn’t surprising to see some changes in the lineup.

“If I’m honest, we’re banged up a bit. There were a couple players that I think needed to get some days off, some valuable days off and the changes were with that in mind,” said Hart of his tinkered lineup.

Along with Oxner and De Carolis, defender Chrisnovic N’Sa and midfielder Kouamé Ouattara got the call in the starting XII with a different look. It was a combination of resting players and also get some time on the field for players coming back from long-term injuries.

It may give Hart a little more work to do ahead of the next game on July 1 against FC Edmonton.

“The guys that aren’t the regular starters, myself included, when stepping in today I thought we all did a good job,” said De Carolis. “And we made our coach think hard for next game, who should be in the lineup. I think we did our job.”