Second Division: the moments that shaped how the title was decided

As Boca lifted the Second Division shield after a 1-1 draw in the title decider vs Brunos, one of the most exciting Second Division title races in recent years drew to a close. With the dust slowly settling, and only the small matter of a playoff between Olympique and either Lynx or Lions to come, we take a look at some of the key moments that helped shape this season’s title race, which at times had up to six teams in with a chance.

Photo (C) William F Gracia

Olympique 2-0 Brunos – Mind the gap

Two of the early pre-season title favourites, Olympique and Brunos, came head-to-head early in the season. Both teams had flattered to deceive a little in their early games, with both dropping points and not looking as impressive as they would at other points in the season, but there was a sense that this game could be a catalyst for either side depending on who won.

Olympique won the game 2-0 thanks to goals from Luis Consigliero and Robert Montovio, setting their marker for the season, and sparking a friendly rivalry on and especially off the pitch; later in the season the term “mind the gap” became popular on social media with some. However, as the season came to its end, Olympique and Brunos were busy ensuring the other team “minded the gap”, while Boca were quietly squeezing past both of them to get a guaranteed seat on the Premier Division train. Olympique will have to wait and see if they are also on the same train, or will have to wait with Brunos for another season.

Angels kicked out of the league – table ramifications

Perhaps one of the more controversial moments this season, at the end of the January transfer window, Angels were kicked out of the league for breaching Squad Quote and Home Grown Player rules. The controversy wasn’t necessarily with Angels being kicked out; if they couldn’t fulfil their remaining games then there was little else the GFA could do, but the voiding of their results caused a bit of controversy.

In truth, there was no easy way to deal with removing a team mid-season; however Angels mixed fortunes against the top sides would mean that both Boca and Cannons lost the three points they earned against Angels, while Magpies and Olympique, who were beaten by Juan Jose Jimenez’ side, suddenly moved three points closer by default to their title rivals.

We’ll never know where Angels may have finished had they been able to comply with the regulations and compete for the second half of the season, or how the title race would have been impacted, but it is safe to say for a team who only played half a season, they made a big impact on the league this season.

Leo’s resurgence – giving the big boys headaches

In the summer, Leo underwent a big revamp off and on the pitch, notably unveiling ex-Spain striker Catanha as striker, while promising to be big players in the title race. Everything fell apart for them just before the season started, with Catanha never taking charge of a game, and Leo would go on to lose every game before the winter break, ending any chance of a promotion push.

They bounced back in the two-month winter break, being bought by new investors and strengthening their team most notably with the additions of TJ Dos Santos and Orlando Joao, both with experience in the lower reaches of the English leagues. They only lost one game after the break, notably a 6-0 defeat against Boca, while back-to-back draws against both Brunos and Olympique took two points off each side that would have been critical in the title race; had both sides won those games, Boca would have found themselves third at the end of the season. They would also strike blows to Europa Point’s promotion hopes, while a win against a depleted Cannons side meant they finished fifth, above Cannons and only four points behind Europa Point.

Boca 2-1 Brunos – Late winner proves key for Boca

 The first game in the division after the winter break saw Boca take on Brunos in a hotly-anticipated match. With so many teams still in the title race, we perhaps didn’t realise quite how significant this match would prove to be, but as it turned out, it played as big a part as the final day in deciding where the title went.

League top scorer Alberto Valdivia scored in the first minute for Boca, before Brunos won a penalty in the 25th minute which also saw Boca reduced to 10 men. Richard Ainscough scored, and suddenly Brunos had 65 minutes to play against 10 men and secure a big victory. They failed to take advantage of the man extra, and instead Boca won in the 86th minute courtesy of Alvaro Caravante. It would prove to be a big opportunity missed for Brunos, but for Boca it would prove invaluable come the final day. 

