With players from both teams on his doorstep, Cowichan Steelheads goalkeeper Edrissa Gassama makes a diving stop during his team’s 4-1 loss to the Cowichan 49ers last Saturday. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Niners win masters derby

A team tops B team in key test

The faces at the other end of the pitch were familiar, but that didn’t mean anyone was holding back as Cowichan’s two masters men’s soccer teams squared off at David Williams Turf last Saturday.

“It’s different playing against your own club and all that,” said Craig Street 49ers head coach Kevin James, whose masters A team prevailed 4-1 over the masters B Steelheads in the Cowichan Derby. “We have the club camaraderie, but when the whistle blows, it’s two different teams out there.”

“It was a good game,” Steelheads coach Steven Richards added. “It’s always interesting and fun when you play an interclub match.”

The Steelheads were fired up to face their local compatriots, and opened the scoring on a successful free kick by Jim Noon.

“I thought we came out well in the first half,” Richards said. “Our guys were playing with a lot of intensity. They put everything they had into the first half.”

Seeing the B team draw first blood served as a wake-up call for the Niners, who may have been taking the Steelheads lightly early on.

“Them scoring first benefited us in that it allowed us to get out of that mindset. It’s the worst possible mindset you could have, because they’re a good team. Full marks to them. They defended really well and worked really hard. They played well as a team. It took us a while to break them down defensively.”

Ryan Fusick evened things up before halftime, but James still wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance over the first 45 minutes. He acknowledged he had a “little bit of a meltdown” at halftime regarding the players’ work rate and attitude. It seemed to work as the 49ers took control in the second half and got goals from George Thomas, Brad Thorne and Stu Barker to surge ahead.

“The guys picked up their play in the second half and we were able to get the win,” James noted. “The bottom line is that it didn’t matter for us if it was 1-0 or 2-0 or 3-0, three points is three points.”

The 49ers remain atop the A division standings with seven wins and one loss so far. The Steelheads, meanwhile, sit near the bottom of the Masters B bracket at 1-5-2, but Richards doesn’t believe that tells the whole story.

“Our record isn’t reflecting how well we’re doing,” the coach insisted. “We’ve had a couple of draws that were hard-fought games, and our last two games, we’ve played the top two teams from the A division; they’ve been losses, but we’ve been in the games. We’re not getting results, but we’re playing well. It’s encouraging for the second half of the season.”

The Steelheads won’t play again until Nov. 18, when they play host to Vic West Academy Dental at 8 p.m. The 49ers are in action this Saturday, however, hosting Fernwood at 8 p.m. James doesn’t know much about that team, so he will need his team to be at its best.

“It’s one of those games, we just have to roll up our sleeves and play because we don’t know what to expect,” he said. “We’ll take all the games from here on with the mindset that we’re not expecting to win anything.”

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