Kane Questions Professionalism of Amateur Sports Team - Saints Win!
Stand-in skipper and man of the match Eden Kane with this week's match report.
Japan FC arrived at Tri Hai Stadium to play a rejuvenated Saigon Saints team for the 3rd and final time of the season last Sunday afternoon, looking to end the 22/23 season, like they did in the previous season, unbeaten by the Saints. Traditionally, Sundays are an unfavored matchday for the Saints, as previous results versus Japan FC tend to show. Indeed it may well once again have been a long afternoon, as rumours of a late Saturday night for crucial players began to circulate in the lead-up to kick-off - but, when the final player arrived, midfield maestro Gav Hartnett rocking up “fashionably” latest, sporting a freshly shaven Freddie Mercury moustache and sunglasses, it was clear his night in the Observatory wasn’t going to spoil the party. Gav in fact had been up since the early hours making phone calls and borrowing motorbikes in preparation for another day of central midfield Cafu flicks and engine room operating.
Gaffer O’Reilly was forced into a few changes to the team which drew with the Saigon Raiders the week before. Man of the match Mick Condon was absent due to injury, making way for debutant Chris Byrnes who slotted into the right of the back 3. The man with SIFL’s greatest name, Flip Jacobs, started on the bench with a “pinky injury”. Saints captain Chris Grant had booked the occasion off weeks before, which handed the opportunity to Eden Kane to captain the team for the first time. Due to a debaucherous night on the town with infamous mate “Danny Booze”, Grant was unable to get the captain’s armband delivered to Kane as he woke up many miles from his gear bag. Toro Hinds, who had put a little too much strain on his knee in the weeks beforehand, was forced to withdraw, making way for Oisin Murphy to come back into the centre of midfield. Sean Boyle stepped back into nets. The only other change was Saints number 10 Jacob Spong, who appeared to have a new pair of socks with huge cuts on the calves. It’s believed that this approach helps to relieve calf strain which is brought on by having drinks the night before a league match.
Saints started brightly with some crisp passing and quickly got themselves into a creative rhythm. The back 3 were able to play a very high line, which suited Corkman Adrian Caroll’s dangerous left foot. The Saints management team were relieved to see that the beers he was drinking the night before with Spong did not affect his deadly over-the-top deliveries, which caused Japan problems from the get-go. Indeed the latter (Spong) was very close to opening the scoring in the 3rd minute when he caught a delightful cross from left-wing back Oscar Lorimer on a flying volley which had the Japan keeper at full stretch. The Saints continued with their positive start to the match, with Oisin Murphy, Gav and Tomas Fonseca providing plenty of energy in the engine room, which had the Japanese on the back foot for the entire first half - the Portuguese almost steering in a glancing header in the 9th minute. Only a minute later, the Saints had a huge penalty call turned down, when Jai Sharma was fouled on a spot that looked to be inside the box, but the referee was adamant it was outside, and awarded a free kick. Up stepped the young buck from South Armagh, Oisin Murphy, who walloped the ball off the underside of the crossbar and back out into play.
Saints continued to mount pressure, brought on from intelligent build-up play from the back and effective switching of the ball to create space for wing backs to cause trouble on opposite flanks. Notably, Kev Sull, who took his first Saturday night off in 4 years, was working hard putting out fires and linking up well with the Saints midfield. In the 19th minute, a huge opportunity presented itself to Sharma when he capitalised on a mistake, but was too nonchalant with the finish and the keeper saved Japan’s blushes. Lorimer was spotted exchanging words quickly afterwards with Zack Ibrahim (who was waiting on the bench) It’s not known what exactly was said, but it’s believed it was along the lines of “Bruv, if the 3 of us wasn’t fuckin zingin’ last night he wudda fckin scored tha, innit”
Saints were starting to make real inroads through the Japanese defence, time after time, helped by the fact that they only had 2 at the back for periods, with Chris Byrnes drifting towards Thao Dien at times. Oisin Murphy once again hit the crossbar before the team in white and orange finally broke the deadlock in the 28th minute. Fonseca was fouled in the box for a corner and up stepped Oisin Murphy who wasn’t going to miss the target on the 3rd attempt. You would never have guessed he was on the sauce the night before with the workload he produced in the first half. Half time - Saints 1 - 0 Japan. Odd moment of the half: Flip Jacobs being asked by the referee (in a pretty non-flippant way to be fair) to change his shorts??
During the halftime break, the Saints, although in a comfortable and confident mood, knew that they had been in this situation before during the season and the game was far from won. A few changes at half time saw Zack Ibrahim introduced up top in the place of his disco partner Jai. Toan and Hung brought some fresh legs to proceedings and the Saints began the second half in similar fashion to the first. Jacob Spong hit a curling effort wide after 10 minutes, and Zack with a few chances to put the game to bed, was eluded by resolute Japanese defending on a couple of occasions.
Midway through the second half, with Saints legs beginning to tire, Japan hit their best period of the match, spreading the ball wide and doing well with retaining possession. Adrian Carroll took this period by the scruff of the neck, and was a colossus on the left side of the back 3. The second debut of the day arrived in the shape of Tomas Bouan, and the Frenchman held his nerve well, clearing danger on a couple of occasions. Japan were held to very few clear cut chances and when the final whistle finally arrived, a hard-earned, 3 points brought the Saigon Saints’ frustrating streak to an end.
Moment of the second half: With the final whistle looming, Chris Byrnes decided to throw Japan a lifeline by dribbling the ball out of defence, losing it, and in a real heart-attack moment the loose ball was played through and Japan were in - only to be called (incorrectly) offside. In the end it didn’t matter as the shot was well saved by Sean Boyle, in a moment which perhaps has seen a welcome turn in fortune for the Saints as the season now reaches its final stretch.
Final Score: Saints 1-0 Japan.