Europa Point 3-2 Cannons

Two of the teams who threatened the title race but ultimately couldn’t keep up in the end, Europa Point and Cannons faced each other in April, with both sides needing a win to keep even slim hopes of a top two spot alive.  Cannons went 1-0 and 2-1 up, but then were reduced to 10 men. Europa Point then managed to get a player sent off themselves for an incredible act of petulance at the officials, however the last five minutes or so saw the game, and ultimately the title race, take a big swing.

Christian Nunez got an 87th minute equaliser, which set up a barnstorming final few minutes as both teams needed a goal and tried to throw the kitchen sink at each other. It would be Europa Point who got a late winner though, as James Danino managed to turn a simple cross into his own net, essentially ending Cannon’s season with the 3-2 defeat – which led to a couple of big results in the race for second which you can read below.

Brunos 8-3 Cannons + Cannons 0-16 Olympique – Goal Difference proves key

After the defeat to Europa Point, Cannons suffered from what has unfortunately been seen in the past with other teams; players simply give up on the team and leave them in an impossible situation. Rather than withdraw the team from the league (they noted that this had impacted them, when Angels were removed from the league, in a statement), they scraped together a team to at least honour their remaining fixtures.

However, facing Brunos and Olympique meant they would have a big say in the promotion race. At 8-1 up, Brunos manager David Wilson rightly tried to emphasise the importance of goal difference on the league table, but Brunos lost focus and gave away two cheap goals to “only” win 8-3. Had they switched on and got two more goals, without conceding the two they did, they would have finished second on goals scored. As it was, Olympique took second, in no small part due to putting 16 goals past Cannons and turning around a massive goal difference swing. In truth, results like this paint an extremely negative image on a division that otherwise has had a great season, but you have to appreciate Cannons for not simply forfeiting their games and trying their hardest to be competitive. The league was played out over 14 games per side, so it would be wrong to say two games in a whole season single-handedly decided second place.

Brunos 1-1 Boca – Title Decider

Everything that had happened before led to a final day league decider between Brunos and Boca. Olympique had secured second by scraping past a dogged Hound Dogs side 1-0 in the 88th minute, so they had wrapped up second place; the winner of this match would win the title while the other side would have to settle for third and another season in the second tier. Boca’s one-point advantage meant they could play for a draw, which left the onus on Brunos to chase the game.

The game saw crowds that would put almost all Premier Division games this season to same, and it was an incredibly tense affair, shown both on and off the pitch. Boca would take the lead, with Alberto Valdivia closing down the Brunos keeper Tom Hull (who without this season Brunos would not have been in the title race on the last day) and taking advantage of an error to roll the ball into an empty net.

This left Brunos in a do-or-die situation, and Fernando Cuesta levelled the scoreline early in the second half. With Boca knowing a point was enough, they put in a notable amount of game-management/time-wasting (depending on where your allegiances lay), which understandably frustrated the Brunos fans and players. Crossbars were rattled and both keepers were called into action to make massive saves, but in the end Boca clung on to their point, which was their first draw all season. It meant they secured promotion to the Premier Division next season, while Magpies realised they missed out on second by four goals in the end.

This years Second Division promised to be entertaining even before it started, and while no one could have predicted a couple of the twists and turns that did occur, the league did not fail to disappoint, giving us a title race that went to the last minute of the very last game of the season. The gap between the bottom of the Premier and the top of the Second Division is arguably smaller than ever, which makes next month’s relegation/promotion playoff between Olympique and Lynx or Lions a fascinating match-up. The league’s top three led both on and especially off the field; many Premier sides would do well to observe what they have done to engage local football fans, and effectively market their own sides in the way a football club should do – perhaps one day what Boca, Brunos and Olympique are doing could be the norm, rather than the exception?

We shouldn’t fail to mention the efforts of Europa Point and Cannons in the title race either, with both sides providing stern opposition for most of the season, while Angels played their part off the pitch in the end. Whether they are re-admitted into the league next season is another matter – the GFA may prefer an even number of teams across both leagues. Whatever the outcome, the Second Division has proven to be a highly competitive league this season, and we trust that next season will provide more of the same.

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