THUNDER BAY -- For nearly five years the Thunder Bay Chill’s prospects of picking up at least a point in each home game were as guaranteed as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.
To expect a different result would be unrealistic. That is until Friday evening.
Spurred by an 87th minute go-ahead goal by Carson Pryor the St. Louis Lions shocked the Chill, registering a 2-1 upset victory in Thunder Bay’s Premier Development League regular season home opener at Chapples Park.
Even though Thunder Bay controlled the ball and dictated pace of play for much of the contest, the visitors were able to capitalize on the few opportunities they were able to generate.
Chill head coach Tony Colistro said the Lions were able to exploit midfield turnovers and catch the backline cheating and playing too aggressively.
“We looked a little loose in the back and took a few more risks and got caught there,” Colistro said.
“We need to be a little more cautious because we are losing the ball in the middle of the field and that’s where teams are catching us off guard.”
The defeat marked the first time the Chill had dropped a regular season match on home territory since June 2009 and is the second straight in head-to-head meetings with St. Louis dating back to a road defeat last season.
Despite the regular season still being in its infancy, the defending Heartland Division and Central Conference champions are suddenly sporting a two-game losing streak after dropping a 3-2 decision to WSA Winnipeg on the road last weekend.
The early stumbles show the difficulty and process of having a new group of players coming together quickly can’t be taken for granted.
Colistro made frequent adjustments throughout the course of the game, switching players to different sides of the fields and making multiple substitutions.
“We still need to come together as a team. You bring in 14 new players it takes a little bit of time. We have to work harder,” Colistro said.
“We’re still tinkering with our lineup and figuring out where guys need to play.”
The turning point of the match came with a little less than 15 minutes remaining.
Chill keeper Daniel Alvarado was assessed a red card for a goal-saving tackle on Lions forward Vadim Cojocov in the 76th minute after Cojocov was sent in alone on a forward ball.
The move brought Mitchell Thorn into the game from the sidelines and while the ensuing free kick from Jordan Roberts rang off the woodwork the Lions were able to follow through with the opportunity with Thunder Bay reduced to 10 men.
With the contest appeared to be headed towards a draw, Pryor delivered a left-footed strike that rocketed past Thorn and into the goal, sending a wave of celebration through the Lions bench and silencing the home crowd.
Thunder Bay had opportunities to take command of a game that had been squared away since the first half.
The Chill had a six minute stretch where they were buzzing around the Lions net, including a pair of prime looks for midfielder Vitor Huvos but could not solve the defence and keeper Iain McTurk.
Throughout the game there were a lot of instances where the team’s offensive players had moments of uncertainty, squandering potential opportunities.
“Eventually they’re going to establish who they are and what they’re able to do and once they play with that confidence I think you’ll see a much stronger team. We’ve had to change up front the last three games so it’s a matter of us trying to find the right combination,” Colistro said.
Early on it looked like the match would be a continuation of the Chill’s dominance at home as they opened the scoring, striking in the 11th minute.
Chill forward Ivan Argos Ocerin drew first blood as the beneficiary of aggressive midfield play from teammate Robert Casabella, who created a turnover before sending the lead pass ahead.
Thunder Bay dominated possession for much of the first half but cracks in the backline grew evident as the minutes ticked away.
The Lions were able to get a few runs together before finally getting a ball past Alvarado.
Cojocov came free with a loose ball in front of the net, dodged pressure from a desperately charging Chill defender and found space through Alvarado.
Pitch marks: The Chill outshot the Lions by a 15-8 margin…Chill defender Adrian Crace was issued a yellow card during extra time in the first half and midfielder Dominic Roberts picked one up in the 51st minute…The Chill take on the Springfield Demize on Saturday at Chapples Park with the game scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
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