LUCASVILLE — Sometimes, soccer statistics —and actual observation of in-match action —simply fails to tell the truth.
In fact, they are often downright —and outright — pathological liars.
That’s because, with regularity, many matches can feature one squad trying to overcome an unfavorable matchup by parking the bus defensively —and at times being on the lopsided wrong end of possession, shot attempts and corner kicks.
Yet still, those same underdogs — seemingly overwhelming ones even — often escape with at best a victory and at worst a deadlock.
For the visiting Clay Panthers and host Valley Indians, they played those competing roles on Tuesday at Valley High School —with Clay coach Doug Ledingham leaving primarily pleased while Valley mentor Andy Johnson was disappointed.
The end result, with Clay converting three minutes into the second half before the Indians’ ultimate equalizer with only 87 seconds remaining, produced a 1-1 Southern Ohio Conference Division I tie.
Truth be told, of course, ties are better than losses —but don’t quite quench the thirst for victory.
For Johnson, actually, it wasn’t even close to that.
“To be honest, I am extremely disappointed in the way we played tonight. We possessed the ball nearly the entire first half, and we let shot after shot after shot get away from us. Then you set yourself up for just one missed play to let them get a goal,” he said. “I’m not sure what was going on with us tonight. The tie is better than a loss, but we’re very disappointed. We believe we could have played much better.”
Still, in an SOC I championship chase in which the Indians and Panthers are hunting down league leader Ironton St. Joseph, neither needs another loss.
The front-running Flyers are now 3-0-1, as Valley is at 1-0-2 in the division — and Clay at an even 1-1-1.
Tuesday’s tilt resulted in identical overall records for the Panthers and Indians at 3-2-2.
It was almost an upset for the Panthers, as Ledingham looked upon his charges’ on-pitch position matchup against Valley as not ideal.
The match was Clay’s first since a 4-0 shutout on Thursday against visiting St. Joseph, as the Flyers found the net for three first-half goals after the water break at the 20-minute mark.
“On paper, people told me we would get beat 5-0. It would be like the St. Joe match. But we came to play today,” said Ledingham. “Valley is a very hard place to play at and it’s the exact opposite of what we have on our home field. They have a fantastic large field here and a great facility. We love coming here and playing and a lot of these kids have been coming here since the eighth-grade and their under-15 days. I’m real proud of the kids for bouncing back like this. This was just a great effort after what happened at home against St. Joe. It shows what kind of team we are.”
The Panthers, as most agree, are a primarily a defensive-oriented unit.
Against Valley, they packed it on defense, despite allowing the Indians to outshoot them 23-5 —not counting the Indians’ impressive advantage on corner kicks as well.
The overwhelming majority of the match was played in Valley’s offensive third, let alone half, but Clay —spearheaded by senior goalkeeper Noah Wright —were more than up to the challenge.
And indeed, except for the final minute and 27 seconds — as Valley’s Davey Petty posted the tying goal by beating Wright with low-center shot — the Panthers played well enough to earn the win.
“I believe we should have won the game. That’s the way I feel,” said Ledingham. “We gave it up with only 87 seconds to play. But we fought for almost 79 minutes to that point. I’m real proud of them, because when you play a class program like Valley on the road, a tie is as good as a win, but it hurts right now.”
It felt that way, the coach continued, because of how much time remained when Petry put the equalizer in — off an assist from Bryce Stuart.
Stuart had worked the ball into the left corner, then crossed it from left-to-right to Petry — who finally converted an Indians’ shot attempt.
“We knew coming in that they (Panthers) were going to pack the box. But still, we missed a lot of opportunities early. If we get two or three of those in, it’s a totally different game,” said Johnson. “The worst thing you can do is let somebody stay in a game. We let them hang around too long. We try to put teams away early if we can. If we get good looks, we have to get those goals in. You have to put the pressure on them to where that pulls them out of their defensive gameplan. I’m proud of the kids for not quitting and we kept pushing. I think at one time they had 10 (defenders) back, but we at least got one (goal) to get a tie out of it. It’s very difficult to score when the box is that packed. But it all goes back to letting too many opportunities go away early.”
Ledingham said his Panthers finally broke down defensively after holding up against the Indians’ offensive onslaught.
He said their gameplan was “to try and stop Austin Sommers and try and contain A.J. Johnson”.
Sommers, in fact, had the match’s first shot —only 23 seconds in —clang off the right post in an Indians’ omen for the bout.
“It just comes down to fatigue and a blown coverage. When they have so many opportunities, they are going to end up scoring on one of them,” said the coach. “I’m glad that we held out as long we did. We pretty much played the cards that we are dealt, and most of our guys are defenders. I think we did fine with our gameplan. The goal that they scored wasn’t because of Austin Sommers or because of their stars. It was a team effort.”
The Panthers’ point was more of an individual effort from senior striker —when he isn’t netminding —Shaden Malone.
In the first half, when Malone had the ball, the Indians indeed pursued him —including a hard body-on-body collision outside of the goalbox with Valley goalkeeper Wesley Holbrook at the seven-minute mark.
But Malone shook loose and raced out in front on a through ball only two minutes and 20 seconds into the second half, beating Holbrook with a short-range shot that made it 1-0.
“We really needed that. Shaden (Malone) has been our go-to guy all season. Basically we’re just trying to let his athletic ability take over. We’re seeing real good things out of him this year, and he kept us in the match once again. I’m real proud of Shaden Malone. He scored his goal just by all-out effort, basically on his own,” said Ledingham. “We’ll take everything we can from him and that he can give us.”
How Clay scored its goal didn’t surprise Johnson.
“We knew they were going to play balls through and try to outrun us to the ball. We got lost in there and let him (Malone) get behind us. He is very quick, but we have to do a better job of marking him and not letting him get behind us like that,” he said. “It’s something that’s hurt us in several games this year. We’re still working on it, but it seems like there are one or two plays every game that puts us in a bad spot. Of course, that goal would have been meaningless had we done our jobs in the first half.”
Indeed, the statistics — and actual in-game action — on Tuesday told a lie.
But, it did make for an entertaining second half, especially in the final 87 seconds —resulting in the 1-1 tie.
“We played real hard. We just came up a little short today,” said Ledingham.
“We still do control our own destiny in the SOC, if we win out. But this puts us in a tougher spot than we feel like we should be,” said Johnson. “We have zero losses, but two ties, so we have to win out now. We have a good group of kids who are talented and play hard, but we’re just missing a little bit right now. It’s hard to put our finger on exactly what it is, but it’s just not all clicking.”
Valley will return home — and return to SOC I action — next Tuesday against New Boston, while Clay returns home and hosts Leesburg Fairfield for a non-league duel on Saturday.
* * *
Clay 0 1 —1
Valley 0 1 — 1
C — Shaden Malone (unassisted), 37:20, 2nd (1-0 Clay)
V — David Petry (Bryce Stuart assist), 1:27, 2nd (1-1 tie)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved