The Woodbridge Strikers’ 2-1 victory over Windsor Stars on Friday night epitomized a classic cup competition showdown. This was a cautious, yet frenetic encounter between two sides aspiring for top spot in Group B.
Neither side appeared willing to commit many players forward in the opening stages of the match and, as a result, great scoring opportunities were somewhat lacking.
Woodbridge struggled to play through midfield due to Windsor’s shape and the way they applied pressure when not in possession. The away side was aligned in a 4-1-4-1 with two energetic shuttlers in Michael Pio and Brydon Caesar ahead of holding midfielder Gino Berardi. Pio and Caesar enjoyed an exceptional opening half, with the former drifting into pockets of space throughout the pitch to receive the ball, while the latter’s powerful runs from midfield placed his side into key areas.
In the 16th minute, Pio was the catalyst in Windsor’s first legitimate chance, as he slalomed through midfield and slid a ball behind the Woodbridge defence to teammate Erik Cirovski, but Strikers’ goalkeeper Michael Scavone made a terrific save to keep the score-line leveled.
Two minutes later, Woodbridge had a great chance of their own and nearly took the lead when Mario Kovacevic nodded Stephen Almeida’s corner kick off the post, but Windsor quickly cleared their lines and the crisis was averted.
Neither side did much to distinguish themselves during the next 20 minutes.
Windsor passed their way through midfield for large stretches, but apart from the surging runs from Pio and Caesar, their activity in the final third was scarce.
Woodbridge struggled to link their midfield attack, and were often languid in transition, enabling the visitors to quickly retreat into their defensive shape whenever they turned the ball over. Strikers’ Oscar Cordon and Cristian Cavallini combined well at times to pull Windsor’s midfield out of position but on the whole, the home-side struggled to create many chances from open play due to Windsor’s strong play without the ball.
Windsor did almost break the deadlock before the half time break through Pio, who rose up to meet a Celso Carapau’s corner-kick in the 40th minute, but once again Scavone made an impressive save.
Although the match remain quite cagey after the break, the second half would deliver the goals that the first period lacked.
Woodbridge Head Coach Peter Pinizzotto effectively utilized his options on the bench, as his first three substitutes affected the balance of the second half. Joshua Paredes-Procter replaced Cordon at half time and his strong physical play negated Windsor’s penetrating runs. Michael Holder and Damion Graham also entered the match after halftime – the former slotting in as the lone striker, while the latter moved into the left attacking midfield position. These two additions, along with left-back Franco Lo Presti, were involved in both Woodbridge goals.
Graham’s introduction pegged Windsor left-back Jamar Kelly into his half, and the substitute’s movement into central areas created space for Lo Presti to attack down the left side of the field. In the 66th minute, the left-sided duo combined and Lo Presti’s low cross towards the edge of the box was directed by Holder past Windsor goalkeeper Kyle Vizirakis to hand Woodbridge the lead.
However, the home-side’s lead lasted only two minutes, as Woodbridge centre-back Cameron Brooks fouled Pio in the box. Berardi stepped up to the spot and smashed a low ball past Scavone to even the score.
Windsor called upon the pacy Michael Watson and powerful winger Brett Holmberg to come off the bench to help find a go-ahead goal, but as energy levels decreased, the Stars failed to pose a threat in the final third.
The final 20 minutes were largely uneventful, but the duo of Graham and Lo Presti combined again in stoppage time to help set up the game-winning goal. Lo Presti’s cross towards the far post was nodded on by Holder towards the edge of the box for Andrew Derayeh, whose deflected shot rolled past Vizirakis with mere seconds to spare.
With the win, Woodbridge moved to the top of Group B, with 6 points from 3 games. This was Windsor’s first match in the L1 Cup competition and the loss would be the first time all season that Windsor failed to get at least a single point from a match.