By Little Rock Rangers
On a gorgeously cool Mother’s Day evening at War Memorial Stadium, the Little Rock Rangers defeated Heartland Conference rivals Ozark FC 3-1.
The Rangers got on the board early with a smooth left wing pass from Donald Benamna to striker Alex Guadron, who drove the ball in from the left corner of the six-yard box to the upper right corner of the goal to make it 1-0 Rangers.
There were plenty of opportunities for Ozark in the first half, particularly for set piece goals, but a solid defensive effort and keen goalkeeping by Walid Birrou kept Ozark FC off the board in the first 45 minutes.
In other first half action, defender Andy Stewart hammered a long ball from deep in the defensive third to just outside the 18-yard box that shook up the Ozark goalkeeper in a multi-player collision. Benamna took an undefended shot in the 21st that just sailed wide of the net. Right after that shot, Stewart collided midfield and returned to the game shortly thereafter.
Ozark’s next opportunity came in the 26th with a set piece just outside the box. It went wide but resulted in a corner kick of which the ensuing scrum gave Ozark another corner. Guadron had a strong centered strike on goal in the 32nd that was gathered by Ozark’s keeper. Ozark attempted their own similar shot in the 36th but was held off by Birrou.
The Rangers received the first yellow card of the match in the 41st, giving Ozark another set piece just outside the box. The shot was off the mark. Just before the halftime whistle, Robel Dent centered a kick for Trevor Reed but it had a little too much on it to make the connection for a shot on goal.
As the teams went to the locker rooms, head coach Will Montgomery looked to minimize the opportunities given to Ozark FC.
“We need better possession in midfield,” Montgomery said. “Couple times our players were losing the ball in vital areas where they could get a quick goal.”
The set pieces for Ozark continued with two early corner kicks that were quickly headed out by Little Rock defenders, followed by a centered free kick on the edge of the box. In harmony with the first half, the Rangers struck early in the second with a sly strike by Benamna from the left side in the 54th to make it 2-0.
The ample corner opportunities for Ozark finally paid off in the 60th as a redirected ball made it by Birrou’s outstretched hands to make the match 2-1. From there, the Rangers subbed out midfielder Trevor Reed for Sabelo in the 69th minute. Each team also earned a pair of yellow cards in the second half.
A hard play at midfield between Benamna and an Ozark defender took the forward out of the match. He lay on the pitch for several minutes as training staff attended to him and eventually a yellow card was issued. Benamna was immediately taken off the pitch and Australian Hayden Tucker replaced him.
In the closing minutes, the Rangers had a near goal when Guadron drew Ozark’s goalkeeper out and sent one in but the defensive line made the save. Not done yet, Dent passed to teammate Ben Watson who took a shot from about 20 yards and found the back of the net to make it 3-1.
“We got on a counter attack and Robel got on the ball,” explained Watson. “I knew he was looking for an option, so I made the run, trusting him to make the pass, and he made a perfect ball.”
The Rangers are now 1-1 in the Heartland Conference. They will head out on a series of road trips in the coming weeks, first to Springfield, MO to face Demize NPSL on May 18 at Lake Country Cooper Stadium and then back to Missouri again for a Thursday night match (May 23) against Club Atletico St. Louis.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Gonzalez