On a great occasion for the Dragoons, English non-league side FC United of Manchester visited Krakow in the Fenix Trophy in one of the biggest games in the club’s history so far.
Following the victory over Płomień Kościelec two days prior, the Expats made six changes to the team. Hugo Cruz changed formation to a back three as Marcin Obyrtacz continued in the Dragoons goal. Brian Lemmen dropped from midfield into defence next to Kuba Drobny as Sasha Arshakian replaced Simon Calabrese. Whilst in the wing-back positions, Roman Bilovol and Salah Missi came into the team to replace Szymon Urzędowski and Piotr Hajnrych.
A much changed midfield saw Corneille Malonga return to the team and Keanu Solomons started for the first time in the holding roles. Captain Enrico Forabosco also returned in a third change to the middle after recovering from a muscle injury.
In attack, Alessandro Sassini dropped out of the team with Martin Voženílek and Rohit Chandran starting in advanced positions.
A healthy travelling support from Manchester sang in fine voice as the game started with smoke shrouding the pitch.
Thank YOU to all of our fans who travelled to Krakow to support us in our latest @FenixTrophy tie, incredible support as always for a Euro Away!
See United away! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/De9ygttx4Y
— FC United of Manchester 🟥⬜⬛ (@FCUnitedMcr) November 8, 2023
In only 30 seconds, songs in support of the side turned to cheers! A long kick from goalkeeper Pat Boyes bounced wickedly off the turf, allowing Elliot Morris to run through on goal. The winger slotted the ball into the net past Obyrtacz, but a flag from the referee’s assistant cancelled the goal out. In all likelihood the wrong decision…
The Expats struggled to get out of their own half as United applied the pressure looking for an early goal. A looped pass from Charlie Munro found Nic Bollado down the left flank working the channels. Bollado passed back to Munro, who let fly with a shot from outside of the box, forcing Obyrtacz to turn the ball around the post.
We Had A Shot!
From the following corner, the Dragoons won possession of the ball and had their first shot on 5 minutes. The Reds Paweł Żuk attempted to find a teammate out wide, but passed straight to Rohit Chandran. The Indian sprinted forward on the counter and spotted Keanu Solomons free on the right side of the pitch. The South African came forward with the ball but sent an effort sailing over Boyes’ goal.
Two minutes later, the Dragoons allowed another long kick from Boyes to bounce with Bollado nodding the ball to Morris. The winger did well to take the ball under his control, accelerating ahead of Arshakian to run through on goal. Morris continued his run into the penalty area and lashed an effort way wide with Arshakian breathing down his neck.
United continued their relentless pressure knocking the ball around with the Dragoons chasing shadows. Gabidon cleared Obyrtacz’s bar in the 9th minute as the Expats struggled to get a touch of the ball.
Into the 12th minute, the visitors made their dominance count and grabbed the first goal of the contest. Jay Fitzmartin excellently shrugged off the attentions of Malonga and Missi, nudging the ball in behind the Dragoons defence towards Nic Bollado. The striker casually rounded the advancing Obyrtacz and slotted the ball into the net for 1-0.
Just a minute later, United should have scored an immediate second goal. On this occasion, Bollado almost turned provider, threading a great through-ball for Morris to gallop forward. Morris seemed to wait for Obyrtacz to make his move as he approached the goal and eventually dragged his shot wide of the target.
Immediately from their own goal-kick, the Dragoons conceded possession just outside their own box. Dontai Gabidon failed to punish the error however, smashing a great opportunity over the bar.
The Dragoons appeared powerless to quell the ferocious onslaught from the visitors and put themselves in trouble on 18 minutes. A poor touch from Brian Lemmen put Fitzmartin in possession just outside the Expats own area. The Reds attacker cut into the box onto his right foot and drilled a low shot at goal, which forced Marcin Obyrtacz to divert out of play via an outstretched boot.
Moments later, the pitch descended into darkness as the floodlights went out. Both teams and the officials left the field as the fans sang with torches shining bright. Despite the lights returning an hour later, the groundsman explained due to a noise and light curfew, the game could not continue. Thankfully, both sides agreed to resume the match from the 20th minute 12:00 the next day!
— Lewis Mckenna (@lewmck17) November 10, 2023
The floodlights have gone out here and the game is paused. The FC fans are kindly lighting the completely pitch black ground🤣 fan owned football at its finest pic.twitter.com/9pqxMsYwWX
— FC United of Manchester 🟥⬜⬛ (@FCUnitedMcr) November 6, 2023
The Game Resumes!
Glorious sun baked the ground as the game resumed at the agreed time. The visitors showed their excellent spirit allowing the Dragoons to bring Alessio Sassini into the squad to replace Simon Calabrese, whose work commitments could not be changed.
