By Benjamin Peacock/Little Rock Rangers
It was rematch night at War Memorial Stadium, with the Little Rock Rangers taking on FC Wichita in the penultimate match of the Heartland Conference season. It was a must-win match if the Rangers hoped to hold on to playoff and home advantage hopes, and they rose to the occasion, winning 4-1.
Coming off a 10-day break while many of the other teams created chaos in the conference standings below them, the Rangers came out firing on all cylinders. Shots were plentiful in the first half. Forward Donald Benamna started it off at three minutes with a shot that just went wide. Australian native and forward Hayden Tucker and midfielder Trevor Reed both rocketed shots over the net in the sixth and eighth minute, respectively.
Soon after, the Rangers had a throw in that was kicked into the six-yard box to Benamna. Then Benamna tapped it to Reed, and Reed sunk the goal but the play was called offside. Scottish defender Ryan Blair fired one in from just outside the left side box at 14 minutes, but it was collected by the Wichita keeper.
Just when it seemed like the Rangers were cursed to keep shooting wide and high, midfielder Daishi Uekeri made a long pass to striker Lance Crabtree in the 19th minute. Ahead of him was open field as Crabtree made the break away and put the Rangers on the board, sinking the ball just past the reach of the goalkeeper.
“From training this week we talked about the center forward staying high more,” explained Crabtree. “I stayed up high between the center backs like we trained. Daishi made a really great clearance, looked over his shoulder and saw me standing up there, made the long shot and I ran it down.”
At 34 minutes, Blair made a leaping play for a long ball and fell hard to the turf on his hip. He attempted to re-enter the game after being attended to by the trainer, but quickly waved off. The Rangers played down a man until the 38th with Carlos Beltran subbing on.
The Rangers got a corner kick in the 45th, taken by Uekuri. The ball was centered and headed directly into the goal by Beltran to make it 2-0 Rangers. With momentum fully theirs, the Rangers deemed stoppage time plenty of time to score more and Uekuri did so with a straight banger from about 28 yards out. The Rangers went to the locker room up 3-0.
The second half settled down on shots but the Rangers weren’t done. The Stags had a corner kick at 57 minutes taken by Uekuri. A hectic scrum gave Crabtree the opportunity to sneak it past the Witchita keeper. His second goal of the night and 4-0 Rangers.
Wichita was awarded a penalty kick at 70 minutes but Ranger goalkeeper Walid Birrou saved the chance to keep Wichita off the board. Other substitutes for the Rangers in the second included Sabelo for Tucker (64′), Sebastian Kennedy for Benamna (71′), Alex Guadron for Crabtree (84′), and Robel Dent for Uekuri (88′).
Wichita wouldn’t go down on a clean sheet and scored in the 90th minute, but the Rangers earned the needed win before nearly 1,800 Little Rock fans. The Rangers hold a 4-4-1 record. Little Rock head coach Will Montgomery discussed the preparations in training for this match.
“Wichita has a strong center forward in Franc and he’s hard to defend against so we worked on defending up the middle and also building out the back once we win possession,” Montgomery said.
Having taken over second place for now (Tulsa can help the Rangers out by defeating Demize NPSL on Sunday), one last game of the season remains. The Rangers will face Demize NPSL on July 6th at War Memorial Stadium. They previously defeated the Missouri team 2-0 on June 5th.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Gonzalez