Embattled Liberian Coach, Joseph Kaytu Smith got his first win as handler of the Lone Star. This is arguably his biggest win ever in his coaching career as his charges pinned a deplete Flames of Malawi 1-0 in a friendly played on Tuesday, September 4th, at a virtually empty Samuel Kanyon Doe (SKD) Sports Stadium that could still not be filled after the gates were opened for free entry as the game progressed. Coach Smith’s side got the better of their opponents, courtesy of an 89th minute easy tap in from the diminutive Zah Rahan Krangar of Indonesian outfit, Persipura.
Playing without a host of their key players including Robin Ngalande of Bidvest Wits, South Africa; Tawonga Chimodzi, Santos, South Africa; Limbika Mzava, Bloemfontein Celtic, South Africa; Robert Njambi and Ataye Ngonda, Platinum Stars, South Africa; Essau Kangenda, B93 Denmark; and Jimmy Zakakaka and Sangala of Royal Zulu, South Africa, the Malawians paraded a completely local based side with players mainly drawn from Silver Stars, Super ESCOM and Bullets. The team is in transit to Ghana with their oversea based players expected to fly directly to the land of the four times African champions.
Apparently, because they will be away to the Black Stars on Saturday, September 8- the same day the Lone Star will face the Super Eagles at the SKD- the Malawians adapted a very cautious approach as they implored a 4-5-1 formation that was swiftly altered to a 4-3-3 the rare times they went on the front foot.
They were keen on simple passing as their possession showed some promise, but they could not threaten the opposition goal as they were only keen to winding down the clock. The likes of Joseph Kawando, Lalu Zubula and Tusaye Ngorro tried to pile the passes in midfield against an uninspired Lone Star squad that did not trouble opposing goalkeeper, Nthala Sinplex in the entire first half as there was no shot on goal and only just two corners.
On paper, the Lone Star adapted a 4-4-2 diamond formation, but, in all fairness, it was a 4-4-1-1 formation. Custodian Nathaniel Sherman was protected by a back four of the Cypriot club Nea Saliman Solomon Grimes, Teah Dennis, Solomon Wesseh and Captain George Gebro- all of them local players, with the midfield quartet comprising the Turkish club’s Goztepe- holding midfielder, Theo Lewis Weeks, and locally staged returnee, Isaac Zola “Pupo” as the playmaker with the Danish based Ansu Toure and Indonesian club, Deltras Asset’s James Koko Lomell, both in lateral areas.
Zah Rahan Krangar played off Edward Junior Wilson of Indonesian outfit, Semen Padang as the latter was often outnumbered in the final third. Zah toiled and tried to make something happen with “Pupo” chancing his luck from long range twice that went off target. As the half progressed, it became glaring that the Lone Star was unable to impose its game on the opposition on a wet and bad surface that will always be bumpy and made fluid passing difficult.
Ansu Toure tried to make something happen as he made several strong runs, but Zah often went deep to collect a pass and then go to the sitting Malawians as Theo who was later yellow carded pulled the strings in the middle of the pack.
Wilson who was the lone striker for the Lone Stars lacked subtle moves and always turned to goal, making life easy for the opponents, a floppy Koko Lomell would make way for local- colored- hair- winger James Soto Roberts as the first period ended on a very disappointing note with the score line being barren.
Whatever coach Smith and technical team said to the red, white and blue outfits seemed to have paid off as the team raised their game and began creating chances. Initially, an injured Theo Weeks was substituted for defending local league champions LISCR FC hard worker, Martin Kendu as the Lone Stars began to dictate the rhythm of the contest. Ansu Toure tried a couple of shots, which went off target and as well made several jinx.
Despite his little size, Zah confused the visitors while new comer, Soto Roberts ignited the game. Roberts should have broken the deadlock after 63 minutes when he only had the goalkeeper to contend with, but his weak effort was comfortably saved.
After several substitutions by the Malawians, the story was the same as the Lone Stars attacked in droves and continued to pick the pockets of the opposition. Lively Ansu Toure would then make way for a towering Boikai Foday of Indonesian club, Persiwa Wamena, who added a new dimension to the team’s attack as he won most of the aerial duels. He, however stands accused of failing to rotate the score line when local referee, Emmanuel Newon failed to book the player for offside.
Foday, however, failed to get the ball pass goal tender; Sinplex who, it became evident was standing between the hosts and a goal. Then after 74 minutes, an uninspiring Solomon Grimes was stretched off the pitch due to injury for LISCR FC full back, Trokon Zeon who was underutilized.
James Soto Roberts, Zah Rahan Krangar, and James Soto Roberts continued to cause stir in the opponents’ goal area, but the Malawians soaked the pressure and went on the break. Junior Wilson then began to show some promises as he was now making some runs in trying to get hold of the ball and create some scare from a Malawi perspective.
With the Malawians continuing their defensive style and the Lone Stars lacking profligacy longing, Solomon Wesseh raced from the rear in the 81st minute to force the goalkeeper into a save that went for a corner. “Pupo”’s resulting corner in the one way traffic fray was saved again by the Malawian net minder.
The game looked like it was heading for a draw with Junior Wilson making way for box to box midfielder Marcus Macauley. And, after several incessant attacks, the moment of truth came as Zah latched onto a defense- splitting pass from “Pupo” to slot home the ball, something Foday should have done earlier in the game to send the spare crowd in a frenzy.
For once, Malawi came out of their shell and nearly scored as the Lone Star gloves man Sherman, failed to deal with a cross, but timid finishing robbed them of an equalizer. Twinkle Zah would then get a standing ovation after been substituted when four minutes of injury time was added for Monrovia Breweries lanky player, Savannah Morris.
In the end, the Lone Star won, but it was far from convincing. From a spectator’s standpoint, the result was good because it would encourage many to turn out on this Saturday to see the herculean test with the Super Eagles. But, from a tactical standpoint, the team’s profligacy problem continued.
There was not much width and the passing left a lot to be desired. At least, the faithful will say the bad surface was responsible. The full backs as well did not venture forward too much against a side that was in slumber offensively.
Although set pieces were not well orchestrated by the host, the result should spark confidence ahead of the Super Eagles mountainous duel that remains a talk of the town.