The game itself was a bit of a tale of two halves. We started the match very brightly and I think we caught HJK a bit by surprise. Maybe they expected the game to be easier than it turned out to be. Also, HJK was missing both of their starting center backs, so they probably had to play a bit more conservatively than they normally do to protect the players back there. Regardless of the reason, we started out on top and around the 15th minute our work was rewarded with a penalty kick. Kris was brought down in the box after a cheeky touch over his defender. Shane Robinson (Robbo) stepped up and scored and we were up 1-0. After that we had our tails up and were really pressuring. A few minutes after the penalty, Robbo played a great pass to me and I centered it for Kris who finished from 6-7 yards at the far post. At that point we were all over them and HJK made a double substitution just 25 minutes into the game. That was something I’ve literally never seen before but they knew they had to change something. A few minutes later I was inches from being in on the goalkeeper after a great pass from Jonne, but the central defender got to the ball an instant before me and we both went tumbling to the ground.
The rest of the half was pretty pedestrian and we went into the half up 2-0.
|Nice and muddy.|
I knew I played pretty well in the first half, but as I walked out to the right sideline for the second half something very unexpected and quite nice happened: the fans on that sideline started to applaud me as I came out. It was the best feeling that I’ve had since I got to Finland. Maybe that’s selfish to rank that moment above, say, getting valuable points but it really felt good to have that appreciation from the fans. They probably were a bit skeptical of me since I haven’t played much but tonight I think I proved that I can help this great club stay up. Fans like the ones here at HAKA are great and deserve to have a team competing for the top prizes in Finland.
The second half began much the way the first half ended: HJK was mostly on top but not creating any dangerous chances. On 57 minutes though that all changed and the game had its talking point. The situation actually started with me. I tracked back and won the ball off the winger then turned around and saw nobody so I just booted the ball up the line and (unintentionally) out of bounds up near midfield. As everyone started to trudge towards the throw in spot a weird thing happened:
TWO GUYS THREW THE BALL IN!
The referee was clearly unaware that there were two balls in play so he didn’t blow the whistle. Our team however did see the 2nd ball and was actually paying more attention to that one since it was thrown in where the ball went out. The ball that was used to score was thrown in from a spot even to where I kicked the ball. I clearly didn’t kick it sideways, so the throw in should have been 20 yards further away from our goal than it was even if the 2nd ball hadn’t been played. To be honest we got a pretty raw deal. To prove that I’m not just being biased, I actually recorded the highlights of the game on my phone. See for yourself…
EDIT: I'm including a YouTube video as well since it shows the incident much more clearly than my cameraphone.
That moment I think really took a lot out of us. HJK was starting to get a bit desperate and the longer we held out the more chances they would have taken. I think ten more minutes without a goal and HJK would have opened themselves up so much that we could have caught them with their pants down on the counterattack. If we could have done that then we would have won the game. Instead they scored the equalizer from a header. From that point on we were essentially just playing to keep a tie. I was subbed off at 75 minutes and we almost tragically lost the game after that when we gave up a penalty kick. Luckily for us though the guy put his shot over the crossbar and we held out for 2-2.
Despite our disappointment at the tie, we can be happy with our point I think. We wanted more, but that’s always the case. Our team can take this good result and use that momentum to go and win our next game against KuPS. If we win that game then we will be in a good place for our last three games after the international break. The goal is survival in this league and if we play our last four games like tonight, then we will survive! Keep cheering us on!