Forward Madison FC’s return to Breese Stevens Field — the club’s first home match in 601 days — was a frustrating one for 91 minutes, but a Derek Gebhard finish from a rebound sent the 1,529 fans in attendance home happy, sealing a 1-0 win over visiting North Carolina FC.
The Mingos were on the front foot early, with Gebhard slicing up the right side and putting a shot just wide in the fourth minute. It was the first of 18 shots for Madison, compared to just six for the visitors.
Madison dominated virtually every facet of the match, notably holding 56 percent of the possession, but couldn’t find the back of the net before 90 minutes had passed. After Gustavo Fernandes intercepted a North Carolina pass at midfield, Aaron Molloy played a ball over the top to an on-running Jake Keegan, whose tight-angle effort was pushed aside by NCFC keeper Jake McGuire. He spilled the rebound toward the top of the six-yard box, where Gebhard found it in traffic and put it away with his left foot.
North Carolina had one more chance to equalize just before the final whistle, but a header from Robert Kristo rolled wide and all three points were secure for the Flamingos.
“We felt like we were all over them the whole game,” Gebhard said. “We felt like we were in control most of the time so to not get that shot on goal was frustrating but we’re happy we’re able to get something and get the win.”
“I’ve seen enough football to know it doesn’t matter how much of the ball you got or how much you’re at the other end, (a game) can change at the drop of a hat,” Madison manager Carl Craig said. “It speaks to perseverance. We scored by doing what we do best. Tip my hat to the lads.”
Gebhard said the retooled attack still needs some time to learn to work together to finish their chances.
“We’re a lot of new guys here,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure things out, but I’m really happy with how we’re looking right now and I think we’ll be an extremely dangerous team once we get a bit more fluidity.”
Craig and Gebhard both spoke to the atmosphere at Breese Stevens, regarded as one of the best in the league.
“It was awesome,” said Gebhard, whose game winner came in the Flock End, right in front of the club’s more ardent supporters. In their excitement after the goal, a few accidentally knocked down a barrier at the end of the field. “And to think this isn’t even full capacity and how excited everybody got, it was really an amazing feeling. I can’t wait to come back here again and experience that with even more people.”
Breese Stevens Field holds about 5,000 people, and Forward Madison led the league in average attendance with over 4,500 fans per game. COVID restrictions limited last night’s attendance to just over 1,500.
“Brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” Craig said of the fans’ enthusiasm.
Forward Madison next plays league-leading Union Omaha at home on Wednesday, May 26 followed by an away match at South Georgia Tormenta on May 29.