MANSFIELD, Mass. – For the opening 15 minutes, the visiting Bombardiers controlled the play, dominating the midfield and pushing Mansfield back on its heels. In the 10th minute, Will Halben cut inside on his right foot and found space on the edge of the box. His shot beat Mansfield goalie Nick Ferraz, but not the post.
Five minutes later, Hornets senior midfielder Sam Hyland had the ball bounce to his foot inside the 18-yard-box and also saw his shot carom off the post, but the rebound went straight to classmate Sean Lanzillo and he buried his shot into the open net.
The opening goal changed the entire outlook of the game and propelled the Hornets to a 3-0 victory over Attleboro that moves Mansfield within three points of division-leading Oliver Ames with three games remaining in the regular season.
“Our first 15 minutes, I don’t think we played well at all,” admitted Mansfield coach Steve Sheridan. “We were lucky on that goal and that’s why I called a timeout after it to settle everybody down. After that first 15 minutes, I thought we played great. They were attacking us and we played good defense, it was a great game.”
Attleboro coach Peter Pereira said, “Us hitting the bar right away was tough. If he had gotten that then it would’ve been a totally different game. The first 20 minutes we ran and we denied them from playing so they couldn’t get going.”
Following Sheridan’s timeout, the Hornets settled into the game, started to possess the ball better, and played through the midfield. In the 28th minute, the hosts almost doubled the lead when Cullin Anastasia started a break with an outlet pass to Lanzillo, who then fed Hyland but the shot was saved by Nick Hasenfus. Seconds later Anastasia beat the offside trap but again Hasenfus made the stop.
“You can’t sustain it that long, it’s just too much running,” said Pereira about his team’s drop off after the midway point of the half. “You go a goal down and your energy level disappears.”
In the 29th minute, Mansfield got another break on a deflection. Luke Devine’s run was cut off by Attleboro center backs Aidan Lancaster and Colin Levis, but the ball bounced out to Lanzillo who hit a perfect, first time shot from 19 yards that curled over Hasenfus for a 2-0 lead.
“He curled it in,” said Sheridan with a laugh. “That was nice, I can’t wait to watch it.”
In the second half, Mansfield pressed its advantage and created a series of chances. Lanzillo’s cross from the right wing was headed on target by Anastasia but saved by Attleboro back-up keeper Andre Menard and two minutes later another low cross into the middle to Hyland was cut out by a sliding Levis.
In the 55th minute, central defender Sam Nugent slid a pass to spring Lanzillo down the touchline, but his cross was just behind Hyland in the middle. That turned out to be a warning for the Attleboro defense, as just a minute later Lanzillo played in Anastasia on the right and he picked out Hyland with a low cross that was side-footed in.
Pereira said, “We work hard and even after that we continued to work hard. We can play touch, but it gets into your head. Losing breeds losing and winning breads winning, we’re not confident.”
It could have been more for the Hornets. Jared Gabrilowitz cut in from the left side and had his right-footed shot saved by Menard at full stretch. From the ensuing corner, Michael Russo was forced to clear a shot off the line.
“We should’ve had more goals but…we can’t finish,” said Sheridan. ”To have that many opportunities, especially in that second half, and we’ve got to finish them.”
Attleboro struggled to sustain a consistent attack. Russo had a shot saved early in the second half and David Medeiros had an 18-yard shot comfortably saved by Ferraz (four saves).
The best chance for the Bombardiers came in the 70th minute, as Russo got forward down the left wing and sent an inch-perfect cross to Halben at the back post only to see the shot come back off the crossbar.
“The good news is this is a two-year project,” said Pereira about his young roster. “The starting lineup is back. Now we’re going to have some fun, work hard, get better as individuals and if they do that then we’ll be a better team.”
For Sheridan, it was a positive to see his team get on the score sheet multiple times, especially with the playoffs right around the corner. He joked, “Oh yeah, it was nice. I liked it. I would like to score more than three goals a game but we’re stubborn and we like to make it hard on ourselves.”