Just two minutes after the restart, FCUM had their first opportunity to increase their lead. Munro’s lofted forward pass caught the Dragoons flat-footed and Fitzmartin looked to steal a march ahead of the defence. Marcin Obyrtacz raced off his line and appeared to dither as he looked to whack the ball clear, allowing Fitzmartin to get a toe to the ball first. The attacker patiently waited for the ball to sit before rolling a left-footed effort towards an unguarded net. It looked to be certain goal for the visitors, however, Sasha Arshakian had other ideas. The Ukrainian sprinted back in the nick of time to be well placed to turn the ball around his own post to deny the chance.
FCUM continued their absolute domination of possession and looked to work the ball into the Expats box. Keanu Solomons attempted to get rid of the danger but smacked his clearance straight at Munro on the edge of the box. A killer touch by the midfielder stopped the ball dead and allowed him to drive a fierce shot at goal. The effort flew past Obyrtacz’s hands and rattled the crossbar, with the Dragoons shepherding the loose ball out of play.
As the game progressed, the United threat began to lessen as the Dragoons camped in their own half. The visitors seemed to step down the gears as the Expats started to close the space between the defence and their own goal.
A Rare Attack
With the Reds able to push bodies forward they left themselves open on the counter. A good interception by Corneille Malonga saw the Congolese stop Munro’s pass and start a rare Dragoons attack. Malonga looked up to see Chandran with the freedom of the pitch ahead of him and placed a pass for the Indian to run onto. Chandran went on a mazy run to get to the edge of the box and into a shooting position. The midfielder worked the ball onto his right foot and curled a shot at goal, but failed to seriously trouble Boyes in the United goal.
Into the 37th minute, the visitors showed their superior quality to produce another great opening. The Reds worked the ball forward well with Bollado showing great vision to slot a pass to Fitzmartin. With just the keeper to beat, the attacker looked to finesse his finish but found Obyrtacz in inspired form. The keeper managed to stop the ball with his chest and clutched it into his grasp at the second attempt.
As the half wore on, Obyrtacz denied attempts from Morris and Bollado whilst Charlie Ennis fired over the bar. Somehow, despite the visitors dominance the Dragoons survived until half time with FCUM going into the break 1-0 ahead.
The second half started in a similar vein to the first with United in control of the ball. The Dragoons showed a little more willingness to leave their comfort zone but could not find the final pass to put the visiting back line under pressure.
On 48 minutes, the Reds fashioned their first shooting chance of the half. The visitors moved the ball from left to right with Ennis spotting Paweł Żuk in acres of space on the right side of the pitch. The full-back played a one-two with Munro before attempting a low cross into the box. A deflection sent the ball into the path of Bollado, who used his body well to turn and find Gabidon. The forward used quick footwork to get by Arshakian and smashed a shot into the side-netting from a tight angle.
A minute later, Malonga stuck out a leg to halt the run of Guy Hall to win possession just inside the Dragoons half. Chandran took control of the ball and went on a meandering run, sending a pass up the line to Forabosco. The Italian ran across the face of the box in an attempt to find the perfect angle to let fly with his hallowed left boot. Eventually, the midfield magician sent a curling shot at goal that gave Boyes his first serious action of the game. The United keeper flung himself to his right and made a one-handed save to push the goal bound effort wide.
A Shock Equaliser!
From the resulting corner, the Dragoons somehow levelled the tie with an equalising goal. Forabosco, hands raised in signal to his fellow teammates, stepped up to swing the ball into the box. In a move straight from the training ground, Martin Voženílek sprinted from the goal-line to the edge of the six yard box to meet the set-piece with a flick on and sent the ball towards the back post, where Brian Lemmen escaped the attentions of a marker. The Dutchman ran onto the ball and steered a volley past the stranded Boyes to level the score at 1-1.
The goal seemed to awaken the Kraken in the visitors who looked to immediately go back in front. Hall’s cross into the box saw Drobny send a header straight into Żuk on the edge of the area. The full-back attempted another cross and found the ball back at his feet courtesy of a second header by Drobny. The Pole dashed inside the box past Missi and hit a low shot that missed the target by a whisker.
The Dragoons Hold On For Dear Life
United kept up the relentless pressure and forced a corner in the 53rd minute. Ennis’ fizzing corner proved too hot for Obyrtacz to handle as the keeper spilled the ball in the six yard box. Bollado looked favourite to score but could not get the ball under control with Drobny stealing in to clear.
Bollado did manage to get a shot on target three minutes later after good work from Gabidon. The striker received a pass into feet and bulldozed his way along the edge of the box, but failed to get any real power on his effort to seriously test the Dragoons stopper.
On the hour mark, FCUM had arguably their best chance to retake the lead so far. An excellent lofted pass by Ennis picked out Gabidon’s run into the far side of the box. Gabidon cut onto his left foot and hung a great ball across the face of goal that just evaded substitute Max Woodcock and found Morris at the back post who could not find the target, sending his header into the side-netting on the stretch.
