The third time was the charm for the Tampa Bay Rowdies as they made a strong statement with a dominant 2-0 win over the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay had faced the Eastern Conference-leading Battery twice this season and been defeated on both occasions, but the Rowdies won round three.
Joe Cole and Martin Paterson had the goals for the Rowdies.
“It’s huge for us to be back at home and playing in front of these great fans in a great stadium on an absolutely fantastic pitch,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “We deservedly won the game.”
The win moved Tampa Bay (8-7-5 (W-T-L), 31 points) to within four points of first place in the Eastern Conference. The Rowdies trailed by 10 points coming into the month of July.
Playing at home, where the Rowdies now have seven wins in 10 matches this season, Tampa Bay had to weather a Charleston storm early in the first half before playing itself into the match.
The Battery’s Lagos Kunga replied in the 12th minute, ripping a shot from outside the box that curled just wide of the post. Four minutes later, Heviel Cordoves ripped a knuckling shot through traffic, but Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens made one of his two saves on the night to keep the match even at 0-0.
By the half hour mark, the Rowdies were in control of the match, with Cole unlucky not to score when a ferocious volley fizzed just over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Charleston goalkeeper Alex Tambakis made a point-blank save to deny a Paterson header.
Two minutes after that, in the 34th minute, Tambakis made another save to deny Cole another volley.
Eventually, the Rowdies’ persistence paid off, with Cole breaking the deadlock in the 40th minute.
Rowdies right back Kyle Porter played a long lob over the top of the Battery defense for Martin Paterson, who held it up long enough to get Alex Morrell involved in the play. Morrell cut into the box with the ball and laid it off for Cole to poke past Tambakis for his sixth goal of the season.
“Their goalkeeper was playing really well and it was really important to break the deadlock,” Cole said. “Martin Paterson was exceptional tonight. He made my goal, along with Alex of course. And he finished a great goal himself.”
The second half was played at a little slower pace as Charleston (10-5-4, 35 points) tried to find a way back into the match.
Paterson doubled Tampa Bay’s lead and put the game out of reach with his fourth goal of the season in the 69th minute.
Pinned against the touchline with no space, Rowdies midfielder Marcel Schäfer somehow executed a perfect cross to Paterson. Fifteen yards out and with his back to goal, Paterson took a touch, spun, and rocketed a shot past Tambakis into the top corner for a 2-0 lead.
“To be honest, I think we dominated the game,” Paterson said. “They’re a good team. We respect them because they beat us twice, but we were adamant we were going to win tonight. (Against) good teams like them, you’ve got to put them away when you’ve got the opportunity. We converted two chances tonight, though we also missed a few.”
Tampa Bay played the rest of the match out without too much risk, extending its unbeaten run to three matches.