MANSFIELD, Mass. – Coming into Thursday night’s game at Alumni Field, Attleboro coach Peter Pereira warned his defense about the long throws of Mansfield senior defender Max Gurnon. He warned his defense that it is a major weapon for the Hornets and that they need to be prepared anytime Mansfield wins a throw anywhere near the attacking third of the field.
No matter how many warnings Pereira gave, it does not make it any easier for the defense to deal with Gurnon’s bombardment of throws. He assisted on the first goal and got credit for the third when it was headed home by an Attleboro defender. Gurnon created consistent havoc in the Attleboro penalty area and the Hornets took advantage to pull out a 3-0 victory.
“I told my kids to play them like a corner and we did the first one and there was no one at the post,” said Pereira. “They took it to us a little in the first half with those long throws. It’s better than a kick. You get it in there, a little header, and things happen.”
Mansfield coach Steve Sheridan said, “We’re starting to cash in on his throw-ins, a lot better than we used to. We’re working on them. I’d like to see more goals from the flow of the game, but we’ll take them.
“If teams want to keep giving us these throw-ins then we’ll take them.”
The Hornets nearly had the perfect start when Sean Lanzillo chipped a pass over the top for Kevin Bouck in the first minute but the senior could not finish the chance, sending his shot over the bar. Attleboro had a quick response four minutes later when a corner was not properly cleared and Will Halben hit a near-perfect half-volley that smacked off the bar.
The rest of the first half was dominated by the Hornets with the ball constantly in the Attleboro half and Gurnon getting chance after chance to put a ball into the box from free kicks and throws. In the ninth minute, one of his throws paid dividends when it eluded everyone in the middle of the box, bounced on the far side, and was nodded into goal by Jackson Murphy at the far post.
At the midway point of the half, Mansfield doubled its lead. James Chotkowski lined up a shot from 20 yards out and forced Attleboro keeper Nicholas Hasenfus into a full stretch save. The resulting corner bounced off Brendan Sullivan to Sam Hyland on the edge of the box and he fired in his chance to make it 2-0.
“That was huge and it made them play with a little more urgency and allowed us to take more chances,” said Sheridan. “When we had the ball, we were able to get it up there and get some numbers forward.”
The Hornets were relying on Gurnon and Harry Braidt to hold down the center of the defense and limit the chances for Attleboro. The Bombardiers started pressing forward at the end of the first half and during the break Pereira urged his team to continue pressing the Hornets.
Just before halftime Colin Levis sent in a dangerous cross from the right but it went just over Halben inside the six and just missed the toe of Ahijah Joseph sliding in at the back post. The Bombardiers continued the push forward in the second half with Zach White becoming more influential in the midfield.
Mansfield had the opportunity to put the game away in the 55th minute when John Cooney escaped a challenge by Harry Lancaster and raced in clean on goal. Hasenfus (four saves) denied him with a slide and Hyland had his follow up cleared off the line.
A minute later the Bombardiers nearly cut the lead in half when freshman Nathan Laplumeflicked a pass into classmate Michael Russo, but, while the Mansfield defenders screamed for an offsides that was not forthcoming, Russo rolled his shot inches wide of the post.
“As far as soccer, second half we won a lot of balls, but up front I tried to put guys up there but we just weren’t able to finish,” said Pereira. “We picked up at the end of the first half and we carried it for about 30 minutes.”
Chotkowski nearly killed the game off with a header off a throw in the 64th minute and Cullin Anastasia also sent a header wide three minutes later. The Hornets finally put the game away with yet another throw by Gurnon. This one was headed into goal by an Attleboro defender with 12 minutes to play.
“The third one was the dagger,” said Sheridan. “It let me breathe a little bit easier…That’s probably the best game we’ve played from start to finish this year…all around, offensively and defensively.”
It was the fifth straight win for Mansfield (5-0-1), which stays unbeaten ahead of Monday night’s visit of Franklin. Attleboro (2-2-1) drops back to .500 with the loss and now faces a tough stretch beginning with Saturday’s visit of New Bedford followed by Franklin and Oliver Ames.