Final Score: HFX Wanderers FC 2-0 Forge FC
Goalscorers: Karajovanovic 12′, Schaale 62′
Game of the 2021 season: 60
CPL match: 195
Match in a minute or less
HFX Wanderers FC returned to Nova Scotia in emphatic fashion on Friday evening, shutting down a red-hot Forge FC attack and scoring a pair of their own en route to a clean 2-0 victory over the defending champions. A quick start from the hosts led to a 12th-minute goal thanks to Stefan Karajovanovic, who jumped on a second ball in the box to finish into an empty net. After withstanding some Forge pressure, the Wanderers then added another marker in the 62nd minute, as Peter Schaale rose above the rest to head in a second goal off a corner kick opportunity.
RELATED READING: HIGHLIGHTS: HFX Wanderers shut out Forge at home to win 2-0 | Sights & Sounds: HFX Wanderers FC 2-0 Forge FC
HFX rewarded for energetic start
It seems the five days since the Wanderers’ last match did them some good. Although still dealing with a lot of injury concerns, the HFX starters entered the game with a massive amount of energy that, perhaps, Forge didn’t match in the beginning. The hosts had just over 56% possession in the first 15 minutes against a Forge side that typically dominates in that category (which they did later in the match), and they managed to take six shots in the first half.
The Wanderers were, of course, rewarded for that fast start, when Stefan Karajovanovic scored at the back post after several minutes of pressure and opportunities. Forge did grow into the game somewhat after conceding, looking a lot more positive in possession in the second half, but it was clearly not enough after being pinned back in the opening stages.
Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis agreed postmatch that his side had been a little sluggish out of the gates, noting that it can be crushing to concede early to HFX at the Wanderers Grounds, where they’ve traditionally been very hard to break down once they get a lead. Having scored so early, the Wanderers were able to conserve a little energy down the stretch by sitting in a low block for phases — with just three outfield players available from the bench, the reinforcements were in short supply, so slowing the match down while leading definitely benefited a Wanderers team that plays again in just three days.
On the flip side, Wanderers boss Stephen Hart offered that he’d encouraged his players not to be afraid to put Forge under pressure, despite the Hammers’ recent scoring form.
“The message was we have to play the game without fear,” Hart said postmatch. “We cannot, in any situation whether we go up or we go down, we cannot panic, and we set the tone by either pressing at the right moments or keeping the ball with good ball speed, and I think once we started to keep the ball with some confidence and create some passes and runs in the channels we got more and more confident.”
Forge unable to find attacking rhythm
The Forge attack has been in very good form recently, having scored seven goals in their last two games. Much of the personnel on Friday night played a strong role in those attacking outbursts, with Woobens Pacius, Tristan Borges, and David Choinière once again leading the line, but they didn’t seem to play with the same freedom and fluidity that they’d shown in the last two games.
The Hammers had just seven shots in this game (six of them in the second half), and only one was on target, despite just under 60% possession for the match as a whole. Pacius, playing as the out-and-out number nine, had just 18 touches of the ball, with the Wanderers marking him very tightly. Choinière was the brightest spot in Forge’s attack, but with the Wanderers taking away so much space from the other players, he was often left without good passing options and forced to cut toward goal on his own; he nearly succeeded on a few occasions, but not quite.
Ultimately, HFX did well to disrupt Forge’s front three and prevent them from getting into the spaces they prefer to operate in, giving very little time on the ball. Forge is a team that often likes to settle into a tempo and dictate the pace of a match, but they weren’t quite able to exert themselves and find the rhythm they’ve been able to find in other contests.
“We were a little bit static in our movement,” Smyrniotis explained postgame. “Maybe waiting for things to come to us, when all we need to do is move. Once we had those movements happening, second half I thought we created, I thought we got into the good situations that we want to be in to create those high quality opportunities, or get into the right zones to create the goals. We just didn’t do enough of it.”
Wanderers dominate with skill along right flank
With potential MVP-calibre left back Kwame Awuah out of the lineup for this one, the Wanderers tended heavily toward their right side when pushing the ball forward. The unit of Jake Ruby, Cory Bent, and Alex Marshall dominated with their pace and technical ability, with Stefan Karajovanovic also drifting frequently to that flank in search of the ball. About 50% of Halifax’s attacks came along the right third of the pitch, where the pacey Bent was able to get forward a lot from his wingback position.
Marshall, in particular, seemed to dip frequently into his technical toolbox on Friday, using intelligent flicks and turns to beat defenders and find space for himself or a teammate. Bent and Marshall had some excellent chemistry, with both choosing good moments to overlap or cut inside; Bent has played more frequently on the left side this year, but he looked perfectly comfortable on the right. Although the Wanderers were missing usual right fullback Morey Doner, their setup with a back three allowed them to take risks out wide, especially with defenders Ruby, Peter Schaale, and Jems Geffrard looking solid across the back.
The Wanderers were certainly keen on making a few highlight reels with their skill along the touchline, but more importantly they genuinely did manage to cause problems for Forge along that wing by creating an overload with three players frequently going up against just one fullback if they could move quick enough.
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Peter Schaale, HFX Wanderers FC
The German centre-back had a strong afternoon at both ends of the pitch, with a handful of key defensive actions (including a goal-line clearance midway through the first half) as well as a towering headed goal to secure the victory for his team. Schaale was effectively unbeatable in the air on Friday, winning all but one of his aerial duels to keep away Forge’s cross attempts.