We promised a good game, and a good game it proved to be, as the Battery prevailed over rivals the Wilmington Hammerheads to take all the spoils in the first Southern Derby of the season.
The Battery were on the front foot from the start, and the first attack paid dividends as an early Obi Woodbine throw in from outside the box found the head of Taylor Mueller, whose redirect toward goal clattered off the crossbar. However, Romario Williams, earning his first start of the year in place of Heviel Cordoves, was there to clean up at the doorstep to slide the ball past John Smits in goal for the Hammerheads. It was Williams’ second goal of the season, the first earning his team the win on opening day against FC Cincinnati.
Long throws would be a problem early on for Wilmington, and a long throw from the opposite side after seven minutes, and Maikel Chang would keep the ball alive in the area before it eventually fell to Attaulah Guerra, who took up more of a forward role in the usual 4-2-3-1 after Naveal Hakshaw took up the holding role in midfield, but Guerra’s effort was saved by Smits.
Just about a minute later, the Battery earned a free kick that was played to Guerra, who slipped in Chang with a nice pass, but the winger was somewhat indecisive, and Smits claimed.
Things got a bit worse for the visitors, as after just 12 minutes, experienced full back Tom Parratt would have to be replaced for Michael Meechum due to injury.
Last year’s assist leader, Maikel Chang would slip in striker Williams on the wing after 16, but Smits in goal again would show good command of his area and collect.
Some cute play on the edge of the 18 yard box would find its way to Williams a couple minutes later, but after taking his marker inside and creating space for the shot, the effort went wide.
Naveal Hackshaw, who was having himself a decent display in the first half, would stay down and require treatment in the 27th minute, but would come back on shortly after.
But after 31 minutes, with really their first chance, Wilmington would strike back. A pinpoint cross by Mael Corboz sought out an attacker, and Bruno Perone rose highest to steer it past Alex Tambakis in goal for the Battery to level the scoring at 1-1.
A dangerous cross by the Battery’s Hackshaw seemed to strike the arm of an opponent in the box just before half time, but the referee waved away appeals for a penalty, and both teams went into the changing rooms all square.
The Battery kicked off the second half, and looked as if they would start it similar to the first when the earned a throw in deep inside the opposing half. This time, however, there was a disconnect as the ball ran out for a goal kick.
The man who had the Wilmington assist, Mael Carboz, would have a crack at goal in the 50th minute, but the shot wouldn’t trouble Tambakis in goal as it went high over the bar.
Just past the hour mark, Romario Williams would be replaced by Heviel Cordoves. Williams, while looking lively in a Battery shirt so far, is working his way into his new surroundings while on loan from Montreal Impact, and put in a decent shift this evening, scoring the opening goal.
Justin Portillo worked hard to steal the ball after 64′, but his shot from just outside the box had no power and failed to trouble the ‘keeper as it went harmlessly wide.
With 20 minutes left, a Wilmington corner would be cleared after a bit of a scramble, which led to a Battery counter, but the attack would break down at the last.
The home side had slowly gained back the foothold they established early on, and went in search of yet another late decider, as the corner earned from the breakaway was dangerous, but the Wilmington defense would clear after two attempts.
With 15 to go, Obi Woodbine had the chance to cross with men in the box from the right, but hesitated a bit too long as his ball eventually would sail over everyone’s head.
It was the striker Cordoves with the next chance on 78’, when he stood up and turned his man inside the box, but couldn’t control his effort as it went wide.
Attaulah Guerra would be replaced by Dante Marini with nine minutes left, Marini being the go-to for fresh legs and a bit of pace, especially late in games.
The home side continued their pressure, as shortly after, Justin Portillo would whip in a dangerous ball with pace toward the back post, but the runner couldn’t get there in time to connect.
But sure enough, the pressure would tell for the Black and Yellow, as with just five minutes to go, a corner played in by Portillo would find the head of center back Taylor Mueller who would not be denied after his near miss in the first half, putting his header firmly into the back of the net before racing away to the Regiment end in E1 to celebrate amongst the smoke and all the love.
Austin Savage would get a cameo with 3 minutes left, coming on for Naveal Hackshaw, who had worked himself into the ground for most of the game and picked up a few knocks along the way.
The Hammerheads would have one last chance however, on 93 minutes, when the ball was played long into the box. Battery ‘keeper Tambakis would come to claim, but not get there as the Wilmington players would bundle the ball into the net, but the referee adjudged that Tambakis was fouled, and the goal was disallowed.
And that’s the way the game ended. The Battery earned another tough 3 points at home against a good Hammerheads side, and took this year’s first Southern Derby, drawing first blood in the Southern Derby Cup.
Their 12 shots to Wilmington’s two, with five on target, would tell you that it was probably deserved, but strange things can happen in games like these, and the Battery can feel grateful that their nerves held.
Next week, Friday, April 16th, the Battery travel to Charlotte for another Southern Derby clash against the Charlotte Independence, which kicks off at 7:00. You can watch the match on USL’s official YouTube channel.
Header Image: Romario Williams cleans things up on the doorstep to open the scoring, his second in three games. Photo credit Ross Almers.