Five minutes later, the Dragoons became the architects of their own downfall by conceding a penalty. Sasha Arshakian’s attempt at controlling an aerial ball in his own area bobbled off his foot and onto his arm. The referee initially waved play-on as the official on the side-line flagged. After a brief discussion between the two officials, the referee pointed to the spot to give FCUM a penalty. Who knows what the rules are, as the boys pointed out that Arshakian had kicked it against himself, however the Dragoons protested to no avail!
Charlie Ennis stepped up to take the resulting spot-kick and sent Obyrtacz the wrong way to put his side into a 2-1 lead. The goal visibly deflated the Dragoons who had defended their goal manfully in the second period.
United kept on attacking the Dragoons and used the left flank well to get the ball into the box. Bollado shifted a pass to Woodcock, free inside the Dragoons area and the substitute forced Obyrtacz to push his shot over the bar.
The Dragoons attempted to try and get bodies forward to no avail and left themselves exposed at the back. Quick football from FCUM switching the play, saw Hall get down the left and cross into the box. The Expats struggled to clear their lines and Fitzmartin failed to capitalise, missing the target with a curling shot.
A Comical Hammer Blow
With just under 15 minutes to play the visitors grabbed a third goal to put daylight between the two sides. A clearance by Drobny landed at the feet of Fitzmartin who tripped over the ball and fell onto his backside. The forward regained his composure to get back to his feet and hurdled several challenges to find Gabidon out wide. The United number 11 crossed low into the area and chaos ensued! Drobny desperately attempted to smash the danger away as the ball ping-ponged around the six yard box. Arshakian flew into a tackle and Drobny saw a third attempt to get rid of the danger blocked by Gabidon. The ball bounced hopelessly back across the face of goal and Bollado ended the farce by slamming a shot into the net for 3-1 from close range.
Hugo Cruz’s side’s defiant stand looked to be over as the team looked shattered. The Expats seemed incapable of stopping the flow of attacks as United hunted for more goals.
Woodcock almost immediately scored a fourth goal for the visitors as the Dragoons defence wilted. Bollado received the ball into feet and reverse passed to send the winger into the box. Fortune smiled temporarily for the Expats however, as Woodcock’s shot slammed into the side netting.
Game Over – United Score a Fourth
More chances came the Reds’ way as the Dragoons just about kept their heads above water. However, with five minutes left to play United added a fourth goal to put the final nail into the Expats’ coffin. The hosts struggled to get the ball out of their own half and Dontai Gabidon looked to take advantage. The trickster ghosted past Malonga, sprinting with purpose towards goal and walloped a stinging effort that fizzed under the dive of Obyrtacz and into the net.
Shortly after, the clock struck 90 minutes and the referee brought an end to proceedings with the Dragoons comfortably beaten.
It was a difficult game for the Dragoons against a much, much stronger opponent. Brian Lemmen’s equaliser will live long in the memory as the Dragoons briefly threatened a David v Goliath moment. The frustration of the United players was visible as the Expats gallantly attempted to protect their goal. Unfortunately, the penalty brought the team crashing down to earth as the visitors strolled to victory. Despite the defeat the Dragoons should be proud of the efforts against semi-professional opponents.
The match resembled the defence of the Alamo as the opposition lay siege to the Expats half, with the Dragoons withstanding a number of attacks before United finally broke their brave resistance.
The gulf in class between the two sides was palpable, with United being quicker, fitter and stronger all over the park. In reality, the 4-1 score line should have been much higher had the visitors brought their shooting boots.
THANK YOU FCUM!
It was amazing to see such a large crowd attend the game on Monday evening and it was a huge shame when the blackout hit. The fans had been in great voice, producing an atmosphere never seen before at a Dragoons game.
Meeting the supporters in the Fog House showed exactly what the spirit of the Fenix Trophy is all about. Even with the disappointment of not getting to see the full game, the amazing travelling contingent partied until the early hours, singing songs and making the most of the situation. It was a huge shame so many people had flights booked the next morning and could not make the rearranged fixture.
Spare a thought for poor Daniel Finnegan who had only recently taken over the Club Presidency and kudos must go to the Irishman for keeping calm under pressure in handling a tight spot with much efficiency.
Great credit needs to go to both sides for making the most of the unforeseen circumstances and getting the game switched so promptly. A special mention must go to the Dragoons players, many of whom took an emergency holiday from work to enable the game to go ahead the next day. Let’s not forget the United management and players who also deserve all the plaudits for being such good sports too.
It was a great occasion with everlasting memories for the Dragoons regardless of the result and we look forward to the return fixture in Manchester next year.
Dragoons take the applause of the fans pic.twitter.com/oVugN01UsC
— FC United of Manchester 🟥⬜⬛ (@FCUnitedMcr) November 7, 2023