Pickford caught up in a sea of blue

John
John Browne
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Challenge cup soccer Last year's high-scoring striker has struggled early this season, but Mount Pearl finds a way to win, like it did Wednesday

Justin Pickford isn't surprising anyone these days. The hotshot Mount Pearl striker, who scored 29 goals in his remarkable rookie campaign last season, was completely shut down in Molson Challenge Cup play Wednesday night at King George V Park.

While Pickford was off his game, Mount Pearl That Pro Look/Molson was fortunate to pull out a 1-0 win over Feildians on a first-half goal by Bernie Manning. Gerald Connolly had two difficult stops in posting the shutout.

Mount Pearl striker Justin Pickford warms up prior to his teams Challenge Cup soccer game against Feildians Wednesday at the King George V complex in St. Johns. After registering 29 goals as a Challenge Cup rookie in 2006, Pickford is being closely marke

Justin Pickford isn't surprising anyone these days. The hotshot Mount Pearl striker, who scored 29 goals in his remarkable rookie campaign last season, was completely shut down in Molson Challenge Cup play Wednesday night at King George V Park.

While Pickford was off his game, Mount Pearl That Pro Look/Molson was fortunate to pull out a 1-0 win over Feildians on a first-half goal by Bernie Manning. Gerald Connolly had two difficult stops in posting the shutout.

The Feildians backline players were superb in keeping tabs on the dangerous Pickford. They had the help of Matthew Wilkins, who was all over the field and switched from offence to defence with tremendous pace throughout the match.

Pickford got a few scoring chances in the first half, but an offside flag neutered the attack.

"I didn't have much going for me tonight," Pickford admitted after the game. "I couldn't get the ball l down. I couldn't move and couldn't really hook up a pass anywhere. But the team came out to play tonight and we got the win, which is the main thing."

Each time Pickford picked up the ball, he found himself surrounded by Double Blue shirts. In fact, the same could be said for the rest of the Mount Pearl forwards.

Close marking is something Pickford expects for the rest of the season.

"After last season, I expect that this year. I was pretty much nobody coming into last year, but now I know I'm not going to get much room," said Pickford, who left the game after colliding with a Feildians player with about six minutes to play.

"When that happens," he said of the close coverage, "I hope I'm able to feed the ball to my partners up front."

Pickford has played in four of his teams first six matches, missing a pair of games due to a suspension and has managed to score twice.

"I had a slow start last year, too," he noted.

Pickford admitted he is not at the top of his game yet.

"I'm still trying to get into game shape, so hopefully I'll be ready to go (all out) soon. I'll be able to do a lot better in a few more games."

The win gives Mount Pearl 11 points, one less than third-place Feildians, but Mount Pearl has five games in hand on the Double Blues.

Team overcomes early controversy

Mount Pearl is considered a strong contender again this year despite some controversy that surrounded the club even before the opening whistle of 2007. A few players, it was rumoured, were talking mutiny and were looking to form another club but nothing materialized.

Pickford said he is "pretty sure" that sort of talk goes on with other teams, but suggests, that in Mount Pearl's case, people made it a big deal because the team has been so prominent in recent years.

"If (Holy) Cross or Feildians had a problem, it probably would be as big a deal,' said Pickford.

Pickford said in order for his team to get back into the Cup final it needs to "learn to play for a full 90 minutes. We've slacked off in the last 30 minutes of our last few games."

Feildians Ernst Young/Orenda deserved a better fate in the game based on the full 90 minutes, and Pickford agrees.

"Feildians played well tonight. You've got to give them props. They had a lot of chances, but they just couldn't score," said Pickford.

The Double Blues missed some scoring chances with a few wayward free kicks and cracked a shot off the post in the final minutes of play.

Manning's goal came at the 16-minute mark when he took the ball away from Feildians' keeper Matthew Prim, who looked to have it covered on the ground inside the penalty area. But Manning dug it free and tapped it home.

Prim made up for that one flaw in the second half with two terrific saves that kept his team within striking distance of Mount Pearl in the entertaining contest.

St. John's Capital Mitsubishi upset Holy Cross/The Keg 3-2 in the first game of Wednesday's double header.

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Molson, Orenda, Holy Cross/The Keg 3

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, King George V Park

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