In stoppage time, Samuel Salter scored what everyone inside TD Place Stadium thought would the final goal of the contest on a penalty. It would have sent the HFX Wanderers back to Halifax before their weekend game against Pacific with one point, after coming back from down 2-0 in the second half, but there was still more to be written in this game’s story.
Carl Haworth was the recipient of a pass late in stoppage time, where he may have been in an offside position. The ball hit off the hand of the HFX defender, and the assistant referee’s flag went up. Originally, the thought was that it had gone up to signal offside, but the head referee played advantage, and Haworth crossed the ball into the box for Iván Pérez, who put the ball into the back of the net.
The goal was waved off for offside, but Ottawa surrounded the official, and after a long discussion, the call on the field was reversed, and the goal was awarded. Ottawa had taken a 3-2 lead, and this time, it would stick. From a certain defeat, to a certain draw, back to a certain defeat, HFX went through all of the emotions imaginable. Still, the Wanderers could take no solace in their efforts, and they are not happy with the decision late in the game.
“From where I was sitting, I thought [Carl] Haworth was offside,” said HFX Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart. “I haven’t seen the replay, but I thought he was offside. I thought that was the initial call. I don’t know if when the Ottawa players surrounded the official if he changed his mind,” Hart said. “I might be wrong, but that’s how I saw it.”
“Overall, I think we managed the game well in the first half, even if we were unlucky on that first goal from Ottawa,” said Pierre Lamothe, HFX’s first goal scorer. “We created some chances early, including my goal that was disallowed. I didn’t have the chance to watch it clearly, but some of the staff said it wasn’t offside, so it’s definitely frustrating.”
“It’s just frustrating how it ends,” Lamothe said. “I don’t want to say too much. The game is done.”
Atlético Ottawa head coach Carlos Gonzalez has claimed that he believes the assistant referee was not calling offside by raising his flag, claiming that he was instead calling the handball, but HFX fans and staff are skeptical of that. Regardless of why the flag went up, however, Hart says that it could have impacted his players, making them believe the play was offside, and about to be halted.
“It’s a difficult one,” Hart said. “Maybe [the flag being up] did have an impact on some of the players, but as I said, I have not seen [the replay]. I would be very disappointed if he was offside and we have lost on that goal.”
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Even though the Wanderers found themselves in a 2-2 draw and gave Ottawa a run for their money, it could have been completely different. HFX had two golden chances to open the scoring in the opening minutes of the game, including one goal that was called back for offside. They were close, but never scored, and looking back at it, how different the game could have been if they had been able to strike first.
“That has been the story of our season, really,” Hart said.
After the game, Hart made it clear that HFX was not planning on sitting back and leaving Ottawa with a draw. They wanted to keep on the front foot, and unfortunately, it ended up backfiring.
“The be honest, we told the skipper that if we get it to 2-2, let’s go for the win,” Hart admitted. “We need to win. I’m not sure if any changes could have been made to keep it at 2-2. Things happened so fast right after it, and as I said, it’s just one of those situations in football where there is a lot of emotion in tying up the game, and maybe a little bit of concentration lapsed. There are no words really for losing after coming back like that.”
Even in the loss, there was plenty to be positive about for the Wanderers. They gave Ottawa, a playoff contending team for that matter, everything they could handle, and in an alternate reality, the call goes their way and they leave with a point. Although that isn’t going to comfort them on the flight home, the effort should be commended.
“One thing I will say about my players is that they have never caved,” Hart said after his team’s gutsy performance. “Things have not gone our way, and they have stuck together, they have had each other’s back. This game was very evenly balanced and could have gone either way.”
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