The win sets up an mouth-watering clash against second placed Scandinavian Vikings in Bangkok this coming Saturday. A win for Nova will almost certainly give them the league title as they remain 12 points clear of their arch rivals with only 5 games of the season remaining. They also have a far superior goal difference over their Scandinavian counterparts. However, the game will certainly not be easy for Nova, the Scans gave them a real test earlier on in the season in Pattaya and it took a last gasp winner from Mark McKeown to seal the points.
Saturday’s game was certainly not the stroll in the park many would have anticipated. Nova had smashed 17 goals past I. Play earlier on in the season, so the visitors were in determined fashion not to have further embarrassment heaped upon them this time round.
Conditions were certainly not favourable to Nova’s flowing passing game. A blustery wind and an under prepared pitch made it difficult for both sides to string any series of passes together. With the strong wind in their favour the visitors made a positive start to the game and it came as a real body blow when Nova scored with virtually their first attack of the game inside 10 minutes. Mark Hill’s searching long ball caught the I.Play defence flat footed allowing midfielder McKeown through on goal before confidently lobbing the keeper.
Undeterred the visitors continued to press forward and Captain Lee Homer and his defence had to be at their best to keep a number of their attacks at bay. Nova were struggling to get their passing game going but they still looked dangerous on the break and they extended their lead on the half hour; inform striker Bjorn Ellingsen doing all the hard work before threading a ball through to Paul Derbyshire to confidently side foot home.
However the visitors deservedly got back into the game on the stroke of half time. Nova attempted to pass the ball out of defence but it only resulted in their centre half Dar getting robbed in possession allowing the I.Play striker a clear run on goal before he slipped the ball under Art in the Nova goal.
Coach Stuart Levy resisted the temptation of laying into his team at half time, knowing that although his team had not played well, they still led and with the wind in their favour come the second half they should go on and win the game.
His confidence in his team proved correct as they soon extended their lead early in the second half. It was a case of route one, as Homer’s long punt upfield from a goal kick resulted in McKeown once again outstripping the visitors defence before confidently firing home. They repeated they trick soon after and once again Homer was the provider from the goal kick and this time Ellingsen supplied the finishing touch.
The visitors continued to battle hard and make their own chances themselves but the Nova defence of Hill, Captain Homer, Daryl Mann and Dave Booton stood firm alongside keeper Art.
The game became more stretched in the closing stages as I.Play, not prepared to sit back, committed more players upfield in a valiant attempt at somehow getting back into the game. However the tactic was bound to leave gaping holes in their defence and Nova are the sort of team that will definitely exploit them and so it proved, as first the little “Pocket Rocket” McKeown, who continues to prove a thorn in every side he comes up against this season with his bursting runs from midfield, went on another surging run that only ended when he drilled the ball low and hard into the bottom corner to complete a memorable hat-trick.
Soon after Ellingsen completed the scoring for his second and Nova’s sixth, when he latched on to a Daryl Mann through ball before rounding the keeper and tapping the ball into the empty net.
It was a score line that was hard to take for the Bangkok based side but they can take pride in the way they travelled down and gave a spirited performance. The game was again played in a competitive but fair manner and was well officiated by the Thai referee and his linesman.
Coach Levy will hopefully have a couple of players back for Saturday’s crucial game in Bangkok. Young winger Ben Bryant will certainly be a welcomed addition back to the squad after missing the last couple of games through injury.
After the game both sets of players and management returned to Jamesons Irish Bar to watch the Manchester derby and tuck into the mouth watering chicken curry that had been laid on, before washing it down with numerous pints of lager.