Forge FC began the match by very aggressively pressing HFX Wanderers, and it seemed to catch Stephen Hart’s men by surprise as they cheaply coughed the ball up a few times in the opening minutes. Aboubacar Sissoko was playing along side Louis Beland-Goyette rather than in front of him, and he was able to drop deeper as the first function midfielder. This ability to offer an option to his defenders and then play forward, line splitting passes allowed the Halifax side some reprieve after a difficult opening, but the east coasters found it difficult to commit men forward and Forge’s committed press led to a number of wayward long balls.
On the other hand, Hart’s men tried to press in a 4-4-2 shape with Andre Rampersad often alongside Akeem Garcia. However, Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson would drop in between the centre backs when required to give Bobby Smyrniotis a spare man in possession. Kwame Awuah played wide, rather than inverted as he has done at times, and Forge had little issue in moving the ball forward. Awuah would help Marcel Zajac and Paolo Sabak overload the left flank, causing many problems. The Wanderers’ ability to win the ball high in dangerous areas, which was such a weapon in their opening match, was effectively neutered against the defending champions. The opener actually came from Daniel Krutzen having zero pressure on him and he just about found Awuah with a long, straight ball that led to a collision with the Halifax keeper.
As the half wore on Forge’s press predictably became less intense, and Halifax’s midfielders dropped deeper to find solutions in possession. A pattern that emerged was Peter Schaale having the ball in the right hand channel, and either laying it off to Sissoko to start an attack from the right side or launching a long diagonal to the left wing, to mixed success. The side effect of this was that Forge’s left wing was pinned back and therefore less dangerous in attack.
Towards the end of the first half Forge responded to this threat by occasionally moving Awuah inside when they had the ball. The Halifax right/Forge left had become the battleground in the match, and both sides were moving pieces to that area to keep up in the arms race.
The second half began with Kyle Bekker and Paolo Sabak switching their positions in midfield, and it was Bekker losing the ball in his inside left zone that led to substitute Alex Marshall setting up Akeem Garcia for the equalizer. In truth, it wasn’t exactly an intense press that led to Bekker coughing up the ball, but it did highlight Halifax’s willingness to win the ball in midfield and transition quickly, which was evident in their first match.
Sabak and Bekker would switch their positions in central midfield routinely, and Sissoko seemed to follow Sabak and as a result switch positions with Beland-Goyette. One might say this was coincidence, but it is rare for midfielders to switch positions (even if they are playing a ‘fluid’ system), and Hart did appear to instruct Sissoko to essentially man mark against Pacific FC.
Smyrniotis changed his front three, bringing the responsible Elimane Cisse (and then the also responsible Maxime Tissot) in to play left wing, and Hart eventually made a positive move and replaced Beland-Goyette with a striker. The second half was more balanced from a territorial stand point, with each flank (and the central third) being involved in the story of the game. Perhaps this was due to Bekker and Sabak changing positions at will, as well as the more effectual Cory Bent replacing Daniel Kinumbe on the Wanderers left wing.
In the first match, Sissoko showed off his ability to cove ground and press, while shadowing Pacific’s main creator. That continued in this match as he followed Sabak before being removed, but he also showed off his ability to start attacks with both his passing and his dribbling. Will Hart continue to use him as a man marking destroyer?
The diminutive midfielder got his first goal from the spot and was given much attacking freedom, often getting into good positions and overloading the flanks. But his big miss in the second half and lack of end product leave you wanting more. It is unfair to expect him to be a direct Tristan Borges replacement, especially since he plays deeper than the Golden Boot winner, but his technical ability and spatial awareness indicate that he should be impacting matches to a greater extent.
Their “press” led to their goal, but they were less committed to it than they were against Pacific. This is not necessarily surprising as Forge are likely better equipped to deal with and punish a committed press. Even an effective high press can’t be your only source of attack, so we’ll have to see if Hart continues his positive changes and plays Akeem Garcia and Joao Morelli together from the start.
Sabak and Bekker were moved around quite a bit in the second half; was this in an effort to free one of them, or just Smyrniotis giving his midfield creators freedom? Sabak played the entire first half in the inside left position where he was at his best combining with Awuah and Zajac. In the second half, the champs looked disjointed. It might be wise for Forge to let Sabak stay in one position to develop familiarity with his teammates as he appears to have the raw ability to be an important player.