Final Score: Forge FC 4-1 HFX Wanderers FC Goalscorers: Navarro 3', 15', Choinière 25', Castello 88'; Marshall 54' Game of the 2021 season: 102 CPL match: 238

Match in a minute or less

Forge FC scored early and often at home on Saturday afternoon, as a Joshua Navarro brace put HFX Wanderers FC down 2-0 in the first 15 minutes at Tim Hortons Field. David Choinière added another in short order, as the Wanderers fell flat in a key game as they try to remain in the playoff hunt. A triple substitution at halftime gave the visitors some life, with Alex Marshall scoring an excellent goal off the bench, but Forge ultimately held firm. They added another right at the end, as 18-year-old Sebastian Castello scored his first goal with his first touch of the game -- about 10 seconds into his shift as a substitute. So, the Hammers kept their hopes of finishing first very much alive, while the Wanderers will hope for some help elsewhere in the CPL as they cling to fourth place.

Three Observations

Forge play through lines with ease, efficiency​

After playing very well -- but failing to score -- against CF Montreal on Wednesday, Forge looked very hungry right from the kickoff. They lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Tristan Borges once again operating as a number 10 and Elimane Cisse at right-back, as they both did in that Canadian Championship clash midweek. Forge again went through phases of high pressing, and they were able to pick off a lot of Wanderers passes; any game where a striker leads the team in tackles (Joshua Navarro made six), that's indicative of a successful press. Cisse, too, was an effective part of the equation tucking in from the right flank, doing well to cut out passes and win possession in the wide areas where HFX often prefers to operate. If they were missing a little composure in the box on Wednesday, Forge certainly were not in this game. They were very efficient with their attacks, turning many of them into high-quality shooting opportunities (they put 10 of their 21 attempts on target); they deployed a completely changed front three, with Navarro and David Choinière flanking Woobens Pacius up top, and it was evident that they had the most energy on the pitch, having played fewer recent minutes. "There's fatigue across the squad; we played Wednesday night and put in a massive effort in that game," Bobby Smyrniotis pointed out. "And what we just told the guys is it's 90 minutes, we've got to put everything aside, what the schedule has been, what it will be, and just focus on these 90 minutes and knowing that these three points are very important for us on where we want to get to as we get to the final weeks of the season. We've just got to pick all that out of your mindset and focus on football. When we do that, and we've done that today with good energy, our football was fantastic, especially in the first half." The other upshot of a win like this is the momentum Forge will have gathered ahead of Tuesday night's Concacaf League game against Santos de Guápiles; Smyrniotis was heartened by his side's attack coming to life so effectively, considering they'll need to score at least twice in that match if they're to advance from the tie with the aggregate score currently 3-1.

HFX's slow start proves very costly​

For the second game in a row, HFX Wanderers came out flat-footed and got punished by the opposition for some poor defending. Even more than in the 3-0 loss to Valour midweek, the Wanderers allowed Forge to play through them far too easily, and the HFX defenders consistently lost their marks in the box -- Joshua Navarro managed to get free a few times, as did Tristan Borges on several occasions in the first half when the Wanderers offered too much space in front of their backline. For a team in an extremely tight playoff race, the Wanderers did not seem to have the urgency out of the gate in this match that they needed if they were to get a result against a very strong Forge team. It seemed Forge did well to stifle HFX along the wings, but the major issues were their disorganized defending and their poor composure in possession that gave the ball back to Forge too many times. After the third Forge goal, Wanderers defender Peter Schaale gathered his team in a huddle, where it seemed he spoke quite animatedly to this teammates. The Wanderers definitely improved after that -- and after halftime -- but nonetheless, the damage was done. "At the end of the day it just showed the gulf between the two teams," Hart told reporters postmatch. "When we did get hold of the ball, we just turned it over to them, and they showed a masterclass in attacking -- players running in behind, passes going in behind, we were just on the back foot constantly for the first 25, 30 minutes of the game." Hart added that the blame for the defeat falls on his shoulders as coach of the team, but certainly there were a lot of moments where it came apart for the Wanderers. Goalkeeper Kieran Baskett went as far as to apologize to his team's fans after the game for their performance, vowing that his side will do all they can to "make it right" next weekend when they return home to play Atlético Ottawa in their final game of the regular season -- certainly, a do-or-die affair for HFX.

Halftime triple sub helps Wanderers stop bleeding​

After the dismal start to the match, Wanderers boss Stephen Hart unsurprisingly sought to shake things up at halftime. He brought Akeem Garcia, Alex Marshall, and Samuel Salter into the game and changes his side's shape somewhat, pulling Morey Doner into a five-man backline and getting left-back Eriks Santos to tuck inside more frequently. The new shape and strategy did seem to improve things for HFX, who had a slightly more even share of possession in the second half (although still just 45%, improved on 37% in the first half), but they still struggled to really play through Forge or break them down. Marshall and Garcia were both involved in the Wanderers' goal, of course -- Garcia did well with his hold-up play, and it was Marshall's sensational strike that cut the Forge lead to 3-1 -- but the service was still lacking from midfield. Unfortunately for HFX, the improvement was somewhat short-lived; they were able to hold Forge down for a decent stretch in the half, and they briefly took control of the ball and put the hosts under pressure, but the final 10 minutes saw them exposed on the counter-attack a handful of times as sloppy passes often gave Forge opportunities to strike in transition. Hart explained postmatch that his halftime changes were intended to draw some sort of response from his side. "Anything," Hart said when asked what he hoped the changes might spark. "A bit of energy, at least try and get a goal back and see if we could sort of claw our way back into the game, something like that. But at the end of the day we weren't good enough." Neither half, really, was good enough from a side hoping to make the playoffs, but the Wanderers might take some solace in their ability to remain in the fight and continue looking for goals despite the poor start. Player of the Match

Joshua Navarro, Forge FC The Costa Rican attacker opened his account in the CPL in style, consistently finding the most dangerous areas and evading his markers. He was rewarded with two good goals, and he came quite close to completing the hat-trick.

What’s next?

Forge will now turn their attention back to the Concacaf League, as they host Costa Rican side Santos de Guápiles this Tuesday in Leg 2 of their quarterfinal tie (9 pm ET). In CPL action, they'll be back next Saturday, November 6, when they make the short road trip to play York United (1 pm ET). HFX, meanwhile, will play their final game of the 2021 regular season next Sunday, November 6, as they return home to host Atlético Ottawa (1 pm ET/2 pm AT). 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.

Continue reading...