Final Score: HFX Wanderers 1-3 CF Montréal
Goalscorers: Bent 27′; Miljevic 35′, Tabla 89′, Tabla 90+2′
2021 Canadian Championship
Match in a minute or less
Second-half substitute Ballou Tabla was the hero for CF Montreal on Wednesday night, scoring a pair of late goals to beat HFX Wanderers 3-1 at Wanderers Grounds, and send his team to the Canadian Championship semifinals.
Cory Bent gave HFX the lead, scoring against the run of play in the 27th minute. After winning the ball back from Emanuel Maciel, Bent made his way to the edge of the box, before lobbing a shot past Sebastian Breza in the Montreal goal. The visitors equalized eight minutes later, as Matko Miljevic fired a shot into the roof of the goal from several yards out, and the first half ended 1-1.
CF Montreal dominated the second half, outshooting HFX 15-0 after the interval, but were struggling to get those shots on target. It seemed as though penalties would be required to decide a winner, but the visitors were rewarded for their dominance with a late winner.
Canadian international winger Ballou Tabla, who came off the bench at halftime, received a pass around the penalty area in the 89th minute and fired it into the top right corner to win the match for his side. For added security, Tabla doubled the lead four minutes later, smashing a shot across goal to confirm the victory.
CF Montreal will face Forge FC in the semifinal, with a shot at the Voyageurs cup on the line.
HFX put in strong defensive shift, but come up just short
Forced to sit back and defend for most of the match, the HFX Wanderers backline held strong for most of the match, and were moments away from sending the match to a penalty shootout.
CF Montreal had 67% of the possesion, and completed nearly 700 passes, tiring out the home side until they eventually gave in late. HFX made 23 tackles, nine more than Montreal, with Marcello Polisi leading the way with five.
HFX also did a good job of winning the ball back in midfield, with Polisi and captain Andre Rampersad patrolling the midfield and combining to gain possession 18 times. Unfortunately for them, Montreal’s midfield was doing the same thing whenever they were on the defensive side of the ball, with their own captain Sam Piette also having a very strong match defensively.
“The backline and midfield did well in containing as much as possible, but at some point you know we were tiring because we’re chasing the ball for the majority of the game,” said Wanderers coach Stephen Hart after the match. “It was really a matter of time, but we were hoping we could’ve held out a little bit longer.”
“I think we did well defensively,” said Rampersad after the match. “They definitely had to go around us. For the majority of that first half they played in the pocket really well and we denied them as much opportunities as we can, but we gave it up late in the second half. Unlucky I think.”
Visitors dominate, but leave it late
CF Montreal were the more dominant side on Wednesday night, outshooting HFX 21-2, and finishing with 67% of the possession of the ball. Montreal rarely let HFX get into a position to shoot — and their sharp passing at the other end of the pitch was hard for the Wanderers to keep up with.
Despite Montreal’s dominance in those areas, the only stat that counts is the number of goals scored, and for most of 89 minutes, the two sides were deadlocked.
Montreal boss Wilfried Nancy made the decision to bring some fresh legs off the bench at halftime — Ballou Tabla and Lassi Lappalainen came in for Matko Miljevic and Ahmed Hamdi — in order to pick up the pace a bit and continue to pile the pressure on HFX.
Nancy said after the match that he didn’t want to go to penalties, and got his wish.
“It was really important, because the subs that I made were to speed up the game and bring more energy between the lines and in the final third,” Nancy said. “We could’ve scored earlier, but we missed a couple of chances.”
Tabla rewarded Nancy’s faith in him, scoring in the 89th minute to win the match, and again in the 92nd minute to put the icing on the cake for his side.
Wanderers boss Stephen Hart said after the match that Montreal’s tempo was hard for his side to handle.
“They forced us to play at a speed we weren’t comfortable with, so we didn’t execute when we had the ball,” Hart said. “Of course when they had the ball — the precision, the technique, the speed, ball movement — was impressive. At times we defended well, but we were also always on the back foot, and all credit to them. It’s a deserved win.”
Energetic crowd at Wanderers Grounds “did their best to push us along”
Playing such a huge match in front of their home crowd at Wanderers Grounds is something HFX Wanderers hadn’t truly experienced before Wednesday night.
They had large crowds in 2019, including for a few games in the Canadian Championship, but having an MLS team in town is another level entirely. Wanting to push their team into the semifinal, the fans in Halifax were noisy from start to finish, cheering for every pass, every block and every tackle.
No cheer was louder than the one after Cory Bent gave their team the lead in the 27th minute with a fantastic strike.
“It was really, really nice,” said head coach Stephen Hart about the support his side had on Wednesday, also giving a shoutout to the goalscorer Bent.. “What a goal to celebrate, I’m happy for Cory. All credit to the fans, they did their best to push us along, and we held on for 80-something minutes, and at the end of the day we thank them for it.”
“As always, they come out in numbers,” said Andre Rampersad. “Today was definitely one of the biggest games in the club’s history, so we knew it would be a full stadium. We appreciate them a lot and we definitely felt them out there today.”
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Ballou Tabla, CF Montreal
Two late goals from the Canadian international earned CF Montreal a spot in the semifinal, and a match against Forge FC.
HFX Wanderers turn their attention back to the Canadian Premier League, and a home game against FC Edmonton on Saturday, September 25 (3 pm AT/ 12 pm MT). CF Montréal also play that day in Major League Soccer action, crossing the border to take on the Columbus Crew. Watch all CPL and Canadian Championship matches live on OneSoccer.