By JJ Duke/Hartford City FC
On a rain-soaked Saturday evening in Hartford, Ronan Dillow’s first-half goal extended Hartford City FC’s (5-0-2, 17 points) unbeaten run to seven straight matches as they drew 1-1 with Cedar Stars FC (1-2-4, 7 points) at Trinity Health Stadium.
By virtue of earning a point with the draw, along with results from elsewhere on Saturday, Hartford City FC have confirmed a top-four finish in the conference and will have the opportunity to defend their North Atlantic Conference Tournament title next month in the playoffs.
When these two teams last met back on May 14th in Middletown, New York, Cedar Stars scored the opening goal when a long ball from the back unlocked their top striker, Gunnar Studenhofft, and in Saturday night’s reverse fixture, it was the same story all over again.
In the sixth minute, Tegh Singh clipped a ball into the path of Studenhofft and when Hartford City FC goalkeeper Jamis Fite sliced his clearance straight up into the air, Studenhofft volleyed it home into the open net for his third goal of the season.
The Colts would then spend the next 25 minutes trying to break down the visitors’ low defensive block but were only limited to shots from distance. While at the same time, Cedar Stars continued to show their threat to hit quickly on the counterattack as Studenhofft provided a constant outlet in the channels.
But Hartford City would get their goal in the 31st minute as after Alex Clarke intercepted a Cedar Stars throw-in, HCFC leading scorer Alec Hughes was able to latch onto Ronan Dillow’s through ball and round Cedar Stars goalie Dylan McDermott before squaring a pass back to Dillow to put home his first goal of the season.
In trying to capitalize on the momentum from Dillow’s tally, HCFC pushed to try and get the go-ahead goal before halftime and nearly got it in the 43rd minute as defender Pierce Enxuto played a perfect ball into the channel that Hughes was able to track down. Seeing McDermott well off his line, Hughes tried to slide one into the far corner but missed the frame by inches.
The conditions deteriorated throughout the second half as steady rains and gusty winds made it difficult for both teams to create much going forward. Singh connected sweetly on a half volley in the 58th minute after Hartford City failed to completely clear a corner kick, but put his effort right at Fite. Then in the 76th minute, Cedar Stars forward Ikiel Collins-Brown won the ball back in the midfield and despite shooting straight into a sustained 20 mph wind, he almost caught Fite off his line from 30 yards out but sent his effort just wide of the left post.
Hartford’s best chance in the second half came in the 82nd minute when Matt McGonigle played a one-two with Ronan O’Brien, and McGonigle was able to swing in a low cross to find second- half substitute Tim Donovan open at the penalty spot. But he couldn’t connect cleanly with his one-timed effort, and it was cleared away, keeping the score at 1-1
The match would change with just seven minutes to go as Cedar Stars were reduced to ten men when second half substitute Jeremy Pantoni tackled HCFC’s Taj Salawu from behind and was given a straight red card. The Colts couldn’t take advantage of being a player up for the final few minutes and when the referee blew his whistle to end the contest, Cedar Stars FC became the first team to take points off of the Colts at Trinity Health Stadium this season.
Hartford City FC will head back out on the road next Saturday when they travel up to Central New York to take on Syracuse FC on Saturday, June 25. Kickoff that night at the Fayetteville-Manlius High School Turf Stadium is scheduled for 6:00 pm.
Photo Credit: Phil Zolla/Hartford City FC