By Conor O'Reilly
Coming off the back of a closely contested draw against Tri Hai FC, Saigon Sinners looked to get their inaugural season in the Saigon International Football scene off the ground against longstanding and bitter club rivals, Raiders Reserves… and match day #4 in SIFL Division 2 didn’t disappoint. On a sweltering Saigon afternoon, the emerging second-string teams of Saigon’s oldest derby took to the field in the familiar colours of reds versus blues, on a backdrop of a blood orange sunset behind the Minh Dang Pagodas.
The more tenured Raiders Reserves asserted early control, showing the newly formed Sinners their years of experience competing in SIFL’s Div 1, under the earlier banner of Raiders Viking, putting together a series of fluid passing exchanges and pressure. Reduced to creating just a small number of half-chances, Raiders Reserves found themselves exposed to a number of counterattacks where the pace and power of the Sinners' attack forced the Raiders veterans into second-guessing their high defensive line. As Sinners continued to look the more threatening of the two evenly matched forces, an intercepted ball in the center of the field found its way to the feet of Sinners’ Darren Wickrama who flighted a perfectly arched ball onto the oncoming Alan Roche who calmly took the lead for the ascending team. Despite continuous through balls threatening the trailing side's back line, Raiders Reserved managed to secure the equalizer on the back of a mazy run from a lively and dangerous midfielder. Without much to complain about, the two tired sides shared the spoils at halftime as the Saturday evening sun set on Tri Hai stadium.
Less than 5 minutes after the break, the Sinners ongoing offensive threat continued to stifle the Raiders backline as the Sinners began to display a less nervy and more composed passing operation. A deftly floated corner from Saints gaffer O’Reilly landed right in the mixer where the returning Saints legend, Tomas “2muchfunkseca” Fonseca guided the Sinners into a 2-1 lead after shrugging off the defensive armory. The trailing Raiders Reserves continued to push forward for an equalizer, led by the controlling presence of center midfield Joe but with the unwavering presence of a Jody and Pablo centre-back pairing in front of formidable stand-in keeper Max, the Sinners started to look the real deal at both ends of the park.
Around the 63-minute mark, the Dublin-Lisbon duo linked up again where “Fonsessssa” glided past the last defender and into the box where he coolly dispatched his brace on his slightly less-favored left foot. With plenty of time remaining, the Portuguese wizard looked certain to steal the headlines, only a fortnight after his return to Saigon. Unwilling to accept defeat, the Raiders Reserves piled forward with brute force and silenced the Sinners' celebrations with their second goal to narrow the lead and create cause for concern.
Eager to secure the equalizer, the excited Raiders onslaught left themselves exposed to the fresh legs of Sinners Dutchman Flip Jacobs (name under investigation) who countered down the left side and squared it to Darragh Cunningham. Before the retreating defenders could foil the counter, Cunningham found Moroccan supersub Houcine who found himself one on one with the Raiders' center half. Still outside the box and with a lot to do, Houcine shifted the ball onto his left foot and curled a perfectly placed winner into the top bin and that was all she wrote! Surely the Moroccan had stolen the play of the day with this left-footed top-bin-worldie… Not if Saints newcomer and O’Reilly protégé, Oisin Murphy has anything to say about it…
Full time: Saigon Sinners 4 – 2 Raiders Reserves