Forge keeps on winning as Johnny Grant emerges

HAMILTON – Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis hit the nail on the proverbial head when he called his team’s victory over Cavalry FC “a game of two halves.”

In a first half that saw little-to-no action – with a combined three shots on target – the now first-place Forge FC took off and ran away with the second 45 minutes, posting nine total shots compared to Cavalry’s paltry three, with one by right fullback Jonathan Grant finding the back of the net in astounding fashion.

“As soon as it left my foot, I knew it was going in,” Grant told the OneSoccer broadcast after the match, cool as you like.

Can you blame him? His left-footed curler stunned Cavalry into submission, with head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. telling OneSoccer: “The game was lost in the details.”

Smyrniotis agreed: “I don’t think we were at our best in the first half from a defensive aspect. After the break, we changed our mentality and got on the front foot.”

Perhaps this ‘tale of two halves’ doesn’t refer only to this particular game – even if that’s almost certainly what Smyrniotis meant.

It can also be viewed as the story for Forge FC through both the Spring and Fall competitions of the 2019 CPL season.

Forge ended its Spring season with a loss to FC Edmonton, thus securing a second-place finish, five points behind the Spring’s winners, Cavalry.

But so far, the tale of the Fall season has been a better one for Forge, who now sit atop the league standings, one point above Cavalry. They also boast the best goal differential in the league with a +7 margin … and do so with at least one game-in-hand on each of their CPL opponents.

Steadily, Forge has begun realizing the sort of potential that made them early-season favourites and title contenders.

“Earlier in the year I think we just tried doing too much out of the tactical realm of things,” Smyrniotis reflected, when asked about his club’s upward trajectory. “I think each team has their strong points and weak points, even the top teams in the league; it’s just how well you can stick to a game plan and go with what works. We really did that well in the 2nd half, helping us pick up the three points.”

Sticking to the game plan has seen Smyrniotis’ side roll on to winning seven of their last nine matches. The emergence of players like Grant, whose 79th-minute strike gave Forge the day’s spoils, is just the latest permutation of the growth Forge has enjoyed in that period of time. Grant sat out the Spring season battling injuries but showed the rest of the league on Sunday that Forge may have another scoring threat in its arsenal.

“Listen, Johnny is an exceptional player,” Smyrniotis said, of Grant. “He’s a player that is getting his feet going as he was injured the whole first part of the season and I think he is a really important piece to this team. I thought he was fantastic and will just keep getting better.”

Even though Grant’s celebration after the goal was a little over-the-top – maybe a little too over-the-top, as the official warned him with a yellow card – his feelings after the game about his goal were expressed rather calmly.

“It’s a massive relief for me,” Grant offered OneSoccer, after the match. “It’s long overdue. I need to get back up to my standard, and I think this is the start. Hopefully I’ll get there.”

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