Paulus rues red card as Ledgerwood decides Al Classico

EDMONTON – Nik Ledgerwood celebrated his game-deciding penalty-kick goal against the team he used to captain, and FC Edmonton couldn’t score for the fourth consecutive game against its Al Classico rival.

Ledgerwood’s 27th minute effort from the spot was the margin as Cavalry FC defeated the Eddies 1-0, the third time the Calgary side has got better of their rivals to the north in four matches. The other one ended in a 0-0 draw, so, with one game left in the Al Classico rivalry, Cavalry has cemented a win in the season series.

As the man who wore the armband FC Edmonton in its final NASL season, it would be fair to wonder if Ledgerwood would celebrate if he ever scored for the opposition at Clarke Stadium. We found out after he beat FCE keeper Connor James, as Ledgerwood leapt and punched his fist into the air. He was in front of the FC Edmonton supporters’ section. It was by no means a flamboyant celebration, but he did enjoy the moment.

“I knew I was going to celebrate,” said Ledgerwood. “I was confident. I hit a hell of a penalty in Winnipeg, so I felt confident to step up and do it again. I know the goalkeeper coach and Connor quite well, so I thought they probably watch video, so that’s why I switched it up and went to the other side. But I don’t think there was a huge amount of fans behind there to throw me off.”

FC Edmonton coach Jeff Paulus said he had no issue with Ledgerwood enjoying the movement.

“Not at all. He plays for them now, that’s his right to do so. He comes here and gets a bit of stick from then supporters. Listen, Nik plays with an edge. We loved Ledgerwood when he was here doing that for us, and he does that for them now.”

The spot kick came after Amer Didic was judged to have hacked down Cavalry midfielder Jose Escalante, who was sprinting down the left side of the Eddies’ penalty area when he was brought down. There was no sign of argument from the Eddies after referee Dave Gantar made the call.

“It can’t happen, it just can’t happen. He knows that,” Paulus said, noting that fullback Jeannot Esua was in a good spot to cover the run if Escalante had managed to elude Didic.

Cavalry FC's Oliver Minatel contests with FC Edmonton's Ramon Soria in the box. (FC Edmonton/CPL).
Cavalry FC’s Oliver Minatel contests with FC Edmonton’s Ramon Soria in the box. (FC Edmonton/CPL).

Late in the first half, Escalante was within millimetres of doubling the Calgary side’s lead, as his thundering volley, on the second phase of a long throw, rattled off the underside of the crossbar, hit the turf and spun out, though there were Cavalry claims that the ball crossed the line.

But, more troubling for Edmonton is that the Eddies haven’t scored against Cavalry in the four Al Classico encounters. Coach Jeff Paulus moved his team to a more offensively minded 4-3-3 formation for Wednesday’s night’s game against Cavalry FC. Through 45 minutes it didn’t register a single effort that would have forced Cavs keeper Niko Giantsopoulos into a save.

In the 51st minute, Amer Didic’s headed effort off a Esua throw, comfortably caught by Giantsopoulos, was the Eddies first shot. It wasn’t much, but it was a gateway to a better second half from the home side.

At 70 minutes in, FCE had a glorious chance to draw the game level. Edem Mortotsi made a fantastic run through the middle of the park, then sprung striker Tomi Ameobi with a perfectly weighted pass that beat Cavalry’s high defensive line. Ameobi came in and hammered his low shot right into the legs of Giantsopoulos

“I think we were a little slow out of the blocks in the first half,” said Ameobi. “We were much better in the second half, and, on another day, if I take my chance, it’d be a different game. I tried to fire it back across the keeper, I didn’t wrap my sock around the back of the ball enough.”

But, with a little more than 15 minutes, the sparks flew. After an FCE attack, Escalante got the ball and was pushed over by Esua. Escalante got up and then Esua delivered an arm to the chest to send the Honduran back to the artificial turf. The red card was flashed quickly.

“Listen, the kid that drew it is a good player,” said Paulus. “But he’s looked for that. He’s stepped in, he’s the one that approached Jeannot, looking that he was probably going to do something to Jeannot. So, Jeannot just stood his ground, puts his chest into him and he drops like he’s been hit with a bazooka and we get a red card out of it. It’s growing stuff for sure for us as a team, we have to have a bit about us that we can just take that and look the other way.”

But Edmonton had one last chance, a free kick from just outside the box with a couple of minutes left. Oumar Diouck struck it well, but a diving effort from Giantsopoulos ensured that the 10-man Eddies wouldn’t get the last-gasp equalizer.

“We know that it’s never going to be an easy game,” said Cavalry coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “And, even with 10 men, they’ve put a lot of pressure on us. So I think what we’ve got is resilience in abundance. I thought in the first half we were very good, I thought in the second half, we could have managed the game better, but they threw everything at us, but we still defended it.”