DOMINIC HOSCHER | Reporter
Coming off their most dominant win of the season, a 4-1 victory over Southwest Baptist on Sunday, the 4-3-2 Lindenwood Lions hosted the 3-4 Oakland City Mighty Oaks looking to go on their first winning streak since September 16.
Two goals near the end of the first half helped lead the Lions past the Mighty Oaks.
“We were confident, we know what we can do, our abilities,” senior Johannes Brendle said. “We just played our game. We didn’t focus too much on our opponent, and even though we were down 1-0, we knew we could comeback.”
A majority of the first half was dominated by Oakland City goalkeeper Walid Birrou Essafi. The Lions kept trying to advance down the field with long, over-the-top balls to Thomas Hutcheson and his fellow attackers but each were cancelled out by the quick-off-his-line Essafi. The goalkeeper would also make three consecutive critical saves keeping the Lions off of the board. It was all Lions in the early going.
“We probably were [dominating the game],” head coach Carl Hutter said. “But we want to find that ‘finish the game early’ mentality and then keep going and utilize our entire bench.”
Arguably Essafi’s most impactful moment came in the 16’ minute, when Essafi punted the ball 80 yards down the field and found the sprinting Jack Cookson on the run. Cookson was able to chip the ball over Lindenwood goalkeeper Aleksa Nenadic and give the Mighty Oaks a 1-0 lead. It was Cookson’s third goal of the season, tied for the most on the team.
Lindenwood wouldn’t get back into the game until the 37th minute, when Joshua Scholl’s deflected shot found its’ way to Johannes Brendle around the 20 yard-line. On his left foot, Brendle, sent a powerful strike past Essafi into the bottom right corner to tie the game at 1-1. Brendle, who came off the bench, netted his second goal of the season.
“I got the ball on my left, my strong foot, and I shot it,” Brendle said. “It’s really good to know that we have people on the bench coming in and can improve the game.”
It appeared likely that the game would go into the break level at 1-1, but Lindenwood had other ideas. With a mere 17 seconds left in the half, Jose de Gregorio hammered his left-footed shot into the back-of-the-net to give the Lions a late boost before the whistle blew. Gregorio’s last-second go-ahead goal was his first this year.
“They were losing, and scored two goals so that was a big uplift,” Hutter said. “It was a big confidence boost, Jose’s a really fit individual, and he’s a determined athlete.”
The hosts finished the first half well ahead in terms of shots, leading 10-2, and continued out-playing the Mighty Oaks in front of goal in the second. Lindenwood seemingly refused to give up the ball in the final 45 minutes, regaining possession through aggressive defending each time the visitors touched the ball. Oakland City’s only true pressure in their attacking half came courtesy of their captain Ryan Blair, who made dangerous runs towards the Lions backline all game.
“It’s [slowing down opposing attack] all about communication in the backline,” Nenadic said. “It’s between the four guys and me, and the defensive midfielder in front of them, and if one player steps up, the other one covers his back, all moving as one unit. We know we’re better, we know we’re quicker, faster, it’s just a matter of being disciplined.”
Entering the final three minutes of the match, the Lions continued pressing, looking for a third goal on the day. On a free-kick right outside the box, Jose de Gregorio sent a sizzling low ball into the middle that got past everyone except Gaspar Alvarez. Alvarez knocked home the game-sealing goal to give the Lions a two-goal lead. The game would finish with Lindenwood defeating Oakland City by a 3-1 scoreline.
On their first winning streak since the middle of September, the Lions are now 5-3-2 on the year while the Mighty Oaks fall to 3-5. Lindenwood’s next match will be a crucial one, as they visit #14 Fort Hays State.
“It’s a different atmosphere, and they’re a big rival of us,” Nenadic said. “We just need to be calm. A lot of our guys are new, so they don’t really know what to expect but they’re a really good team. If we play like we did today, with a little bit more running and just being calm and connected throughout the lines, we can show them a hard time and enjoy it.”
The rivalry match will be at Fort Hays State on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.