Nothing could get in the way of the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Thursday night as they powered to a 2-0 win over FC Cincinnati on a long night at Al Lang Stadium.
Obstacles were presented, but the Rowdies (7-6-5 (W-T-L), 27 points) rose to conquer them. Not a slump in form entering the match, not a lengthy weather delay, not even red-hot FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt could prevent the Rowdies from picking up their first win since May 19.
“We love playing in this stadium in front of these fans,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “Once again tonight, they were great. … We know that when we’re at home and we’re on our game, we’re tough to beat.”
Martin Paterson and Joe Cole had the goals late in the first half to defeat Cincinnati (5-6-6, 21 points).
First, Paterson breached Hildebrandt’s goal to put the Rowdies ahead 1-0 in the 39th minute. Then, Cole poured it on with a second goal in the 44th minute. Then, the rain breached the clouds and a lightning-filled downpour engulfed Al Lang Stadium and sent the match into a long weather delay just before the first half ended.
The delay ended up being four minutes short of two hours long, but when the match resumed, the Rowdies kept their front foot on the gas pedal and powered through the remainder of the match, snapping a seven-game winless streak.
Cincinnati had its fair share of chances in a wide-open second half, but Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens made five saves as the Rowdies kept their first clean sheet since May 13.
Statistically, the match was about as even as it could get.
Cincinnati had the narrowest advantage in possession at 50.1 percent, while both teams tallied 13 shots in total.
It was the Rowdies, though, that took advantage of their chances, with 11 of their 13 shots being on target.
Campbell made a slight tactical adjustment ahead of the match, deploying a 4-3-3 formation instead of the usual 4-2-3-1. The result was a noticeable increase in aggression and attacking intent.
Forward Alex Morrell played a starring role in Tampa Bay’s re-shaped attack, dribbling past his defender and creating danger time and time again, putting in his best performance in a Rowdies uniform.
It was Morrell that danced with the ball in the 39th minute before darting to the byline and finding space to cut the ball back to Paterson, who shot with his first touch and beat Hildebrandt.
Morrell created the second goal as well, taking a shot that was saved by Hildebrandt, but the Cincinnati goalkeeper gave up a rebound, which Cole pounced on and blasted home emphatically.
“The coaches tell me to (take on my man one-on-one),” Morrell said. “It’s very important for me personally and for the team. We needed a little spark and I believe I brought what I could to the table and gave everything I could. I won’t sit here and soak in it because we’ve got more games coming up and we’ve got to get to the top of the table.”
Up next, the Rowdies head to Central Florida next week for a Thursday night match-up against Orlando City B at Orlando City Stadium. Tampa Bay returns home to host the Charleston Battery on July 22 in its next home match.