MATCH ANALYSIS: Halifax Wanderers battle back for first point of 2024 vs. Cavalry

Final Score: Halifax Wanderers FC 1-1 Cavalry FC
Goalscorers: Probo 78′; Akio 58′
Game of the 2024 season: 17
CPL match: 501

Match in a minute or less

The Halifax Wanderers and Cavalry FC couldn’t be separated on Saturday afternoon at the Wanderers Grounds, as they settled for a 1-1 draw.

After a scoreless first half, Cavalry found the net just before the hour mark as Lucas Dias whipped a great cross in to the back post for William Akio, who picked it out of the air with his foot to put the visitors in front. Twenty minutes later though, Giorgio Probo levelled it with his first CPL goal, flicking a header off a Dan Nimick cross into the net for the equalizer.

Although both sides had a handful of chances in the last 15 minutes, including one that Halifax put in the net but was disallowed for a foul, the match ended at a goal apiece as the Wanderers picked up their first point of 2024.

Three Observations

Halifax come alive with ‘great effort’ for morale-boosting result

It was a long nine days in Halifax between now and their Canadian Championship loss to CS Saint-Laurent last week, as the Wanderers had perhaps a little longer than they would’ve liked to reflect on that night.

However, spirits will be higher in the Wanderers’ camp on Saturday evening; they feel like they could’ve come out with all three points against Cavalry — and perhaps should have, had their disallowed goal been counted — but a draw is a good place to start. Halifax had lost all three of their previous CPL matches this year, and felt they couldn’t afford to lose at home again.

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see them to fight back after falling behind on Saturday. In just over half an hour after conceding the opening goal, they generated seven shots, which doesn’t even count the one they put in the net that was disallowed.

Halifax also coped well with a major absence, as Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé and Andre Rampersad did the job well with Lorenzo Callegari suspended. Plus, 88 minutes of action for Massimo Ferrin and 72 for Tiago Coimbra bodes very well for the team’s attack going forward as those two key contributors get healthier.

Ultimately, head coach Patrice Gheisar was firm that it was an all-around positive afternoon from his players, not particularly happy with the draw but insistent that the effort and performance was excellent. Indeed, Gheisar seemed a little bemused at some of the external negativity around his team, having liked a lot of their performances recently.

“We’re not playing poorly,” Gheisar said. “I have to remind everyone, that’s the league champs by 13 points. And we missed five big chances. So I’m not going to go, this is a step in the right direction, and all that stuff. I’m sorry, man; that’s a great effort. Where you have a goal disallowed, you have five big chances, you hit the crossbar, that’s a valiant effort. So what’s in the past is in the past.”

However, Gheisar admitted he was particularly proud of his team in the second half, where the Cavalry goal could’ve deflated them. Instead, they improved significantly and got more of a foothold in the game, and by the end of it looked like the team more likely to win.

“I was really proud of the guys,” he added. “Even in a 1-1 tie, you’re saying in your head, the one shoulder is like ‘Just take the point, get on the board,’ and the other shoulder is like ‘No, go for the win.’ So I was happy to see us go for the win. … The attitude of the guys to not put their head down, and go; I couldn’t have asked for more from everybody that started and the players that came off the bench, I’m really proud of them.”

Photo: James Bennett/Halifax Wanderers

Cavalry rotate significantly to find extra freshness in tough game

With Cavalry entering this away match on a fairly short turnaround from Tuesday night’s Canadian Championship clash, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. opted to get some fresh legs into his side.

He handed a club debut to young goalkeeper Jack Barrett, who’s in Calgary on loan from Premier League side Everton. As well, U SPORTS player Niko Myroniuk got his first professional start. Lucas Dias also came into the XI for just the second time this year, as did Malcolm Shaw and Jesse Daley, while the Cavs also got Eryk Kobza back from injury after he missed the last three games.

So, it was a Cavalry lineup with more energy than might’ve been expected, which was a boost to them playing in the notoriously difficult Wanderers Grounds.

