NETHER PROVIDENCE — Holding a two-goal lead Wednesday, Strath Haven’s second half started about as poorly as could be.
Just three minutes into the stanza, the Panthers saw center back Will Haury crumple in a heap, then limp off with a bum ankle. On the ensuring restart, a Ridley corner kick, defender Riley Brown nodded home to halve the lead.
Some teams would’ve been left in a quandary, their lead slipping away in the search for answers. For this Strath Haven team, though, replacing a key contributor is just another day at the office.
The response came quickly, and thanks to a hat trick by Ahmir Gordon, the Panthers claimed a 4-1 Central League victory.
Haury’s absence was filled by committee. Leading the way was central defense partner Ben Wolters, who didn’t leave the field on the day. Right back Adam Tashman, himself returning from an injury that cost him the last two games, moved centrally to repel Ridley’s advances before he went off with 10 minutes left due to cramping. Next up was senior reserve Andrew Restrepo.
Through it all, the Panthers’ defense by committee was able to silence a Ridley attack that was sedate in the first half but sustained pressure on the home side after the break, emboldened by the goal.
“Will’s a really big player for us, but Adam Tashman is also really good,’ Wolters said. “We obviously miss him, but we can fill his spot. … The whole team has really been stepping up. We’ve got a really deep squad and a lot of guys that are able to put out the effort out there.’
Filling in for an injured teammate is nothing new for the Panthers (4-1-1, 1-1). Tactically speaking, they’ve played a game of “musical chairs’ all season, in the words of coach Ryan O’Neill. Prior to Haury’s ankle knock, it appeared the tide was turning, exemplified by Will Hotham, in his first game back, setting up Gordon’s first goal in the 25th minute to stake Haven to a 2-0 lead.
So when Haury hit the turf, the mental adjustment period was short, even after Brown’s header off a Jamie Fisher delivery just snuck over the goal line.
“It’s somewhat been the norm,’ O’Neill said. “Obviously it’s still a big deal to have Will go out, a quality player as he is. But we’ve somewhat gotten used to having to fill in the holes. And so far so good in the results.’
The flipside of Haury’s injury and Brown’s goal was that the game got stretched, allowing the speedy Gordon a chance to attack.
Just 10 minutes after Brown’s tally, Gordon restored the two-goal bulge, running off the shoulder of self-styled “dynamic duo’ mate Josh Mason to find a through ball and bury it past goalie Jack Kopko.
The finish wasn’t quite as authoritative as his opening goal, in which he shook off a defender and rifled a right-footed shot past Kopko, but it did the job.
The final goal was just as tidy, Gordon on the receiving end of a move generated by Alex Tinter and Kevin Gardner down the right wing. Gardner laid a ball off to Gordon, who tucked it away from near the penalty spot to put the game out of reach in the 75th.
“Once one goes in, it’s usually harder for the defense to defend,’ Gordon said. “It’s easier for us to keep the momentum. That’s what we did today, and we executed well.’
Gordon’s production finished off a game that Ridley (2-2, 1-1) threatened to tie in the second half. The Green Raiders were sluggish from the start and went down a goal after just seven minutes.
Off a free kick taken by Alex Maillet, Joe Soffer played a header into a crowded area of the box. The final touch came from left back Sam Capalbo, in the right place at the right time on the doorstep to fire Strath Haven ahead.
Gordon had a couple of other chances to increase the lead, and the deficit could’ve been three goals or more if not for assertive interventions from Kopko (nine saves) rushing off his line twice in as many minutes to produce sliding saves on Conner Coan just before the break.
Halftime was a chance to reassess for Ridley, and they were the better for it in the second half, punctuated by Brown’s goal.
“We went down in the first half and started getting down on ourselves, but then the coach brought us up,’ Brown said. “We started playing better in the first (part) of the second half. We had a corner kick, Jamie had a great pass and I got on the end of it.’
Ridley couldn’t carve out many good chances after that, despite enjoying a better share of the action. Strath Haven goalkeeper Matt Eiel was called upon to make four saves, all after the goal and none of a particularly high degree of difficulty.
In nonleague action:
Penn Wood 8, Boys Latin 0: Koffi Adjesson recorded a brace, and Collins Asimoah and Carlos D’Angolell each paired a goal with two assists to lead the Patriots (2-1).
Peddie School 2, Episcopal Academy 1: Matt DePillis scored in the first half, but Peddie’s Chase Covello scored penalty kicks on either side of the interval to hand the Churchmen (4-1-1) their first loss of the season.
Goalie Matt Freese stopped all six of the non-PK shots to come his way.
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