MATCH ANALYSIS: Late Badibanga winner powers Forge to first win over Valour at IG Field since Sept. 2019

Final Score: Valour FC 2-3 Forge FC
Goalscorers: Williams 13′, de Brienne 57′; Sissoko 11′, Pacius 66′, Badibanga 84′
Game of the 2023 season: 97
CPL match: 464

Match in a minute or less

For the first time since 2019, Forge have beaten Valour at IG Field, as they claimed a 3-2 win thanks to a late winner from Béni Badibanga.

The game got off to a frantic start, as Forge’s Aboubacar Sissoko found the net with a great chip over an onrushing Rayane Yesli in the 11th minute, before Valour responded with a tidy finish from Kian Williams less than five minutes later.

Then, in the second half, things would get interesting. There, Valour grabbed the lead in the 57th minute, as Matteo de Brienne managed to squeeze one by Triston Henry to grab the lead, much to the joy of the home crowd.

From there, however, Forge would do well to respond, nabbing an equalizer through Woobens Pacius in the 66th minute, before Badibanga sealed the victory with a well-struck free kick in the 84th minute to grab all three points.

Three Observations

Forge breaks IG Field curse to inch closer to a playoff spot; Valour reaches the precipice of potential elimination:

The last time Forge won a game at IG Field, all the way back on September 12th of 2019, things looked quite different for them.

At the time, they had zero North Star Shields to their name, as they were months away from claiming their first title to cap off the inaugural CPL campaign.

Then, when looking at the game sheet, the team was quite different, as current Valour striker Anthony Novak opened the scoring for Forge on the day, before Chris Nanco and Tristan Borges capped off a 3-1 win with tallies of their own.

Yet, there were also some familiar faces who participated. Borges remains on the squad, as do fellow starters from that day Kyle Bekker, David Choinière, Dominic Samuel and Triston Henry, to go along with substitute Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson. Along with head coach Bobby Smyrniotis, the architect of this Forge team, that’s a decent number of key people who remain big parts of the club today.

Because of that, it shows why this win means so much for Forge. Given that they’d lost the five games they’d played at IG Field since, doing so by a combined score of 8-1, it added fuel to the fire for those who had been there for those defeats.

That much was clear right from the first whistle, as they put the pressure on Valour, eager to finally get one back on a team that has certainly had their number in this fixture over the last few years.

“We’re in that time of year where doesn’t matter how we do it, but we needed to make sure we get we get three points,” Smyrniotis said afterwards. “And that’s how it works, sometimes it was good, sometimes it was ugly, but it’s been a while since we claimed three points at IG Field.”

Fittingly, too, they were made to work for this victory, too – despite going down early, Valour did well to respond and seemed likeliest to win the game when de Brienne found the back of the net to make it 2-1.

Given Forge’s history in this building, one can almost imagine that it was like a ‘déja vù’ when that ball went in, leaving Forge to wonder what it’d take for them to put their struggles behind them.

Turns out, it’d take a bit of grit and resilience. Instead of letting their heads hang, they went after it, doing well to snatch a well-worked goal for the equalizer.

From there, that allowed their newest signing, Béni Badibanga, to do the rest with a late winner.

Plus, while the win will feel huge given Forge’s struggles in Winnipeg, it’s also worth noting that it could be crucial for Forge’s push towards the playoffs, too.

Photo Credit: Valour FC

Despite having only one loss in their last 10 games heading into this game, they’d only claimed four wins, having drawn five of the games. As a result, it had left them in an interesting limbo, one where they were remaining steady in the playoff race, but slowly losing their grip on the regular season title race.

With this win, however, they gave their playoff hopes a big boost, and extended their title hopes to at least another week, which is all they could’ve asked for from this match.

As for Valour, however, this loss was a big one. Now, they could be eliminated as soon as Monday based on the results around them, as they remain 10 points adrift of the fifth and final playoff spot.

Because of that, while they’ll be disappointed to see their home run against Forge come to an end, they’ll be even more frustrated with the way that it happened.

Even though they played Forge quite evenly, only losing the xG battle 1.81 to 1.86, some sloppy moments sunk them, and that ended up being the difference in the end.

Of course, that’s been the story of Valour’s season – if they were judged uniquely based on performances, they could’ve been pushing for a playoff spot – but they’ll have hoped to have found some more consistency by this stage of the season.

Instead, they remain without back-to-back wins this season, and based on where things are trending, could also remain without the playoffs for a fifth straight campaign.

“It’s a frustrating one,” Williams admitted. “Because at 2-1, I felt like that was it, we can see the game out, and even push for another goal. But it wasn’t to be, and we have to look at ourselves with the mistakes that we made leading to their goals.”

“That’s football,” Valour’s head coach, Phil Dos Santos, lamented afterwards. “I don’t want to dwell on the things that I can’t control, or are the things that have passed, I have to have to look at the positives, and see what this team has built as a foundation, and see the type of players that are here and that have game after game-after-game given so much to the team, and build from that.”

“We know where our deficiencies are, and what we need to improve. Some of it is our work, some of it is maturity, and some of it is our approach.”

Formation tweak continues to yield more offence for Valour:

On a positive note for Valour, it’s worth noting that while they’ll be frustrated with the loss and the fact that they conceded three goals, they’ll be pleased to see that they scored multiple goals in this game.

Given that they’d only done that five previous times this season, and never in back-to-back games, it’s a big plus, as it showed that they may have found a potential solution worth using up front.

The big change? The use of two key players in two different positions – Matteo de Brienne and Kian Williams.

