Fewer Old Boys made the journey to Esquimalt to face Vantreights on Sunday than those who went to watch the Vancouver Whitecaps host Toronto FC the previous day. Go figure!
It must be said that all those who made the journey, bar those excused by injury or unavoidable commitments, arrived at a sunny Fulford eager to erase any lingering doubts about the strategic plan of coach Graham Tweddle after its effective dismantling by the Duncan 48s last week.
Desperate not to emulate the Whitecaps’ poor performance, the Old Boys invoked the assistance of The Jackson 5’s 1970 hit “ABC, 1 2 3” as their mantra to chant while preparing at pitch-side. As manager Tweddle outlined in the prematch warm-up, “It’s easy as 1 2 3, simple as do ri me! A B C, 1 2 3!” (ABC refers to All-round Ball Control or Auld Boy Control.)
The return of Mark Aston from his hammock in Nicaragua and Scott Howe from his European dress rehearsals held out hope for a return to winning ways, since both men were untainted by recent team travails. Reporter Fraser Hope, pressed in to assistant referee duties, discovered that Salt Spring “chic” — Crocs with socks for walking the streets of Vancouver — was not the most ideal preparation for running the line. Fortunately, the pace of both teams was relatively slow.
The game pattern followed that of previous Vantreights encounters, with Old Boys dominant in attack but constantly thwarted by the excellent home-team goalkeeper. Time after time his excellent positioning and aggressive approach have frustrated Old Boys strikers for turning excellent approach play by the defence and midfield into lost opportunities. Mike McCormick, David Toynbee and Stefan Cermak all hustled and chased inviting through-passes, which under normal circumstances could be guaranteed at least one goal, but were nullified by their goalkeeping nemesis.
The strikers and Aston had shots on goal, but opportunities that could have benefitted from an extra touch on the ball before the final delivery were snatched away. Rarely did Vantreights venture into the Old Boys half, such was the dominance of the visitors.
Half-time saw the Old Boys, still confident of overcoming Vantreights’ Horatio at the end of the bridge, storm into attack, determined to gain an early lead. Successive shots by strikers saw them narrowly miss or be comfortably saved by the keeper. The crowd gave a collective roar as a one-time swivel shot by McCormick narrowly whistled past the post with the home keeper rooted to his line. Surely the pressure would force Vantreights’ defence to crumble and allow for a comfortable return to winning ways?
Fate, as always, has the final say and, at the 25th-minute mark, Tweddle, in racing across the pitch to avert a counter-attack, pulled up lame with muscle problems. Fortunately there was no need for the course vet to put him out of his misery behind the blinds and he walked off under his own steam.
As was the case with the Whitecaps, being down a man changed the whole dynamics of the game. Vantreights, sensing the blood of victory, declined the referee’s gentlemen request for a substitute to help the 10-man Old Boys. This only spurred the team for a collective effort to deny them victory. Stout defence aided by Jack Braak’s goalkeeping and long clearances allied to selfless running by the strikers and midfield, with a smidgen of help from the crossbar, held off Vantreights.
Old Boys came closer to a winning goal with 10 men than a full-sided home team, upstaging their Whitecaps counter-parts and thoroughly deserving their 0-0 draw.
The ferry trip back to Salt Spring was quiet and contemplative but comfortable in the knowledge of a great team effort that more than compensated for the lack of victory. The only discussion revolved around the question of whether with Tweddle “hors de combat,” Old Boys management would call in another recently released Middlesbrough manager — Aitor Karanka — to be caretaker for the rest of the season. Karanka, Jose Mourhino’s assistant at Real Madrid, would be familiar and comfortable with the Old Boys’ style of play.
Old Boys face the Centaurs at Finlayson Park on Sunday, March 26 at noon. (Reporter Hope, with the aid of a video-carrying drone, may provide fact and analysis from Edinburgh, Scotland for the last two games of the season.)