Romario Williams' eighth goal of the season gave the Charleston Battery three points in a Thursday brunchtime clash with the Bethlehem Steel.
Whilst the game took a while to get going, Williams' effort from roughly 25 yards midway through the first half sent the Steel 'keeper sprawling and kissed the inside of the near post on its way in. The visitors had a multitude of chances to add to the scoring in both halves following the goal, but it was a stout defense that could be given credit for a tough display on the way to a big three points for the Black and Yellow.
There were changes to the Battery side who drew 2-2 with Harrisburg the previous weekend, as they were in the middle of a three-game road stretch, and set for two games in four days. Miles Robinson, on loan from Atlanta United, would deputize for the suspended Forrest Lasso after he picked up his 5th yellow of the season against the Islanders, while Naveal Hackshaw would slot in for Tah Brian Anunga, who received his marching orders during the draw himself. Natural center back Skylar Thomas would slide to right back, replacing Quinton Griffith.
After feeling each other out in the early goings, the Battery could very well have had a penalty in the 10th minute, as Obi Woodbine latched onto a great cross-field ball and nutmegged his marker before being taken down in the box by an on-rushing second defender. Nothing was given though, and so the ball rolled out for a goal kick.
Steel striker Cory Burke would go on a mazy run into the box just a few minutes later, but Thomas would come across on the cover to clear.
Alex Tambakis would be forced into an his first save on 14' from a tame effort from Burke, getting behind the effort to his right and crouching down on the ball to relieve the pressure and allow his side to reset.
After 28' came the next big chance, a flick on from an inswinging corner left Skylar Thomas with the opportunity to open the scoring, but the Steel 'keeper was able to palm the effort onto the bar to keep the scores level.
Bethlehem had a corner just past the half hour mark which was played short and crossed into the hands of Tambakis.
It wasn't too long after that the Battery were in front. Romario Williams would control a pass in midfield before running across his defender and using his pace and strength just to earn half a yard of space before taking aim at goal and beating the 'keeper as the ball went in off the inside of the near post. The strike took him level with former Battery player Dane Kelly on 8 goals for the season and gave the Battery the 1-0 lead.
Just a few minutes before half time, it could've been two. Maikel Chang lofted a ball toward the back post to a wide open Kotaro Higashi, whose volleyed effort somehow went wide.
And then Williams could've had himself a second just before the break, but his effort went wide.
On the whole, the Battery deserved to be in front at half time, though it remained to be seen if the missed chances would come back to haunt them.
And it seemed, for all intents and purposes as if they had acknowledged that fact, after seeing missed chances come back to haunt them in their previous game, as they came out flying for the second half.
A flick on header by Chang fell to the feet of the goalscorer Williams, who squared up to his defender and got himself goal-side, before taking aim at goal again. He seemed destined for the brace, but McGuire in the Bethlehem goal would deny him as the ball went out for a corner. The set piece was taken by Justin Portillo into a dangerous area, but cleared, only for Maikel Chang to pick up the pieces and get a cross off to the far post and for Attaula Guerra to sting the palms of the 'keeper again, though the ball would eventually be cleared.
A Bethlehem corner a couple minutes later would be cleared, and the Battery looked to be set for a dangerous counter, only for the move to break down.
Bethlehem forward Seku Conneh would then snap a header wide after a great cross from the left. The header left Tambakis in goal flat footed, and so the 'keeper could breathe a sigh of relief that the effort wasn't on frame.
On the hour mark, a Justin Portillo-led counter eventually fell to Maikel Chang, who had his effort saved only for the ball to spill right back into danger again, with Kotaro Higashi running in, but his effort was scuffed as it seemed that he slipped just slightly as he tried to turn his foot to point the ball on frame.
A minute later, a Justin Portillo corner was kept alive by a little bit of head tennis before falling to Attaula Guerra, who stuck the ball in the net from close range, but was adjudged to be offside. Video Replay was apparently in effect, as the referee would call play dead following the whistle to listen in to his earpiece, but the decision would stand, and the Steel would have a free kick.
A Bethlehem corner would cause a bit of trouble in the box in the 71st, but would only pop out on the edge of the box before being blasted over the bar.
Dante Marini would replace Kotaro Higashi a short while later. The first year winger played well despite missing his chances, applying ample pressure and being an out ball for the central players, but will undoubtedly be disappointed that he didn't help his side double their lead.
Obi Woodbine would be asked to run onto a dangerous looking chance on 74', as the full back with the famed cannon of a right foot would just try and guide a ball into the top corner, but the effort would go high and wide.
Heviel Cordoves would replace the goalscorer Williams on 76'. Romario played well, putting his side ahead and putting in a good shift, though had run out of steam in the minutes leading up to the change.
And Cordoves' first real touches produced a chance for the visitors. He controlled a long ball on the right flank before cutting in and shooting, forcing the goalkeeper into yet another save.
The home side were baying for a penalty in the 84th, when Skylar Thomas would muscle the Steel forward out of the way in order to shield the ball out. The referee was having none of the appeal though, and pointed for a goal kick.
Cordoves was then in again on 84', but foiled once more as he would muscle his way around his marker and in for a 1-on-1, but his guided finish toward the far post was saved. The ensuing corner would be dummied and fall to the debutant Miles Robinson, but his effort would flash wide of the post.
Into 4 minutes of stoppage time we went, and Bethlehem would have perhaps their best chance of the match, cracking the bar from just inside the box, having beaten a sprawling Tambakis, and the ball would eventually be cleared.
And that was how the game finished. The result meant that the Battery go three points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand over second-placed Tampa Bay after they lost against Rochester on Tuesday.
The Black and Yellow had a little bit more of an Atlanta flavor after Miles Robinson and Chris Goslin were sent to cover whilst the Battery are in the midst of a 3 game road stretch. The suspension to defender Lasso made the center back position a pressing issue for the Battery, and Robinson was called upon to slot in, making his professional debut. He looked assured beyond his years at the back beside Taylor Meuller, as he helped fellow loanee Alex Tambakis to a well deserved clean sheet and could’ve had a goal near the end to seal the points. Goslin was unlucky not to get on the pitch, being named amongst the subs, but Jeffery Otoo got a short cameo near the end of the match.
The Battery next play on Sunday at 2PM against New York Red Bulls II. The match will be available to stream on the club’s website or YouTube. For more Battery news, be sure to check out The Black and Yellow Post.