Not every game is going to go the way you planned it.
In a short competition such as The Island Games, though, you have to adjust quickly, and still find a way to win regardless. HFX Wanderers FC went into their match against Valour FC on Wednesday hoping to press high and out-run their opposition.
What happened instead was that Valour, moving the ball much quicker than Halifax expected, pinned back a tired Wanderers squad and forced them to wait for their chances, which they took with aplomb in a 2-0 win.
“I think coming on the back of such an emotional and physical game the other day, I had a feeling we would slump a bit,” HFX coach Stephen Hart admitted. “I really wanted us to go out there and put the game on top of them, and force them to play quicker than they were comfortable. But I soon realized that a number of the starters just didn’t have the legs.”
The emotional game Hart referred to was, of course, the Wanderers’ 1-1 draw with York9 FC, which saw them equalize in the 91st minute despite playing 70 minutes with just 10 men.
The Wanderers were fortunate enough to withstand some nervy moments in the opening stages and Valour, and a stroke of good luck put them ahead by two in the first half as Alex De Carolis scored a free kick off a defender, and Cory Bent made good use of a defensive error.
“We were struggling to get the press right and that allowed them to make us do a lot more running than I would’ve liked,” Hart said. “We were fortunate in the first goal and then when we got the second goal, it was just about managing. We knew they were gonna push on three or four guys and we just had to manage the situation.”
With his players not quite up to the energy level required to match Valour’s ball movement, Hart was forced to adjust his strategy on the fly. They’d entered the match with a new 4-4-2 formation, perhaps forced in part by the suspension to João Morelli, but they did manage to hold a very organized backline, keeping most of Valour’s 15 shots to spots that weren’t particularly dangerous.
Two of Valour’s five shots on target were outside the box, and the rest were all calmly dealt with by Christian Oxner. Still, Hart would’ve preferred if his side didn’t have to deal with that many shots in the first place.
“I was hoping not to have to put (Andre) Rampersad and (Alessandro) Riggi on the pitch, but it was necessary,” he revealed. “We were losing a bit of the midfield, they were playing balls between us and through us. I had to try and stop that from happening.”
He added: “I never told the players to sit back, it’s not something I like. But they were moving the ball so well they forced us to sit back a bit. We knew that they would have to come forward so our plan was to be patient and then hit on the counter.”
The fact that HFX managed to pull out a result against Valour could go a long way toward securing their future at The Island Games. Pacific FC’s loss to Atlético Ottawa on Wednesday night meant HFX remained in fourth for now, and it’s very likely that a Wanderers win on Sunday against Atlético Ottawa would be enough to secure their qualification.
So, Hart’s focus over the next few days will be steeling his players for one more difficult test.
“I think my job right now will be to make them actually relax, both mentally and physically,” he said. “Understand that they’ve faced everything, in terms of playing from down, playing from 10 men, having a bad game and coming away with the result. They just have to manage the game.