Unbeaten Saints Stun Sporting
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Last weekend saw Saigon Saints face the toughest test of their pre-season so far. Invited to Sporting Saigon’s long-delayed trophy-lift day, few gave the Saints a chance against the back-to-back league champions. Were we to play the Washington Generals role? Stooges, fodder, the other guys. There was just one problem with this idea, we’re the Saigon Saints and we don’t roll like that, oh no.
Competitive edges aside, the game was the first in a now annual exhibition played in memory of Emily McClelland, a Sporting Saigon stalwart who sadly passed away before the summer. There were some moving tributes before the game and we were glad to be able to pay our respects and show solidarity for our friends at Sporting.
There were two to three (self)references to our opponents as the number one club in Saigon in the pre-game speeches. Which certainly rang in the ears of the small band of Saints players present. Sporting looked formidable, with a full squad at their disposal, comfortably beating the Saints to the pitch for a warm-up as our depleted number strolled in, in dribs and drabs.
To the surprise of no one, they found themselves on top early on, enjoying a lot of possession without troubling your intrepid reporter beyond a tamely hit one-on-one in the opening exchanges.
As Sporting huffed and puffed, the Saints only grew in strength and confidence. Brian Monaghan exemplified the team’s spirit, drafted into centre-half at the last minute; he had a valid shout for man of the match with an outstanding performance in an unfamiliar position.
The bad news for Brian and even more so for any strikers who think they are getting to a ball before him is that’s it for him now; you’re a centre-half now, son. Put away any creative dreams you had and concentrate your efforts on twatting that ball up the pitch as hard as you can. Ahem, I mean passing it out from the back.
Ahead of Monaghan and the evergreen Eden Kane in defence, Conn Kirby was doing a similar job of bossing the midfield. Conn has been fantastic in pre-season, so imperious that he’s not even picking up his bread-and-butter yellow cards; is everything okay, Conn? He didn’t give Sporting’s attacking talent a sniff and one or two of them may well still be lodged in the back pocket of his jhorts.
After withstanding the early pressure, the Saints were beginning to find some joy with the good old-fashioned tactic of punting it, ahem, I mean passing it, to Darragh Glynn’s shapely forehead. Glynn would go on to pick up the man of the match award after winning just about every header that was in a 50-yard radius of him.
As always, Saints’ Captain Chris Grant was a constant threat for the blues, giving the Sporting right-back a torrid day. Disaster struck early in the second half; with the game still scoreless, Chris popped up on the opposite flank and rounded the fullback on the byline; with a nudge from the defender, Chris went sprawling, the result of which was a broken arm and a dislocated wrist for the skipper. Chris is due for surgery this week and the whole club and wider community wishes him a speedy recovery.
Anyone who has seen Chris play will know he is irreplaceable, so when gaffer Conor O’Reilly subbed himself on in his stead, few would have predicted what would come to pass, except for perhaps O’Reilly himself.
The Saints finally started stringing some passes together and were beginning to get in behind the opposition fullbacks, who were giving away more and more fouls as the game progressed. Ciaran Rocliffe and Ronan Sherman in midfield were now finding themselves further up the pitch than before as the Sporting defence began to creak under pressure.
It was Sherman who found himself on the edge of the box on one such occasion, turning his man inside the box, the Cork native daintily flicked the ball over the defender’s head only to be scythed down for a stonewall penalty.
Showing his hands-on management style, Gaffer O’Reilly grabbed the ball and stepped up to the spot. Having listened to O’Reilly brag during the week about his previous penalty record, it was not surprising to see this confidence, but it would be pushed to its very limits.
The ball was duly dispatched to the keeper’s left off the post and in, but wait, what’s that? Conn Kirby has ran into the box before it was taken and RUINED the day, goddammit Conn, huge fine. The penalty must be retaken. Wonder did he get booked? We now enter the mind of Conor O’Reilly as relayed by the man himself three beers deep,
Okay, Conor, just put it in the same spot; you’ve done this 10/11 times for some Canadian team or something. I got this: same spot, same spot.
*O’Reilly looks up; he is ready, he is sure, he will not change his mind. He will not deviate from that spot, the same spot, THE SAME SPOT! He is single-minded in this, a man of absolute conviction. Nothing will change his mind as he begins his run-up, the same spot, the same spot, until he hears a shout from his opponent.
‘Same spot, right?’
O’Reilly is ‘shook’ but he is moving towards the ball, the words rattle around his head, the same spot, how.did.he.know.did.he.hear.me.can.he.read.my.mind?
*The gaffer decides he must switch. He makes the decision mid-run, he scuffs it slightly, but it squeezes under the keeper - ice-cold Conor. The Saints are ahead.
Rather than retreat and invite an onslaught, the Saints pushed on and were unlucky not to add another, with a second penalty denied and a Glynn header (shock) clawed off the Sporting line late on. Having failed to get in behind the Teaguey/Toan fullback combo all day and with Jak, Darren, Hop and Pablo winning their battles, Sporting were out of ideas and the match ended in a comfortable win for the blues.
After a bbq and some beers, a rather sheepish trophy lift followed from Sporting a few hours later. Worthy winners last year, credit where it is due, but that season is gone, onto the next one.