I’ve come to realize that I’m starting to have a bit of a Pavlovian experience when I sit down in my desk chair. Sitting here with a cup of tea and a handful of chicken scratch notes makes my spine stiffen, my brows furrow, my personality gets a little touchy. And although I’m sure it’s not the first time it’s ever happened to anybody, I’m being conditioned to associate being uncomfortable and disenchanted while reporting about something I love. So, who’s at fault?
Last night the Wilmington Hammerheads sought to shrug off their west coast losses as they took on the Richmond Kickers at home. It was a very windy, cold night – very out of character for this time of year in Wilmington. Jeans and sweatshirts were the shocking norm, and I, who had said “Long sleeves? Bah!” was lucky to have my Doctor Who Tardis towel on hand to use for warmth. Even so, it got more uncomfortably frigid as the match wore on.
Game time would see winds varying between 9 and 20 mph, which surely had to mess with ball trajectory and play style. The first half of this game was fairly nondescript, ending in a 0-0 draw at the half. The Hammerheads seemed stronger as a team than they had been and it was a fairly solid back and forth between the two teams. Both teams had good possession and equal chances on goal. It seemed that whoever was persistent enough to score first in the second half would have this win.
But it was not to be, as in the 71st minute Jamel Wallace would be called for a handball in the penalty box, allowing Richmond a penalty kick and its first goal of the night. Normally, while infuriating, this call wouldn’t have been a topic of much contention, if the exact same thing hadn’t happened against the Hammerheads in the first half with no call whatsoever. A Richmond player clearly handled the ball in the penalty box in the first half of this match, and I can’t think of a Firm member standing around me that didn’t see the ball catch on his bicep, and pretty much roll down the entirety of his arm. Blatantly obvious to even the most beer-addled fan, yet no call given. Did we feel slighted? Absolutely.
While I’m on the topic of poor call judgement, how about that cardless elbow that defender Gareth Evans took to the face in the second half? While the fans were thrilled to see Gaz back on the field, we weren’t too thrilled to see him get clocked and remain on the pitch for a minute or two with no retribution to the offending player. Remember that slighted feeling? It’s here, too.
So the stars weren’t really aligning here, and the loss was driven home in the early 4 minutes of stoppage time as a Hammerheads set piece failed and was quickly snatched up by Richmond player Michael Seaton, who then flew the length of the field, just outpacing our defenders to pop the goal up and over keeper Phil Tuttle into the corner of the net.
The stands went brutally silent for the remainder of the match. We finished it on the end of a 2-0 loss at home.
So, who’s at fault? It’s always easy to blame the refereeing, but the lack of calls on such obvious fouls makes that a big and lingering part of this loss. And we all know that poor refereeing can turn the tides of a match, but lately it seems like it’s all or nothing – either jumping to red card conclusions, or letting obvious fouls go unnoticed. It’s also worth asking at this point, a question that is on many Hammers fans minds – where is Troy Hernandez? The bench. Why? He performed fabulously last year in very clutch matches, yet this season he is nowhere to be found. This match pretty much sealed the deal that we need to have some serious roster work, and fast. We made one whole sub in the match, sending Steven Perry in the 80th minute. Understandably we have a sizable amount of players out on suspension and injury, so we have little to work with, but I know we had more than just one player ready to be put in. Losing valuable points at home is one big way to incite riotous fans. Playoff spots are hugely valuable, and let’s not forget that the Lamar Hunt Open Cup is looming. These issues need to be worked out very very soon.
Match captain Tom Parratt was named man of the match for a strong 90+ minutes of play, and had a cracker of a goal chance early in the second half that was unfortunately saved by Dykstra. But I think it’s also worth mentioning the efforts of fresh signing Will Heaney, who is fast becoming a fan favorite in the stands. His crosses and set pieces are impeccable, and he’s making smart decisions on the field and playing hard for the entire match. So there are bright spots here in the pile of overwhelming drudgery, and hopefully these things will eventually turn this team around and pull us out of the hole we’re currently in.
All in all, a huge disappointment at home for hopes that were tentatively high. This loss is a big blow to everyone and is a bitter pill to swallow. I feel like a broken record lately, saying the same things over and over – We will learn from this. We will keep moving forward. Things have to get better. But right now, it still all holds true, because it’s all we can do.
It’s real easy to be a fan of a team that breezes through matches and is always on top. Times like these test true fans of a team, and it’s time we grit our teeth and refuse to be swayed.