MATCH ANALYSIS: Halifax agonizingly close to first victory of 2023, but Pacius rescues Forge late

Final Score: Forge FC 1-1 Halifax Wanderers
Goalscorers: Pacius 89′; Ferrin 42′
Game of the 2023 season: 6
CPL match: 373

Match in a minute or less

There was a goal at the end of each half of Saturday’s match at Tim Hortons Field, as Forge FC and the Halifax Wanderers played out a 1-1 draw.

Massimo Ferrin gave the visitors the lead with a shot from the edge of the penalty area that found the bottom right corner of Triston Henry’s goal in the 42nd minute — somewhat against the run of play after Forge had been the team on the front foot for most of the opening half. It seemed as though Halifax would be leaving Hamilton with all three points, but in the final moments of the match the Hammers found an equalizer. After a shot from Aboubacar Sissoko was saved by Yann Fillion, the rebound deflected off Woobens Pacius and went into the goal to make it 1-1 with only stoppage time to spare.

Both teams will simultaneously be happy with a point, but feel as though they could have had more. For Forge it was the failure to finish their chances that hurt them, while for Halifax it was their inability to find a second goal after initially taking the lead in order to hang on for three points.

Three Observations

Wanderers can’t hang onto lead again after Ferrin’s first half strike

For the third consecutive match to begin their 2023 campaign, the Halifax Wanderers scored the game’s opening goal. While that is a positive, a more worrying trend is that they have given up that lead again and failed to win all three matches. 

This time it was a goal from Massimo Ferrin just before halftime that gave the Wanderers the lead. Ferrin continued his strong start to life at the Canadian Premier League level, scoring for the second match in a row. The 24-year-old opened the scoring with a well-taken shot that beat a diving Triston Henry. He ran onto a long diagonal pass to the left wing from Wesley Timóteo, before cutting in on his right foot as he tried to open up a lane to shoot.

Patiently waiting for an opportunity to shoot to present itself, Ferrin kept running laterally, before laying the ball off to Andre Rampersad. Rampersad immediately passed the ball back with a gentle touch to open some space for his teammate, who picked out the bottom right corner with a well-placed effort from the edge of the 18-yard box.

It’s a second match in a row with a goal for Ferrin, who also scored midweek in the Canadian championship. He joined the Wanderers on a two-year contract this offseason, followed head coach Patrice Gheisar from League1 Ontario side Vaughan SC — where he scored 23 goals in 15 matches en route to the league title and a pair of individual awards —  the Golden Boot and league MVP.

In this match he led the team in shots (four), shots on target (two), touches in the opposition box (seven) and expected goals (0.41) in what was another effective performance.

“I’ve known Mass for eight years, so I’m not surprised with what he’s doing, and I think there’s a lot more to come,” Gheisar said after the match. “I think he has a lot left in the tank, and there’s a lot of guys having great performances as well, hopefully we continue growing and getting better.”

Massimo Ferrin and Zachary Fernandez celebrate Ferrin’s goal at Tim Hortons Field. (Photo: Forge FC)

For most of the second half it seemed as though Ferrin’s goal would be the winner. Forge pushed and pushed, however, and ended up finding a late equalizer. Aboubacar Sissoko fired a shot on goal from inside a crowded penalty area, and Yann Fillion was able to make the initial stop in the Halifax net, but couldn’t hang onto it.

The ball deflected off of Forge attacker Woobens Pacius, who was in the right place at the right time, and credited with the winning goal as it redirected right into the back of the net.

Despite losing their lead for the third time in three matches, and again losing a lead late in a half (against Atlético Ottawa last weekend it was Ollie Bassett’s goal in the final moments of the first half), Gheisar isn’t pressing the panic button just yet. He is pleased that his team has been able to find the opening goal, so the next step is finding a second and getting a bit of a buffer. 

“I’ve never been a guy ever, and I never will be, to say ‘If you’re winning 1-0, win the game 1-0’,” Gheisar said. “I think what we need to do is be better with the ball, keep the ball, and score the second goal to kill them. Those things take time, those things take chemistry, and there’s improvement. 

“This has been an exhausting week, being away from Halifax for nine days and playing three games against top teams. It’s all positive signs for me, and sometimes even when you’re let down like that it leads to us having a problem and fixing it, so as the season goes we grow — rather than if we won that game, I think it would give us a false hope that we’re amazing, because I still don’t think we were great in the second half.”

Rampersad echoed those sentiments in his post game availability, saying that the team needs to find a way to turn leads into wins.

“We’ve got to trust ourselves a lot more,” he said. “In the second half we allowed them to get into a rhythm, and Forge is a team that loves to keep the ball a lot, and you see in the end they get a scrappy goal. We go back to the drawing board and come again next Saturday.”

Forge not at their clinical best, but substitutes impress to find late equalizer 

At their best, Forge FC are a team that is capable of scoring goals for fun, just ask the 2022 Halifax Wanderers who lost their four meetings by a combined score of 9-0, including 4-0 and 3-0 defeats in front of their home fans at Wanderers Grounds.

