“Taking shots, feeling bulletproof”
At the beginning of the year when I took on this assignment, I had never seen a game of League1 Ontario football. 5-6 months later and I found myself in the strange position of being excited to be going to watch a game between the side I report on and the team nearest to where I live, on a Saturday evening, in the rain.
As I said last week in my report, I thought this would be a tough one for Sigma, and it definitely turned out to be, despite the misleading score line. Sigma managed to come away with a 2 nil victory but that doesn’t really tell the story of the game. Maybe I should have seen it coming looking at the last few weeks results. Sigma are undefeated all season and won 3 out of 3 away games against Eastern conference teams. North Toronto on the other hand have only won 4 out of 9 away games this season and none against a Western conference side.
As advised by Bobby Smyrniotis after the all-star game, ever present right back Johnny Grant was out with an ankle injury and was replaced by Aiden D’Mello, and Noah Mehta came in for Alex Halis. The injury woes continued when the other full back Kyle Walton needed to be replaced in the 27th minute after trying to carry on through an injury. He was replaced by midfielder Manvir Brar, which forced Captain Giuliano Frano into the back line.
This was a strange game where there was no announcements over the PA, no anthems, no scoreboard, and no ball boys/girls (1 at each end), presumably this is to do with the time of kick off? The rain started as soon as the game did, but Sigma took a long time to get going. It was NTN that were on the front foot from the off, pressuring the Sigma back line, not allowing them to get their passing game going, forcing them rush clearances and play more long balls. And this led to the first good chance for the Nitros. Niklas Bauer, who was a threat all game, closed down Dominic Samuel quickly forcing the clearance to go straight to NTN captain Carl DeAbreu. They got the ball down the right to Christian Westlaken who whipped a low cross in to the oncoming Kembo Kibato who had timed his run well and positioned in between Jelani Smith and D’Mello so neither were picking him up. His slid chance was expertly saved by the quick reflexes of Tristan Henry in goal, sticking his right leg out and deflecting the ball behind for a corner. Henry had to make a number of good saves throughout the game, and deserved the clean sheet, only his second of the season. In fact since giving away two penalties in two consecutive games a few weeks back, Henry has been brilliant, specifically against Vaughan and NTN – he even made a great stop from a free kick in the all-star game mid-week.
Sigma however were really struggling to get going, partly due to NTN playing so well but I think also in part due to losing both fullbacks who are very important to the way that Sigma play so nothing seemed to be working. The front 4 of Babouli – Thomas – Mehta – Stoddart were being very fluid, switching positions with each other regularly, which I haven’t seen too much from this team and designed to keep the defence guessing and not knowing who each man should be picking up. The one thing that was working for Sigma, was the pace and trickery of Kadell Thomas on the left, almost beating his man for fun and giving right back Thomas Mickoski a torrid time all game, only rarely getting help to defend against him.
And this was how Sigma took the lead in the 38th minute against the run of play. They put 10 passes together using 9 different players, moving the ball from left to right, then back over to the left, happy to keep possession when unable to break down the two banks of 4. D’Mello eventually played the ball into some space on the left for Thomas to run on to, started dribbling towards goal, cleverly took it round the defender and passed the ball to Samuel at the top of the box who struck it first time from 24 yards, curling it into the far corner giving the keeper Mark Rogal no chance.
NTN were straight back at it, attacking from the kick off and they kept up the pressure for the rest of the half, forcing another great save from Henry. The ball was floated to the back post where centre back Jason Akoa met the ball, completely unmarked volleyed it on target but stopped at point blank range by Henry diving down to his right.
Sigma were lucky to be going in at the half 1 nil up, and this game was going the same way as the last Nitro’s game I saw against Windsor. Nitro’s went down to a penalty just before half time despite having numerous chances themselves during the first half. In the second half Windsor killed the game and scored another 2 on the counter attack, and this is almost exactly what happened here. This half was a more even than the first, but NTN couldn’t create too many good chances and the real difference between the teams was the extra quality that Sigma have in Thomas, Babouli etc. It was Babouli who started things off for the second goal. He received the ball in some space 35 yards out turned, drove at the defence and played an inch perfect pass for Stoddart to run onto on the left of the box, took a couple touches to get a bit of room and played the ball across the 6 yard box for substitute Tajon Buchanan, making his first appearance of the season to tap in from 2 yards.
It took this second goal to spur NTN on a bit and they began to play more like they did in the first half, chasing down the ball high up the field, forcing Sigma to play it long but they couldn’t create any meaningful chances and in fact Sigma created the best chance that forced a good save from Rogal.
This was a game that could have been very different if Nitro’s had taken their early chances. Like I said last time, Sigma do concede chances when teams go for them, but because the Nitro’s did attack, that allowed Sigma to get them on the break away.
Next week Nitro’s face FC London who haven’t lost for 9 weeks, including a draw against Sigma, so will be a tough game considering the form Nitro’s are in so will be a tight game for sure, expect goals in this game, both teams averaging over 4 per game.
Sigma are up against Durham, looking to keep their 6 game winning streak up and remain undefeated. There’s no point in really looking at the Sigma stats as they should be beating everyone in the league at this point according to basic stats. Durham don’t have the greatest away record but do better against western sides, they also don’t concede a lot of goals, so Sigma may again struggle to score but I expect them to dominate in possession and create a number of half chances. If they score early, they could get a few but it could go on longer, I still expect Sigma to win by a couple of goals, and with Henry in the form he’s in it may take a lot for Durham to beat him.