FRANKLIN, Mass. – The clock was winding down and Oliver Ames continued to press forward in search for a winning goal. After a number of missed opportunities, including free headers sent wide, shots from the edge of the box that were just outside the post, and chances kicked aside by the Franklin defense, the breakthrough finally came with just two minutes left to play.
The Panthers were unable to decisively clear the first ball in from a long throw on the near side of the field. The ball was won back by the OA midfield, which had taken over in the second half, and cycled out to the right to Jack Sheldon. He fired in a pinpoint cross to the back post where Thomas McCormick was all alone to nod the ball past Freddie Beckmann.
The late goal stood up as the winner on Tuesday evening. OA handed Franklin a 1-0 loss at Pisini Field to end Franklin’s unbeaten start while extending its own unbeaten run to 25 games stretching back to 2015.
“We did a lot of pressure in the second half and we kept winning the ball back,” said OA coach John Barata. “We have good players and we can play a bit. We’re learning and we’ll figure it out, but that’s why it’s important to get a good win like this.”
It was a result that could have been far more comfortable after a dominant performance by the Tigers in the second half. Nathaniel Cardoza, Mason Galbato, Cam Vella, and McCormick consistently won the ball back for OA and pushed the Tigers into the attack.
Franklin was pinned back for long stretches of the second half and but for consistent play by center backs Connor SanClemente and Alex Chitarra and holding midfielder Nitin Chaudhury and missed chances by the visitors kept the game tied.
“I think we gave them a little too much respect,” said Franklin coach Fran Bositis. “We were just a nightmare in terms of putting passes together and just controlling the ball…We defended well. Defending we couldn’t do much better, except at the end there.”
McCormick had a good chance one minute into the second half but his shot on the turn was saved by Beckmann at the near post. Three minutes later Vella had space but his shot went wide of the far post and he missed a second chance on a near post header off a throw. With 11 minutes to play, Matt Campbell had a back heel chance saved and McCormick flashed a header wide when left free inside the six-yard-box.
“Very nervous,” admitted Barata about the feeling in the second half, “because we just came off a game where we outshot a team like 25-5 and tied. And then you see them come down and they had two class act chances. All of a sudden we go from a good performance on one end and we could be losing.”
The misses could have led to a defeat for OA but for a miss by Franklin and junior goalie Jack Carroll.
Midway through the second half, Franklin could have taken the lead when James LeVie met a cross from Cam LeBlanc only to blaze it over the bar. With five minutes left, Franklin finally got out of its defensive third and won a free kick that Hatim Brahimi took quickly and forced Carroll into a save. The keeper could only parry it and the ball rolled to Kevin Hall, but Carroll recovered to block with his legs.
“That one save at the end…that’s the game,” said Barata. “We would be talking about how it was a good performance and unfortunately we lost 1-0.”
Bositis added, “We had some chances. We certainly didn’t control play like they did, but we had some chances that we probably…I mean we should have had a goal at the far post and that changes everything.”
Franklin looked much more dangerous in the first half with striker Farley Asmath causing problems as an outlet for the midfielders. Showing strength and speed, Asmath created openings for Brahimi to spring Hall but Carroll was able to save comfortably.
With 27 minutes gone, Asmath opened up the OA defense with a great turn in the box and he tried to pick the far corner only to have Carroll deny him with a kick save. At halftime, OA chose to push higher up the pitch and despite a switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 Franklin could not recover and get the ball up top.
“Second half we just had to play higher up the pitch and possess in the attacking third and try to bury them here because their one outlet, a very strong outlet, is No. 9 (Asmath),” said Barata. “Today it worked.”
Despite the loss, Bositis was still positive about the way the Panthers have started. He explained, “I’m very pleased with the start of the season. They’ve done very well. We’ll see if they have a short memory and we bounce back to be ready for Taunton on Thursday.”