“I think the freshness in our lineup matched the intensity that Halifax brought,” Wheeldon Jr. said. “I thought we were the better side for the most part, but Halifax finished strong and we tried to make the changes to nullify them because in a one-goal game, you’re always going to give them fresh hope if you don’t put them away.”

Wheeldon Jr. spoke before the game about how important he feels it is to get every squad player some minutes early in the campaign to keep them engaged, and he held true to that philosophy on Saturday. Not to mention, starts for Myroniuk and Dias provided some valuable U-21 minutes for Cavalry.

The rotation did give Cavalry some fire in the first half as they took control of the ball and spent the majority of the time in the attacking half, but a little bit of rust might’ve shown through in final moments as they couldn’t quite link up to put the ball in the net.

At halftime, Wheeldon Jr. turned to his bench to bring on Fraser Aird and Sergio Camargo, two trusted veterans who have started the season very well. They were tasked with providing more reliable service into the box for someone like Shaw, who didn’t have a shot in the first half.

“Lucas Dias has been really good in what he’s given to us, Niko Myroniuk is a player that we felt we could get one-v-one, especially if they converted to a back three,” Wheeldon Jr. explained. “It was good, and then we thought we’d bring in Sergio and Fraser and into the second half. I liked what we had, Kobza and Jesse just needed a little bit of rhythm again; they were key components of our season last season. And it’s nice to see Willy Akio get on the end of one.”

Photo: James Bennett/Halifax Wanderers

High-intensity, back-and-forth game makes for entertaining, punishing clash

From about 25 minutes in, it became clear that this would be a heated affair. Tiago Coimbra took out Charlie Trafford with a hard challenge that Cavalry felt might’ve deserved a red card, and less than five minutes after Zach Fernandez was tackled hard which kicked off a major confrontation, resulting in a trio of yellow cards.

By the end of the first half, six players had been booked, five of them from the Wanderers; two more went into Carly Shaw-Maclaren’s notebook in the second frame. By the end of it all, the game had 112 total duels (59.8 per cent of which Halifax won), and while Cavalry had committed 22 fouls to the Wanderers’ 10.

The intensity was a key part of the game for both sides though; Tommy Wheeldon Jr. noted that he needed his team to match the Wanderers’ aggression, and they did well, winning possession in the final third an astonishing 11 times.

However, it was a fine line for both sides to walk. Cavalry fouled the Wanderers a lot, but Halifax’s challenges might have had a little more fire with how many more yellow cards they ended up with.

Wheeldon Jr. admitted after the match that he felt compelled to bring Trafford off the pitch at halftime, because either he or someone else would’ve been sent off otherwise.

According to Gheisar, the extra physicality in the match was a sign of more growth in his side, who have learned over the past year how best to match up against Cavalry.

“Last year we would’ve probably struggled in this setting,” he said. “We’ve played Cavalry and we learned a lot of tough lessons last year. They’re league champs, they’re physical, they wanted to win, we wanted to win. Our players wanted to come out and make the home supporters proud and weren’t going to get pushed around. I don’t think anybody was trying to hurt anybody, Halifax or Cavalry; it was a lot of guys fighting to try to get a win. I think you’ve just got to know how far you’ve got to go before you get yourself in trouble. It makes the game exciting.” Player of the Match

Dan Nimick, Halifax Wanderers

As usual, Nimick was impactful on both sides of the ball. He provided a lovely assist to Giorgio Probo for the Wanderers’ goal and had three shots of his own, while also leading his side with 12 duels won (out of 16), going seven-for-seven in aerial duels. Nimick also made seven clearances, helping Halifax weather the early storm from Cavalry’s attack.

What’s next?

Next up for Cavalry is a return home, as they host York United next Saturday, May 18 (5 pm. MT/7 p.m. ET). Halifax, meanwhile, are at the Wanderers Grounds again for Victoria Day next Monday, May 20 when they host Valour FC (4 p.m. AT/3 p.m. ET).

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