MATCH ANALYSIS: Halifax Wanderers held scoreless against ten-man Pacific FC

Final Score: Halifax Wanderers FC 0-0 Pacific FC
Goalscorers: n/a
Game of the 2024 season: 32
CPL match: 516

Match in a minute or less

The Halifax Wanderers remain winless through eight league matches in 2024 after a scoreless draw in front of their home fans against Pacific FC. The Tridents have a winless streak of their own in league play that has now reached five matches after starting the year red-hot with three wins and a draw.

Dominating the possession of the ball in this match, the hosts outshot Pacific 26-6 at Wanderers Grounds, but only seven of those ended up on target, and zero found the back of the net. Christian Volesky had two of their best chances — hitting the crossbar with a header in the 70th minute before forcing a great save from Emil Gazdov with another header from close range eight minutes later.

The Tridents were only able to hit the target twice, coming closest to scoring in the 65th minute when Ayman Sellouf sent a low shot toward the bottom corner of Yann Fillion’s net, forcing a diving fingertip save.

Three Observations

Wanderers remain winless, but show more signs of growth

As the Halifax Wanderers’ winless streak reaches an eighth consecutive match in league play to start the season, frustrating is mounting, but Saturday’s match was also one of their best performances yet — and saw them pick up their first clean sheet of the year.

Not scoring a goal is ultimately what let them down, but taking 26 shots — 19 of which came from inside the penalty area — is no easy task. Those opportunities picked up after Tridents defender Juan Quintana was sent off early in the second half, but the Wanderers also dominated the first half, getting three of their ten shots on target and having nearly 60% of the possession of the ball, pinning Pacific into their own half.

They also put up a great performance last week in Ottawa, leading for most of the match but collapsing late to draw 2-2. This week’s performance was one where they were defensively locked in for the whole 90 minutes, but just lacked one moment of quality to put the ball into the net.

There are some parallels to the 2023 season in how Halifax has started the year. Last season, they also went eight matches without a win to start the season, picking up their first win against Valour FC on June 10. They did have six draws in those eight matches, compared to just three this year, but the fact that they have overcome such adversity before could suit them well going into next weekend.

The matches don’t get any easier for the Wanderers, however, who host Forge next Saturday, visit Vancouver the week after that, before returning home to host Cavalry FC on Canada Day.

“I think last year it was just about letting go,” said Wanderers midfielder Aidan Daniels after the match. “I think with the string of results we’ve had this year, we just need to let go and play free, trust that we’re gonna do the right things on the field, and not worry about making mistakes and just playing the game that we love.”

With draws in back-to-back games, and several players returning from international duty, injuries, and suspensions next week, there is a foundation for the team to build on. They will be looking to get the monkey off their back next weekend and pick up three valuable points.

Christian Volesky heads a shot at Pacific goalkeeper Sean Melvin that would hit the crossbar. (Trevor MacMillan/ Halifax Wanderers FC)

Pacific debut new-look back five, but were forced to adjust in resilient second half

Missing several key players for their trip to the east coast, Pacific head coach James Merriman debuted a new formation that ensured that many of his best available players could get onto the pitch together, and play with some added defensively resilience. Typically preferring a 4-3-3 formation this season, Merriman instead opted for a 3-4-3 — partly because of necessity — and brought another centre-back onto the pitch instead of a midfielder.

With Steffen Yeates away on international duty, Merriman brought Paul Amedume into the team, bolstering Pacific’s backline alongside Thomas Meilleur-Giguère and Juan Quintana. Eric Lajeunesse and Kunle Dada-Luke took their positions on the left and right wings, respectively, with Pierre Lamothe and Sean Young staying in midfield. In attack, Andrei Tîrcoveanu replaced Dario Zanatta in the frontline, playing on the right side with Josh Heard on the left and Ayman Sellouf through the middle. In goal, Sean Melvin started in place of Emil Gazdov, just his second league appearance after mostly playing in the Canadian Championship.

The formation change meant that they were able to keep the ball in front of them for a lot of the first half, making several big blocks as the Wanderers piled on the early pressure. Pacific were on the back foot for much of Saturday’s contest, being outshot 26-6, but only allowing seven of those shots to be on target.

