In a clash between first and worst in Div. 1 of the Vancouver Island Soccer League, Cowichan LMG was fortunate to escape with a 3-2 win over Saanich Fusion last Saturday.
“It was a crazy game, but we won,” relieved Cowichan head coach Glen Martin said.
The game at Tyndall Park pitted the two-time defending champions against a team desperate to avoid relegation, and favoured Cowichan heavily, on paper at least. Martin’s team appeared to have things well under control in the first half, getting a pair of goals from Jamie Taylor to lead 2-0 after 45 minutes.
“It was looking pretty good,” Martin said. “We were feeling comfortable. Maybe too comfortable.”
The trouble started about 15 minutes into the second half when Div. 1 scoring leader Paddy Nelson missed on a penalty shot chance, in part because of stormy conditions that would come into play again later. Back in Cowichan’s end moments later, Saanich was awarded a penalty shot that they capitalized on to make it 2-1.
“All of a sudden, their energy level went up,” Martin said.
With eight minutes left in the game, Saanich got a free kick from 50 yards out. They weren’t specifically trying to score from the centre of the pitch, but that’s what ended up happening.
“The wind was so strong, the ball went right over our goalie’s head,” Martin explained.
Cowichan wasn’t going to play for the draw, however. The team needed the three points from a win to stay ahead of Vic West in the battle for first place in Div. 1.
“We were in trouble,” Martin said. “We couldn’t afford a tie. We needed to win the game.”
Fortunately, before time expired, Cowichan was awarded a free kick from 35 or 40 yards out. Tyler Hughes delivered the ball right to Nelson’s foot, and he sent it to the back of the net, making up for his missed penalty shot earlier.
That penalty shot changed the course of the game and nearly cost LMG in the standings.
“It’s a fine line between making that shot and not,” Martin said. “The way it turned the game around was something else.”
The three points, however, keeps Cowichan in the driver’s seat as the team seeks a third straight Garrison Cup as league champs. Cowichan has 39 points with three games left to play, while second-place Vic West has 34 points and two games left. Cowichan holds the tiebreaker against Vic West, so a tie in their next league game — at the Sherman Road turf against Bays United next Tuesday (March 21) at 8 p.m. — will clinch first place for LMG.
Before their next league game, Cowichan will attempt to advance to its seventh Jackson Cup final in the last eight years with a semifinal win over Gorge on Friday at Hampton Park.
The two-time defending Island champions will be up against their biggest challenge of the tournament to date when they take on Gorge.
“Eventually, in most cup runs, you’ve got to face a tough team at their park before you can win it,” Martin said. “We’ve got to be better than we were last game, for sure.”