Final Score: Forge FC 2-0 York United Goalscorers: Owolabi-Belewu 55', Sissoko 69' Game of the 2022 season: 106 CPL match: 356
Match in a minute or lessForge FC claimed the spoils in the final 905 Derby of the season, defeating York United 2-0 on Saturday at Tim Hortons Field. After a scoreless first half, the Hamilton side found their breakthrough in the second half from a corner, as Malik Owolabi-Belewu capitalized on a free header at the back post for his first CPL goal. Less than 15 minutes later, Aboubacar Sissoko doubled the lead with a screamer from outside the box, after a poor York clearance set up perfectly for him to blast goalward. Holding on for the 2-0 win, Forge clinched a playoff spot with two games remaining as they also continue to vie for the regular season title.
Forge come alive in second half to secure playoff berthIt's a bit of a cliché in football, but this really was a game of two halves. York were likely the better team in the opening 45 minutes, although they were unable to capitalize on possession and couldn't play through Forge's defence quickly enough to stretch them. As they often do, though, Forge adjusted well. After the interval, they came out far more energetic and hungry to possess the ball, pushing forward to either create in open play or generate set-piece opportunities (they ended with eight corners in the second half after just one in the first). With Tristan Borges playing closer to the centre of the pitch in Forge's 4-1-4-1 formation, he was able to create a lot and essentially facilitate the attack for his side, combining especially well with David Choinière (playing his 100th match for Forge) on the right flank and occasionally swapping spots with him to try and find different spaces. Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis explained after the game that Borges in particular was key to the operation, tasked primarily with splitting the area between Isaiah Johnston and Jordan Wilson in midfield or creating from the right half-space to link with Choinière or feed Woobens Pacius up front. "The biggest thing we talked about at halftime is to stop playing backwards," Smyrniotis said. "I think we played Triston Henry the most passes we've played him in a season without pressure. We were too quick just to go back and try to rebuild and do things when there's a lot of spaces between the lines. "We knew that with their kind of 4-2-3-1, a lot of times their two central midfielders drift and they leave space. Sometimes they come too close to each other. So something our midfielders had to read when Johnston and Wilson were too far apart, we needed to make sure that Borges was in between them; when they came really tight we needed to make sure the two guys got into the half-spaces." With the win, Forge of course clinched their berth in the 2022 CPL playoffs with two games to go. It's a testament to the consistency of this club that they've been in the postseason each of their four seasons.
York missing creative spark without BabouliYork United have been playing some of the best football in the CPL the past month or so, but a huge part of that improvement has been down to Mo Babouli's arrival and excellent performances in the number 10 spot. With Babouli picking up an injury over the past week, however, he was absent for this contest. Martin Nash opted to try Kevin Dos Santos in that central attacking spot, but the Portuguese winger didn't necessarily have the same toolbox or ability to create from midfield. As a result, York were missing the creative spark that they've had in recent weeks. They generated just 0.24 expected goals with five shots, finding just six touches in the box. The Nine Stripes were able to get into the attacking third (they entered 28 times to Forge's 33), but their passing accuracy in that final third was just 64 per cent, as so many of their build-up moves sputtered out -- a credit to Forge's defending, of course, but still frustrating for the visitors. "Obviously we missed [Babouli]," Nash said postmatch. "He's got that quality in the middle of the park. I thought Kevin did a decent job, he's not naturally a 10 but he did a good job at times. I thought he was good in the first half; second half, we didn't find him enough. I thought second half as a team our decision making when we won the ball back was either too slow or the wrong decision, and we kept giving the ball back." He added: "We had opportunities to keep it and we just didn't, so never really got into a rhythm in the second half." It's unclear whether Babouli will be fit enough to return for York's final match, next week at Atlético Ottawa, but it's clear that he is undoubtedly the talisman for this team and that they suffer without him.
Second-phase set-pieces make the differenceYork coach Martin Nash was understandably frustrated postmatch at how his side handled Forge's set-pieces, considering that both goals conceded were fairly preventable from the second phase of corner kicks. The first was more of a designed play from Forge, as Tristan Borges and David Choinière combined on the short corner routine before Borges whipped the cross in near the end line, but goalscorer Malik Owolabi-Belewu nonetheless got to the back post unmarked for a fairly easy header. The second goal was perhaps even more disappointing for York to concede, as Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio's clearance came straight back through the middle, where it set up perfectly for Aboubacar Sissoko to strike at goal. "That's how they scored their goals, it was from set-pieces," York defender Dominick Zator said. "As soon as the first ball goes in, everyone's on their marks; the second phase, everyone has to be locked in and unfortunately we weren't. They had two free men, one ended up heading in and one had a free shot up the box. We weren't able to cover it." Credit is due to Forge again though, as their ability to strike from set-pieces has improved a lot lately. Borges and Choinière typically seem to favour the short corner, which Smyrniotis was happy to explain is something they've spoken about to try and create more movement in the box. "Everyone looks at the statistics, I'm not going to give away a secret here but everyone really defends the box," Smyrniotis said. "A lot of times when we talk about set plays, they get put into the area but you're playing into a wall that's set up. Any movement, you can play a small touch, it gets everyone to shift and move out of position so we like to use them. We've scored off direct corner kicks, we've scored off these little combinations on short ones. "We have players that can play football; in a game if you give somebody a two-v-one or three-v-two situation on the wing, I think you go and play there. So what's the difference with a corner?" Forge have scored the vast majority of their goals from open play this year, but to see them kickstart a slumping attack with a few well-taken opportunities from dead balls will be a very welcome sign for Smyrniotis and his staff.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchTristan Borges, Forge FC Playing in a central role, Borges was the talisman for Forge, both in open play and with his set-piece work. The Toronto native got the assist on Owolabi-Belewu's goal, creating two chances and making 19 passes in the final third.
What’s next?York will now head to face another Ontario foe on the road next weekend, as they travel to play Atlético Ottawa on Sunday, Oct. 9 to see out their regular season (6 p.m. ET). Forge, with two games left on their schedule, will be at home again this Wednesday, Oct. 5 to play Pacific FC (7 p.m. ET). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer. In addition to its website and app, OneSoccer is now available on TELUS channel 980 and on Fubo TV. Call your local cable provider to ask for OneSoccer today.