Things changed dramatically in the second half, however, when Juan Quintana was sent off for a pair of unnecessary yellow cards just 91 seconds apart. The first one came in the 52nd minute for dissent, and by the 53rd minute he was walking off the pitch toward the dressing room after getting a second yellow card for a tactical foul he didn’t have to make.

Perhaps luckily for Pacific, the formation they started with meant they already had two centre-backs on the pitch and didn’t need to make an immediate substitution. They changed to a 4-4-1 formation, spending a lot of time deep in their own half battling against wave after wave of Halifax attacks.

The Tridents took another blow midway through the second half, after Melvin rolled his ankle when landing on the ground. Melvin was down in some paid before being helped off the pitch, replaced by Emil Gazdov in the 75th minute. The 20-year-old looked sharp in his 25 minutes off the bench, making a huge stop to deny Christian Volesky from point-blank range a few minutes after coming on.

Overall, it was a resilient performance from a Pacific side that had to make one of the longest away trips of any football in the world, play without a full 18-player squad, and spend 45 minutes down a man.

“We’re missing a lot of players,” said Merriman after the match. “We’re missing a couple key players on international duty, and we’ll welcome them back, we have a couple of players injured right now, they’re going to be back for the next match.

“I think when you look at the whole picture of today, we take the point in and we go home.”

Bayiha and Volesky among difference-makers off the bench

Looking for a spark in the second half after Pacific defender Juan Quintana was sent off, Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar turned to a couple of players off the bench to try and break the deadlock — bringing in striker Christian Volesky and winger Clement Bayiha.

After not being in the squad for the last two matches for Halifax, Volesky’s opportunity to play was particularly notable as he looks to break his personal scoreless drought since signing for the club this offseason. The 31-year-old American striker came north of the border with high expectations, but has yet to live up to them.

He nearly broke the deadlock in the 70th minute, getting on the end of a great set piece. Aidan Daniels sent the ball into the penalty area from a deep free kick, which Cale Loughrey headed back across the penalty area. Volesky met it in the air and had Sean Melvin (who got injured when landing on the play) beat, but couldn’t keep his header down and it came back off the crossbar. He had another headed opportunity in the 78th minute, but this time was stopped by substitute goalkeeper Emil Gazdov, who came out of his net to make the stop.

“He’s progressed very nicely this week and that’s why we gave him good minutes,” Gheisar said about Volesky after the match. “I think for his confidence, for our confidence, that crossbar would have been a beautiful moment, there wasn’t a better player that we wanted to score that goal — not that it matters who does, but if he did it would have been a lot for him.”

Bayiha, who made his debut for the club last weekend on loan from York United, made an immediate impact as well, making several great runs in behind the Pacific backline. One of them was incredibly well-timed, and allowed him to get into the position to make the cross for the latter Volesky header.

He also had a shot cleared off the line in a chaotic aftermath following the Volesky header that hit the woodwork. His pace and fearlessness are attributes that you can’t really teach, and could earn him a regular spot in the Wanderers lineup sooner rather than later.

“I thought Clem was fantastic, that’s two games in a row that he’s brought that energy,” Gheisar said after the match. “We spoke about what things we wanted to target in regards to the growth of our team — one of them was a dynamic dribbler who could unlock games and I thought he provided some really good things for us.

“I was really happy, and with the way he’s contributing, we’re looking to see him grow within the team context.”

Next, this pair and their teammates need to start turning their chances into goals. With an expected goals of 1.93 in this match, the Wanderers were disappointed not to turn one of them into a goal that would have helped them pick up two more points and start to build some momentum.

Clément Bayiha takes on Pacific defender Eric Lajeunesse. (Trevor MacMillan/ Halifax Wanderers FC) Player of the Match

Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, Pacific FC

The Tridents centre-back anchored the backline for his side for the full 90 minutes plus stoppage time, include 45 down to ten men.

What’s next?

Pacific is on the road again next week, visiting Valour FC at Princess Auto Stadium on Friday night (7 pm CT/5 pm PT). Halifax stays at home and will welcome Forge FC to Wanderers Grounds on Saturday (5 pm AT/4 pm ET).

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