With de Brienne starting the year as a left back and Williams on the wing, they’ve now been asked to play a bit of a different role up front – de Brienne has slotted in on the left wing, and Williams is now leading the line.

Seeing that de Brienne had a goal and an assist in this game, while Williams had a goal, the chances continued to have their indented effect on Valour’s attack, which looked quite dangerous against Forge.

Yet, credit has to be given to that aforementioned pair for the energy that they brought up front in this game.

First, there was Williams, who as the striker, had to act as a key reference for Valour’s attack. Despite not being the most physical of presences, he did a good job of providing that, too, making good runs while making his presence felt with his pressing to make up for his lack of traditional hold-up play.

Then, de Brienne did well to find space down the left-hand side, where he was very active. As a result, it made life tough for Forge’s right back, Rezart Rama, especially when de Brienne drifted into central channels as he sometimes did to combine with Williams.

“We speak a lot about our movement,” Williams said of his chemistry with de Brienne. “Such as the movements he’ll make, and then the movements I’ll make when he has the ball. We have a good bond on the pitch, and he’s a top player, always willing to learn, so yeah, when he’s left wing, it definitely helps me up front.”

Photo Credit: Valour FC

Through that, it gave Valour a bit of a different look in the attack. Too often this year, they’ve been too predictable on that side of their game, not doing enough to make their presence felt for opposing defenders, but that was not the case in this game.

Despite going up against a Forge defence that was in good form heading into this game, having kept three consecutive clean sheets, they were not disturbed by that challenge.

Therefore, while head coach Phil Dos Santos was understandably disappointed with the loss, especially given what it could mean for his team’s playoff hopes, he was quite pleased post-game with how de Brienne and Williams showed.

Even though they might be all but out of this year’s race, Dos Santos is keeping an eye on the future, and in de Brienne and Williams, he’s appeared to found some pieces that could help solve what has been a season-long struggle up front.

“Yeah, look, we have the rest of the season to play,” he explained. “But I think that’s going to be a combination that you’re going to see to end the season, and then we’ll see what the future holds.”

All of Williams’ and de Brienne’s offensive actions from this game (OPTA)

Forge uses verticality to unlock Valour’s defence:

Sometimes, you need to be willing to adjust to catch teams by surprise.

Forge certainly got that memo heading into this game, as they managed to catch Valour by surprise with a bit of a different look offensively.

Usually eager to hold onto the ball and try to break teams down by being patient and methodical in possession, they decided to tweak things up a bit by reverting to a classic approach – direct attacking play.

Instead of letting Valour get set in their defensive shape, where they’re often at their best, Forge tried to destabilize them with some long balls.

Knowing that Valour can sometimes leave space behind their backline, Forge decided to try and attack it, and it ended up working perfectly on their first two goals.

It meant straying a bit from one most would typically associate with Forge’s style of play, as they ended up sacrificing possession of the ball to seek out those sorts of passes, but it ended up paying off for them.

The action map from this game, showing Forge’s lack of possession (OPTA)

Yet, that’s the sort of trick that Forge is known to have up their sleeve. Right when it seems that they have a set identity or tactical set-up, they have no issues in tweaking things to stay ahead of the curve, or to adjust to an opponent.

In this case, they wanted to adjust their style to best attack a Valour team that has given them fits in the past, and it worked a charm on the day.

“Honestly, yeah, we worked a lot on that,” Sissoko, Forge’s opening goalscorer, admitted afterwards. “We’re a team that can play good football, but we can also play a direct ball when we have speed in behind.”

“(On my goal), I saw the space behind the center back and left back, and I took advantage of it, Manjrekar James gave me a good ball, and all I had to do was push it into the net to score.”

While they specifically planned this tweak for Valour, however, don’t be surprised to see a bit more direct play like this from Forge going forward. As mentioned after the match, it’s something that they felt they didn’t even do to their full potential on the day, and Smyrniotis admitted as much.

“To be honest, that’s what we needed more of in the game,” Smyrniotis said. “For some reason, it wasn’t there enough. We knew that we could expose them in certain areas of the pitch, but we needed to do it more. I don’t know how many times we hit those zones, but it wasn’t a lot, so we’ve done it with good efficiency. But if you do it more times, maybe we would have even more success.”

For a Forge team that has struggled to score as of late, that they scored three goals on the day is definitely worth keeping an eye on, giving them something to consider going forward.

Especially if they can return to the defensive prowess that they’ve shown in recent weeks, reverting to a bit more direct approach at times could go a long way toward finding the balance between defence and offence that they’ve so carefully searched for all season.

They’re still yet to find the perfect balance on that pendulum, but a tweak like this could help them do that, as they look to find the perfect mix in time for the playoffs next month.

Of course, they’ve got to get there first, but more wins like this will only help, and Forge is well aware of that.

“We have a lot of pressure at this point (of the season), Smyrniotis said. “We know how tight things are in the standings, so we’re trying to push our trajectory as high as possible at this point.” Player of the Match

Béni Badibanga, Forge FC 

It was another good showing from Badibanga, who has quickly become a key part of this Forge side, as he showed with his late winner. Yet, that just capped a solid day at the office for the attacker, who also had two chances created, three shots and two dribbles, doing a lot of heavy lifting offensively for his team on the day.

All of Badibanga’s actions from this game (OPTA)

What’s next?

Valour won’t have much time to rest, as they get set to host Vancouver FC in a midweek clash at IG Field on Wednesday, September 20th (5:00 p.m. PT/7:00 p.m. CT). Meanwhile, Forge will head home to take on Pacific in a battle of second against third at Tim Hortons Field on September 23rd (4:00 p.m. PT/7:00 p.m. ET).

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