The Hammers certainly created enough chances in the first half to score a handful of goals, but struggled with their end product and were unable to take advantage of any of them. Noah Jensen’s third minute shot smacked the woodwork, and had a later shot from distance stopped by Yann Fillion. Jordan Hamilton was denied from point blank range by the Wanderers netminder after he stopped, but couldn’t hang on to, a shot from Garven Metusala, and Kwasi Poku blasted his shot over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.

Forge put a lot of pressure on their opponents, and maintained it for the entire match, forcing Halifax to sit back for long stretches and do a lot of defending. It was frustrating for them and the home fans, then, that it took an 89th-minute deflection to rescue a point. The Hammers led the game with 18 shots to Halifax’s 12, with just six of those 18 on target and an expected goals of 1.56.

One of Forge’s most impressive qualities is their depth, and their ability to bring some of the league’s attackers off the bench week in and week out. In this match, Jordan Hamilton led the line with Kwasi Poku and David Choinière on either side of him, and in the second half Forge were able to bring Woobens Pacius, Tristan Borges and Terran Campbell on for the remainder of the match — a worrying sight for anyone, let alone the Wanderers defenders with tired legs.

“It’s really good, I think we’re really lucky to have that depth in our team,” said Pacius after the match. “We know that anyone that can start the game is a good player, and we know that if we need fresh legs throughout the game we have a lot of players that can come and do the job too. It’s a good thing for us, and an advantage for us.”

Forge have traditionally started the season slow, but we all know how they’ve finished their four campaigns thus far — picking up three titles and reaching all four CPL finals. They’re a confident bunch who know they likely have nothing to worry about, so the important thing is just sharpening up their end product and turning all of these chances into some goals.

“We have to be a little more clinical in the final third,” Smyrniotis said. “We got a lot of the ball, we got a lot of opportunities. It’s not just possession to possess, we got in behind them in a lot of situations. We’re in the final third, we’re in their penalty box, we’ve got to be clinical. Credit to the guys because we kept on going, that’s where the goal comes from, it comes from all of the processes of our play.”

Wanderers midfield sharp again in Rampersad’s 100th Wanderers appearance

Halifax Wanderers captain Andre Rampersad became the first player to reach 100 appearances for the club on Saturday, an impressive milestone for someone who has been with the club since day one.

Rampersad started in central midfield alongside Callum Watson, with that duo playing in front of French defensive midfielder Lorenzo Callegari. That trio is incredibly energetic and has the ability to be difference-makers on both sides of the ball. Callegari in particular, who was in the Team of the Week after his first match in the Canadian Premier League and put himself in contention to be involved in that again this week.

He played all ninety minutes again, tasked with breaking up plays in midfield, as well as linking the defence with the attack. With many of Halifax’s buildups going through Callegari, he completed 90 per cent of his passes (54/60), including 11 passes into the final third. Rampersad was second on the team, completing 87.5 per cent of his passes (35/40), also making a couple of interceptions in midfield and assisting Ferrin’s goal to give Halifax the lead.

Watson made his first league start for the team, going 58 minutes before Aidan Daniels replaced him as Patrice Gheisar looked for some fresh legs. Gheisar was impressed with his midfield trio, and said after the match that his side matched up well against a Forge FC midfield that is widely considered the best, and deepest, in the CPL.

“I thought in the first half we were very good, and we matched them,” said Gheisar. “It’s not a matter that they’re very good, it’s a matter that Lorenzo, Callum and Rampy have played together for seven weeks. Some of their guys have been together for two, three, four years — they have 19 returning players. I’d be very disappointed if this was the last game of the season, but it’s the third game of the season and we’ve played the regular season champs and the playoff champs and a team that’s ruled the league.

I’m excited to see the three of them grow. I think the second half their midfield really took over the game, their changes really spiked them, and every player that comes in is such high quality that it’s really difficult to have the energy to stay with them. First half I thought it was really even between Lorenzo, Callum, Rampy and their three.”

Rampersad, celebrating the 100-game milestone with the Wanderers, spoke after the match about how much the city of Halifax means to him, and how he wants to bring more success to the club’s fans.

“I can’t say it enough, Halifax definitely changed my life,” he said, adding that the Wanderers gave him an opportunity after he previously played in the second division in his native Trinidad and Tobago. “All I wanted to do was make the people of Halifax happy, because they gave me an opportunity of a lifetime.” Player of the Match

Massimo Ferrin, Halifax Wanderers

Ferrin opened the scoring with a brilliant goal at the end of the first half, and was again one of the focal points of the Halifax Wanderers’ attack.

What’s next?

The Halifax Wanderers head home for the first time this season next weekend, welcoming expansion side Vancouver FC to the Wanderers Grounds on Saturday, April 29 (3 pm AT/2 pm ET). Forge FC, meanwhile, hit the road for the first time in 2023, playing out west at Starlight Stadium against Pacific FC on Sunday, April 30 (5 pm PT/ 8 pm ET).

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