We'd never be so bold as to declare a single week of action “the most exciting” we've ever had. But if we were… it might have been Week 7 of the 2019 season. With the last 2019 playoff spot on the line, Wednesday's fixtures gave us everything we could have hoped and more. Two struggling clubs made the most of a chance to earn their first point on the year. Central and Bedford gave us a third-place match for the ages. For a few minutes, it even looked like the path to the Champions Cup might stay open for another week.
Then, in a flurry of goals, Stallions FC slammed the door, locked it, and threw away the key.
That thrilling win in the dying moments of Week 7 sets the stage for a Hurst vs Euless rematch; the third in as many years. Owing to inclement weather in Week 5, both teams will have one last chance to lock in their postseason form next week. Then, they'll have a single night to either defend or win back the title. From the look of things, Stallions need that week more desperately than Raiders United.
Stallions FC Storm Back to Take 3-2 Win Over Hurst City
With less than ten minutes left in the match, Stallions FC found themselves in unfamiliar territory. They trailed 2-1. The Horsemen came into the match needing three points in their final two games in order to clinch the second seed. Having won their head-to-head matchups with Spartans and Bedford, they held the first tiebreaker in the event that any two teams finish at 12 points on the season. But that all-important fourth win seemed liable to slip away under the onslaught of a scrappy Hurst City club.
To the casual observer, City looked more like the team playing for second place on Wednesday. They pressured Stallions for the duration of the game and spent the bulk of the opening half in the attacking third. But the men in black held one important edge: the ability to finish. Hurst moved the ball well and played their strikers into dangerous positions throughout the game. But they struggled to find the final touch in an end-to-end match between two potent counterattacking teams. Stallions opened the scoring ten minutes in, but City found an equalizer before the half.
The man between the pipes for Hurst had a career day, stepping up to make key saves throughout the match. Early in the second half, City took the lead after the referee called Euless for handling a pass back to their own keeper. Their man buried the penalty. Stallions maintained composure until the waning moments of the match, however, and leveled the score at two with barely five minutes left. They stole the win after one of their midfielders shook free and launched a 40-yard laser into the top corner at the far post. Roughly half the Euless roster mobbed him in celebration as the clock wound down to zero and the Horsemen settled into second place.
10-Man Atlético Central Splits Points with Struggling Real Euless in 2-2 Draw
Every season finds at least a few clubs fighting for scraps at the foot of the table. This season, Real Euless and Atlético Central both found themselves on pace for a zero point season. Their best chance to break through? A fixture that finally put them on the same pitch in the penultimate week of 2019.
Playing with only 10 men, Atlético settled in for a long day. The Blues set their lines deep and looked to contain Real Euless in order to set up a scoreless draw and snag at least a point on their way into the offseason. If they wanted to get more on the counter, they didn't show it. Real held the ball for most of the match, and Central barely crossed midfield in the first 25 minutes. That strategy seemed to work out as both teams entered the break with a clean sheet.
Looking for a spark, Real Euless moved their goalkeeper onto the field in the second half. He rewarded his manager's confidence with a quick brace. But without his exemplary goalkeeping in their way, Atlético managed to get one back and stay in the match long enough to earn a decisive penalty. Trailing by a goal, Central gave their own keeper a chance to put his mark on the game from the spot. He drilled his chance into his Euless counterpart but was fouled on the follow-up to set up a second penalty. Central's coaches opted to give a more proven scorer the shot, and he put it away to level the score at two apiece. With both squads gassed, that tally proved to be the final one.
Hat Trick Hero Helps Spartans FC Shock Bedford United in 3-2 Comeback
Neither Spartans nor Bedford United controlled their own destiny coming into this match. The Broncos will sit out next week and needed Stallions to drop points in both of their final fixtures. Central, likewise, needed to win out and watch Stallions crash. That seemed unlikely until reports drifted across the sideline: Hurst City is ahead 2-1!
What began as a de facto Third Place Match suddenly carried playoff implications. Bedford held the result in their hands after dominating possession in the early going. They opened the scoring on a clinical strike from the edge of the area that swerved just past the fingertips of a stalwart Spartans goalkeeper but surrendered a goal ten minutes later. Just before the half, the Hoops' leading scorer broke the deadlock again with an accidental header when an inswinging corner kick struck the far post, then his face before settling in the net.
Playing without any substitutes, Spartans could have resigned themselves to the loss. Their offense — to that point almost entirely dependent on a midseason call-up from Atlético — shifted toward desperation as they lofted several long-range shots high above the crossbar. But the Bedford defense played with such dedication to their shape that large swaths of the pitch hung open, and Spartans managed to exploit the space provided to tie the game with only a few minutes left. The same player struck again to give his team the lead, proving his managers' faith in him to be well-founded. He finished the hat trick shortly thereafter, sealing a result — and, hopefully, momentum going into 2020 — for Central. Who would have thought that a second-team player could almost salvage an entire season with a single performance?