MATCH ANALYSIS: York United win under interim coach Eustáquio as Wanderers remain winless

Final Score: York United 2-1 Halifax Wanderers
Goalscorers: Ricci 20′, Salanovic 32′; Telfer 82′
Game of the 2024 season: 24
CPL match: 508

Match in a minute or less

York United began a new chapter in the club’s history on Friday night with a 2-1 win at home over the Halifax Wanderers, as interim head coach Mauro Eustáquio collected his first professional coaching win.

The Nine Stripes took the lead just 20 minutes in, as Austin Ricci scored with a wonderful strike from the top of the box that kissed the far goalpost to land inside the goal. Just over 10 minutes later, Dennis Salanovic made it 2-0 as Brian Wright squared a ball across the box for the Liechtenstein international to smash into an open net.

Halifax got one back late in the second half courtesy of former York player Ryan Telfer, but their late surge was not enough as they remain winless to begin 2024.

Three Observations

York triumph at home again thanks to well-executed first half

It was an emotional week for York United, after head coach Martin Nash was relieved of duties on Tuesday. Mauro Eustáquio, stepping up to take charge as interim with just two training sessions to prepare for Friday’s match, wisely opted not to over-complicate things and went with an unchanged starting XI from the side that drew 2-2 at Cavalry last weekend.

However, it did not look like a distracted York team; rather, the Nine Stripes were focused and well-organized, and executed well with the limited opportunities they created.

By the time the final whistle went, the York players did look particularly thrilled to have won this game for Eustáquio, who has had an especially turbulent few weeks. This was his first game back with the club after missing the last two, having returned earlier this week after the passing of his father shortly before the game against Valour on May 10.

Eustáquio explained postmatch though that he’d kept things simple in his two days of preparation; much of the scouting and planning for this Halifax match had already been done with Nash involved, so Eustáquio stuck to that blueprint for the most part.

“It’s been quite similar with what we were doing in the past,” Eustáquio said. “The homework was done, we did change one or two things in the last two days, but I’m not here to save the world, and especially not here to save the world in two days.

“At the end of the day, I think the guys understood the message. We wanted to make sure that the processes were simple, I wanted to make sure that they knew where to explore and how to defend, and I think we showed that quite well. It was new, it was good, and I think it’s something that not only myself but this club can build on.”

What York can build on, in particular, is the way they managed the game. They exploited the Wanderers in exactly the ways they’d planned to and were rewarded, thanks to some good decision-making in the final third from the likes of Austin Ricci and Brian Wright (both of whom continue to sparkle in attack this year — Ricci’s now on three goals for the season, with Wright up to four goals and three assists).

“The guys in the first half showed football,” Eustáquio said. “They understand the plan, they stuck to their roles, they did their tasks on and off the ball and that’s a very positive thing to build on. In the second half, we did what we had to do. We slowed the game down when we had to slow the game down, we defended when we had to defend.”

It’s unclear what exactly the future holds for York United; Eustáquio himself acknowledged that the tactical identity of the team may be quite different in a few weeks once a permanent coach is appointed.

However, on Friday night, they looked like a team that came together after a trying week to produce a memorable victory.

Photo: York United

Halifax slump continues as final-third effectiveness remains an issue

The Wanderers find themselves in a serious rut at the moment where nothing seems to be going their way. They outshot York 14 to five and spent more time in the final third on Friday, and yet they leave with nothing.

So it is that Halifax find themselves at the bottom of the table for another week, still with just one point to show for their six games in the 2024 CPL season.

They didn’t necessarily play poorly on Friday night; they had 53 per cent advantage in possession and had more expected goals (1.54 to York’s 1.21). They entered the final third 79 times and had 25 touches in the box, generating three big chances.

The major difference, as has been the case in most of Halifax’s games this year, was that the opponent capitalized on their opportunities and the Wanderers did not. York only had two shots in the first half, and both ended up in the back of the net, while just one of the Wanderers’ five first-half attempts was even on target.

“The game felt like they started with a bit more rhythm and then once we got going and made some adjustments we gained some momentum,” Halifax coach Patrice Gheisar said postmatch. “I want to say it’s fair that they won the first half, we won the second half, they just happened to score more goals in the first half than we scored in the second half. Nothing we can do, we’ve just got to keep fighting.”

He later added that he doesn’t necessarily feel that Halifax have just been unfortunate; they’ve caused their own problems.

“I don’t know if I believe in luck,” Gheisar said. “We just haven’t dealt with the moments.”

They’ll have their work cut out for them next week as they visit first-place Atlético Ottawa, but with that game being the quarter-mark of the Wanderers’ season, they’ll be desperate to put some more points on the board.

Photo: York United

York exploit space on flanks with wider midfield shape

The main thing that separated the two sides in the first half was how much more dangerous York looked playing along the flanks.

With their 4-1-4-1 shape, matched up against Halifax’s narrower 4-2-3-1, they consistently had a numerical advantage on the wings. Midfielders Josué Martínez and Brem Soumaoro were able to drift wide to help Austin Ricci and Dennis Salanovic, respectively, create overlaps, along with York’s fullbacks Max Ferrari and Orlando Botello pushing forward to join the attack.

As a result, the Nine Stripes were able to find space either by switching play to more open wings, or by playing quick one-two passes up the wing to get in behind the Wanderers’ fullbacks.

In the whole 90 minutes, 84.6 per cent of York’s possession came in the outer thirds of the pitch, and in the first half they spent just over eight per cent of their time playing down the middle.

The 4-1-4-1 did of course require holding midfielder Matthew Baldisimo to do a lot of running as a single pivot in the middle, doing the defensive work to break up Halifax’s spaces and distributing very well to cycle it toward the wings.

However, the overall tactic proved to be a wise choice, considering the quality Halifax have in the centre of the pitch. With Lorenzo Callegari returning from suspension, and the ever-reliable Andre Rampersad next to him in a double-pivot, it would’ve been very difficult for York to find any room to play in the centre.

The Wanderers adjusted somewhat in the second half and York therefore had fewer opportunities to play forward up the wings, but the damage had been done.

Ironically, York have played in a 4-2-3-1 similar to the Wanderers’ for much of the past two seasons, but recently have adopted this wider shape, which has served them well the last few weeks.

Next week will be a difficult test for that new look, against a Forge FC side that’s been deadly on the wings all of this year so far. Player of the Match

Max Ferrari, York United

York’s longest-serving player was a force in this first chapter of a new era for the club. He won seven out of nine duels and played a major role in Salanovic’s winning goal, driving forward and slipping the through ball in to Wright.

What’s next?

York will be back on the road next Saturday, June 1 for a 905 Derby matchup in Hamilton against Forge FC (4 p.m. ET). The Wanderers, likewise, will be playing away from home, as they take on Atlético Ottawa at TD Place on Sunday (2 p.m. ET/3 p.m. AT).

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