LEOMINSTER - The ability to properly play a through ball in soccer is one of the most important tasks in the sport. It's what starts many a breakaway, and is an excellent way to produce goals.
For the Leominster boys' soccer team, this facet of the beautiful game worked to perfection twice - including the game-winner by Patrick Marotta with time running out in the 80th minute - as the Blue Devils nipped North Middlesex Regional, 2-1, in a physical contest at Doyle Field Thursday evening.
The win, while coming as the Blue Devils found themselves scoring against the run of play, comes at a critical juncture at the midway point of the season, as LHS improves to 2-7-1 overall. This start is nearly identical to the 2012 team, which ran off an impressive slate of fixtures in the second half of the season en route to the sectional crown.
"Those were two huge goals," Leominster head coach Steve McCaughey said. "If we only get one point out of this match, we're starting to think about next year."
Despite controlling a good portion of the possession the entire match, North Middlesex (0-8-1) couldn't dent the back of the net without a little help. The Patriots' only goal came via a Leominster own goal just shy of the hour mark. They certainly had their chances to score, as Jacob Fitzgerald and Cameron Lane harried LHS freshman keeper Facundo Cotto (5 first-half saves) on countless occasions, only to find the youngster there to make the all-important stop.
"He's not a freshman after the games we've played so far, and he played well again today," McCaughey said of Cotto. "We're definitely satisfied with our goalkeeper play, and he's only going to get better.
"Jacob Fitzgerald is a very special player, and is one of the best players in the league. Coming in, we wanted to concentrate on him. Even with that, he still got a ton of touches and chances."
"We changed our formation," said North Middlesex head coach Pen Burnham, "and I thought it worked well. We played well against them, and the bottom line, it was a great match." Burnham noted a header by Lane off a deep free kick that Cotto somehow got his mitts on to keep the match scoreless in the 32nd minute. "We came close. This is what we do," Burnham said.
But it was Leominster that managed to successfully ripple the onion bag, starting with Kobina Faibille's 57th-minute strike that saw him haul in Miguel Lopes' lovely through ball as he raced to the net. North Middlesex keeper Matthew Niemi (7 saves) raced off his line in an attempt to stop him, but a nifty move to the left allowed Faibille to thump the ball in to break the scoreless deadlock. "It's a two-sided coin: Yes, we created some fabulous chances on those through balls, and we should have finished a high percentage of them, and we should have finished earlier," McCaughey said. Three minutes later, the own goal occurred as a defensive cross got tied up in the ether and led to a Blue Devil defender putting it into his own net.
And while it appeared as if both teams were content to play out the final 10 minutes of the match sharing the points, it was Marotta who, on Faibille's through ball, raced to the right channel.
And as Niemi charged off his line and into a sliding stop attempt, Marotta calmly slotted home with 27 seconds left in the match, giving the hosts the valuable two points.
"Kobina played a good through ball to me, and he paid a compliment to me in that game. I took a touch, the keeper gave me a lot of room, and all I had to do was take a little touch," Marotta said.
"To finish that, it's a special play," McCaughey said. "He told me on the bench that he wanted to score a goal."
Follow Sean Sweeney on Twitter @SeanSweeneySE