“…Me lose my touch? Never that! …”
Well that was a nice surprise. Despite the long GO train up to Aurora, and Highland Park being in the middle of nowhere it was actually a delightful little ground. Aurora FC normally play down the road at the high school but I’m glad it was moved to here for this game. Greeted with a traditional grass pitch, with all the imperfections that I used to have to deal with growing up, and a club house where I could grab a cool drink on a hot day and enjoy the football from the beer garden. At this point I was extremely happy with myself for deciding to take the GO than getting a ZipCar. The crowd and in these surroundings really gave the game a local community kind of feel reminiscent of non-league games in the UK. I was interested to see how Sigma would get on with the bumpy grass field, as I’m pretty sure this is the first game of the season they’ve played on the real stuff, and they do like to play a passing game, so this would put extra pressure on them first touches and getting those passes right – obviously I’m sure they’ve played on grass at some point in the past though and know how to deal with this
Oh yeah… so the other surprise…Molham Babouli was starting up top for Sigma. I’m obviously terrible at following this club as I had no idea that ex-TFC forward had signed for the Mississauga outfit. He wasn’t listed in the programme, but was on the team sheet Sigma tweeted out. This was weird as I was actually wondering what he was up to just this week on my walk to work one day…now I know. The third and final surprise is that another ex-TFC player, Jimmy Brennan, is the assistant coach for Aurora, in case anyone was wondering what he was up to these days.
Sigma started with their four all stars from the D3 all star match against PLSQ – Guiliano Frano, Johnny Grant, Tristan Henry and Kadell Thomas (I think there are 2 other players that are unfortunate to not be included but the love must be shared around). Last week’s two goal scorers make way for Babouli and game winner Faisal Ghaffur is replaced by Dominic Samuel in midfield. For Aurora, captain and allstar pick Fred Ameyaw anchors their midfield.
You could tell early on what both teams game plans were, Aurora were going to sit deep and play long balls over the top to the speedy Jared Agyemang who nearly got in on goal a few times in the first half breaking the Sigma offside trap. But someone form the Sigma defence always made it back in time to make a vital tackle or block.
Sigma on the other hand were trying to get the ball wide and use their speed on the wings with Kadell Thomas taking on his marker multiple times and Johnny Grant, as always, overlapping down the right allowing Stoddart to move more central and join Babouli in the box. The first good chance of the match came from Thomas taking on Ukasha Zaigham on the left after Basel Rashrash wasn’t able to get the ball clear. Thomas got to the byline and pulled the ball back to the oncoming Halis whose shot was well saved by Luciani in goal. There was a bit of confusion from the resulting corner. The Aurora defender must have got a call to leave the ball by his keeper but it was too late and hit him on the foot and the ball rolled forward. The keeper ran past from behind and picked the ball up and the referee awarded an indirect freekick in the box for a pass back. Not a pass back in my mind, and maybe the ref realized this as there were about 5 Aurora defenders 3ft away from the ball when it was finally touched after two step overs, and the freekick was blasted right into one of them and cleared.
Another chance came soon after from the other side but this time it was Grant pulling the ball back to Stoddart on the edge of the area who blazed the ball over on a first time shot.
Aurora managed a couple long range efforts that tested the strength of the parked cars than the ability of Henry in goal. They did however get the chance to test Henry in the 17th minute when after managing to tackle the first man in the box fairly, lost control of the ball for a brief moment and had to stretch to try and reach it, unfortunately this was mistimed and the attacker managed to poke the ball away from him first and went over his outstretched leg for a definite penalty. After a little ‘gamesmanship’ from Henry, Matthew Caguana stepped up and struck the ball strongly into the net. Henry might be a bit upset he couldn’t get to this as it wasn’t too far away from central and he did dive the right way but I think the strength of the shot was too much.
Aurora right back Zaigham was having a great half making good challenges against Walton and Thomas, neither being able to get the better of him in most situations. Thomas in particular was having a good battle with him and could see them chirping at each other throughout the half, to which Thomas was getting a little agitated.
The rest of the half was pretty much one way traffic, Aurora maybe slightly unfortunate due to having to take off both Dylan Rennie and goalkeeper Nicholas Luciani in the first half an hour. Mo Babouli had a great chance to open his account on his debut, but didn’t manage to hit the target with a strong shot.
Aurora did get another good chance before the end of the half when Agyemang was able to run onto a poor header backwards from the Sigma defence and skip past the next defender but was only able to hit the side netting from a tight angle once one on one with the keeper.
Babouli looked like he hadn’t played a game in a while. Nothing he tried worked out, couldn’t take on players, and tried a few flicks and skills that really didn’t work and I was wondering if it wouldn’t have been better to bring him on as a substitute at first until he builds up his match fitness and sharpness. But again, Bobby Smyrniotis proved me wrong, as I think Mo just needed that 1st half to get into the swing of things. In the 2nd half he proved why he should be playing, starting with a nice dribble taking on a couple players before getting his shot away that was deflected behind for a corner. His next chance came from a clever passed freekick by Halis which was again saved by the substitute keeper.
Aurora were happy slowing the game down on set pieces and playing the ball backwards to keep possession but it they didn’t keep the lead for too long. Stoddart found some space centrally in the 59th minute and was able to slip in Babouli who was able to place it under the on rushing goalie from close range for his debut goal. Sigma then really turned it on in the next 10 minutes. In the 66th minute Babouli was able to latch onto a long clearance on the left, he held it up long enough for some teammates to catch up with him, turned his defender inside out and delivered a dangerous ball inside the 6 yard box where marauding right back Johnny Grant was waiting to tap the ball in at the back post for his 5th of the season. 4 minutes later Kadell Thomas finally won his battle against Zaigham when Frano found him on the left side of the penalty area with a looping ball. He wriggled past his marker, was able to keep possession under close pressure and fired a left foot shot in at the near post.
As a side note I think Alex Halis played well in the role behind the striker. He always has a tendency to come deep to get the ball which normally would leave no focal point up front, but in this position he still had Babouli and Stoddart ahead centrally with Thomas and Grant wide options. He drags defenders out of position which leaves more space behind for this attacking quartet.
Aurora should take some heart from this result. They were defensively quite solid throughout and were only broken down by solid play from Sigma’s stars. Fred Ameyaw particularly looked good patrolling in front of the defence and generally being calm and confident in possession, Ukasha Zaighum also impressed keeping Kadell Thomas quiet for most of the match who I’ve seen beat defenders for fun most weeks.
What this result means is that Sigma remain undefeated and top of the west with half the season gone. Next week they are back at home against OSU Force who I watched lose heavily to the North Toronto Nitros a few weeks back. You would think this is a must win for Sigma as they have a very tough run of 6 games coming up afterwards against top teams but hopefully they can pull off a few more surprises and keep this run going.