Promising Start, Unfortunate Ending

On Monday, October 11th, your Manteo Redskins hosted the First Flight Nighthawks for a highly anticipated rematch. The previous fixture across the bridge resulted in a 1-1 tie after a grueling 100 minutes of play. Both teams have been having strong seasons since their first match-up, as they were both ranked in the top five in the eastern part of the state in their respective classifications at the time of kick-off.

Grey skies darkened the afternoon light, and a soft mist dampened the pitch. However, the fans of both teams still filtered along the sidelines in anticipation of an exciting game.

The game kicked-off to see First Flight on the ball early and often. The Nighthawks favored style of play was evident as they kept their passes short and on the ground, used constant off the ball movement, and looked to get their fullbacks forward using overlapping runs when ever they could.

Manteo’s defensive structure was sound early on, offering a ‘bend, but do not break’ mentality. Their backline looked to keep the ball in front of them by limiting the space behind their line. The midfield five of Manteo kept their spacing tight in front of the backline while also trying to keep the ball in front of them and push the Nighthawks possession backwards.

In the first ten minutes of play, First Flight saw a lot of the ball in their own attacking final third, but did not create any truly dangerous chances on goal. Manteo did not offer up a shot on target until the fourteenth minute of play when the Nighthawks tried to play out of the back on a goal-kick. Their second pass to switch the field was intercepted high up the pitch by Trent Hayman. Hayman quickly turned and fired off a low shot for the back post but the Nighthawks goalkeeper was there for the diving save.

Shortly after Manteo’s first shot, the Nighthawks seemingly had their first goal. A First Flight attacker curled a low shot in from the top right corner of the 18-yard box. Manteo’s keeper, Cody Weaver, dove forward to wrap it up against his chest but the ball popped away from him. Another Nighthawks attacker was their to collect the ball first. He looked to side step his defender and the goalie and got a shot off past both of them. The ball was just about to roll over the goal-line when Alex Tovar stormed in to clear the ball off the line and out of danger.

When Manteo’s formation was able to push high up the pitch on an attack, the Nighthawks were sometimes willing to try a different approach, using diagonal long ball service to spring a striker in behind the backline. There willingness to play direct when the moment presented itself was evident in the 17th minute of play when a Nighthawk central midfielder lofted a ball over the high line of Manteo. All four backline defenders turned to sprint back, as left-back, Irving Calderon-Chavarria, found himself in chase against the Nighthawk’s striker. Calderon-Chavarria positioned himself well between the ball and his presser as the ball bounced backwards into the corner of the 18-yard box. Both players tried to use their shoulders to gain the position to win the ball and in the end, Calderon-Chavarria, won the ball by shielding his presser until he was able pass the ball up the sideline and out of harm’s way.

These physical one on one battles would take place all through the first half between the Manteo fullbacks and the attackers of the Nighthawks. The Redskin full backs were well aware of the Nighthawk’s propensity to attack down the flanks with overlaps, and seemed up for the task in the first half.

In the twenty first minute of play, Hayman received the ball down the right flank and saw immediate pressure from two defenders. Hayman some how managed to beat both defenders, despite being fouled once or twice on the play. He stayed on his feet, receiving the advantage call, and drove the ball towards the end-line before whipping in a back-post cross for his target, Damian Rivera. The Nighthawks center-back rose high to head the ball out, but the ball was mere centimeters above the top of his head. Rivera had made his run in, signaling for the cross, and headed the ball down and back across the goal. The goalie had scrambled across the goal-line, following the direction of the cross. Rivera’s redirection of the cross back to the near post was clever and timely as Aidan Braswell was there to tap the bouncing ball in with his head from one yard out.

The Nighthawk defense stormed the assistant referee, demanding an offsides flag. Their demands would fall on deaf ears as Braswell had come from behind the ball on Rivera’s header. The home-side fans erupted at the sight of the early goal.

For most of the remainder of the first half, the Redskins were disciplined in their shape. While First Flight continued to dominate the run of play, the Manteo defense was holding strong.

The half was winding down and Manteo was eager to take their 1-0 lead into halftime. They had worked hard for it and were ready for a breather. The clock on the scoreboard struck 00:00 as the ball went out for a Nighthawk throw-in. The official checked his watch and play continued. Manteo completely checked out. The did not organize their defensive shape and several players stood around as the ball was thrown in. The Nighthawks dribbled through the midfield and looked to squeeze past the backline. An unlucky missed clearance on Manteo’s backline gave the Nighthawks attacker a second opportunity at a shot. He won the ball back and fired off a quick shot across the the goal. The ball stung the back of the net and the Redskins were in shock.

The game was now 1-1 and the Redskins had to kick off. Still seemingly checked out and unfocused now with the confusion of the clock, Manteo botched their kick-off play. A Nighthawk swept in to steal the ball, dribble right through the backline and buried a second goal.

The game had completely been turned upside down in the final 50 seconds of the first half and Manteo was left stunned and frustrated.

In the second half, the Redskins played hard, but they never recovered from the late first half collapse. First Flight scored an early second half goal off a free-kick that was crossed into the box. Poor marking allowed a Nighthawk to rise up inside the six-yard box and head it home to give the away side a commanding 3-1 lead.

The Redskins were now chasing the game with the two goal deficit. They could no longer focus on holding their tight defensive structure and were forced to leave players higher up the pitch in an effort to get a few goals back.

It was a long forty minute second half for the Redskins. While they did earn a handful of threating attempts at goal, the Nighthawks were playing loose and fast, and finding the back of the net.

The game would end in favor of First Flight with a 5-1 score line.

Coach Cleaver stated after the game, “It certainly was not our night despite a promising start. We shot ourselves in the foot by checking off and not playing to the final whistle in the first half. We know better than that but we got lazy and unfocused and it cost us the first goal. Our immaturity and wanting to blame the referee cost us the second goal. Unfortunately, we did not have the mental toughness to overcome that 50 second sequence and the game was lost right there. What’s important now is that we learn from these mistakes and mature and grow as a team. When we start to play a full 80 minutes of focused, hard nose soccer, we will be a tough team to beat.”

Game Stats:

Aidan Braswell: 1 goal

Damian Rivera: 1 assist

Team Stats

Possession %38.5%61.5%
Attacking Transitions5479
Free Kicks1410
Successful Passes77297
Pass Success Rate59%80%

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