Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Sports

Rowdies end winless skid with shutout

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ST. PETERSBURG — They'd waited nearly seven weeks for a victory, so another two hours was no big hardship.

The Rowdies scored twice before a 1-hour, 56-minute weather stoppage delayed an eventual 2-0 win over Cincinnati on Thursday night.

The announced crowd of 6,269 at Al Lang Stadium had considerably thinned out by the game's end, which came at 11:44 p.m. The planned postgame Kool and the Gang concert had to be postponed.

Tampa Bay, which had been winless in seven games and hadn't won since May 19, went with a three-forward alignment in an attempt to boost the offense, and coach Stuart Campbell's move paid dividends. Especially industrious was forward Alex Morrell, a Lakeland native, who assisted on the first goal and had everything to do with the second.

The Rowdies (7-5-6, 27 points) climbed into third place in the USL's Eastern Conference, though fourth-place Charlotte (25 points) has played four fewer games. Tampa Bay is at Orlando City B next Thursday before coming home for its next three games.

"Hopefully that's the turn of our season," said Joe Cole, who scored his fifth goal of the season. "We're sitting in third place. We want to climb the table."

Morrell did all he could to validate his recent increase in playing time. He drilled the post on a long shot in the 30th minute and set up Martin Paterson for the icebreaker in the 39th. Morrell reversed direction twice, running three Cincinnati defenders ragged around the penalty box before cutting a pass back to Paterson for a 1-0 lead.

Right before the 45-minute mark, Morrell carried the ball from the other side of midfield straight into the penalty area, and though goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrant made the save, Cole got the rebound to make it 2-0.

Then came lightning, and the second-half kickoff had to wait for a while. After the delay, the sides played out the first half before switching sides.

That saw the Rowdies smartly take a defensive stance, especially with their offensive side being the waterlogged one. After Neill Collins cleared away a Cincinnati scoring attempt at 60 minutes, Georgi Hristov send a 50-yard ball to Morrell, who had the defense beaten, but the soggy field effectively squashed the surge.

Morrell, making just his fifth start, recorded his first point in league play for Tampa Bay.

"We've seen it in flashes" Campbell said of Morrell's recent form. "We've seen it day in and day out in practice. He's had a decent little run of games lately, which he thoroughly deserved. And he's getting better and better each game, so long may that continue."

Djiby Fall, the league's fourth-leading scorer with eight goals, entered the game at halftime and shortly after put a strong header on target, but Tampa Bay's Matt Pickens made a diving save. In the late going, Djiby once again nearly scored on a header, forcing Pickens into a fourth save.

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