Disciplined, new-look Wanderers take Forge to task at The Island Games

On the day fellow 2019 wooden spoon “winners” Valour FC hushed critics with a record win, HFX Wanderers did their own apple cart flipping at The Island Games.

Stephen Hart’s team went stride-for-stride with 2019 Canadian Premier League champions Forge FC, eventually earning a 1-1 draw on Wednesday night.

Truth be told, the Wanderers were the better side and – though Forge was on short rest – and showed that their revamped squad can get a result against the very best in the CPL.

Perhaps the Wanderers’ total 90-minute performance makes the controversial penalty an even greater sticking point. In the 16th minute, goalkeeper Jason Beaulieu collided with Forge fullback Kwame Awuah as he punched a ball clear. Referee David Barrie saw enough to call for the spot-kick, which was converted by Forge’s Paolo Sabak.

Hart said he’d nearly lost his group of players at halftime.

“There was way too much concern on the officiating and their mind wasn’t on the future,” Hart admitted. “They were very upset. It was about calming them down and reiterating their weaknesses of pumping the ball into the channels.”

“As they say, teamwork makes the dream work,” forward Alex Marshall added. “We knew if one person fell down we’d be there to pick him up. We play as a team and we lift each other up.”

That mental pick-me-up worked immediately, as Marshall set up the lone Wanderers goal in the 47th minute with a line-breaking pass to goalscorer Akeem Garcia. The slicing pass sailed through Forge’s formidable defence with ease. It was Marshall’s first goal involvement for the Wanderers since signing with the club in the off-season.

“(Garcia) was the only player ahead of me when I looked up,” Marshall recalled. “Sent it through and was thrilled with it.”

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The Jamaican international wasn’t the only new face shining in a new-look Wanderers side. Fullback Mateo Restrepo impressed in his first start with a match-high seven tackles and four interceptions on the left side. Aboubacar Sissoko was the best midfielder on the pitch, driving the play forward with his team-high 30 passes in the opposition half. He didn’t let Forge’s midfielders have a whiff of space, either, smothering Kyle Bekker and Paolo Sabak.

“I thought all three of our midfield contained them well,” said Hart, before adding his side’s defensive shape was much better than their Island Games opener against Pacific FC.

“Our defensive structure against Pacific was a bit loose, and we worked on it, and it showed. Forge is fast at moving the ball, so we disrupted that, and forced them from passing backwards.”

Restrepo and speedy Chrisnovic N’sa wreaked havoc in their first full 90 minutes in Wanderers blue. The fullback rotation helped deter Forge wide-men, like Awuah, from stretching the play.

“Forge’s system is based on width and we knew these guys could contain – and N’sa has that speed factor,” Hart said.

“We were hoping to force their wide players to defend a bit and, again, it worked.”

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