Charlottetown, PE - The Panthers laid it all out there, but a late first half goal was the difference in a StFX 2-0 win Saturday evening in the AUS season opener for both team.
In the 42nd minute, X-Men midfielder Dan Hayfield gave himself just enough space inside the penalty area to get a shot off and beat a diving Brett Strba.
"We wanted to go into halftime feeling like we had something to hold onto," Hayfield said. "That first goal was crucial at the time and it just gave us a huge boost. We then had the confidence to settle down and play our game."
For X-Men head coach Graham Kennedy, the timing of that goal couldn't have been more perfect. "As a coach, at the 40-minute mark, you have a pretty good idea of what you want to say in the dressing room and suddenly, the picture changes."
The Panthers had a good chance when rookie standout Neil Harte made his presence felt early on a nice volley and cross to fellow rookie Carlos Gallo, who made a solid attempt on net, but was denied by keeper Thomas Pieroway.
On the other end, Strba made a couple key saves midway through the half to keep his team alive. A dangerous play developed in front of the net in the 19th minute, but Strba was able to clear the ball to safety. On the counter, Harte dashed through an open lane at midfield and found Mohammad Jaber, who passed it back to Sam Smiley for the deep boot, missing just high of the crossbar.
StFX was again denied, this time on a set play in the 24th minute. Hayfield fired a shot at net, but Strba, with the outstretched arms, made the diving save to preserve the nil-nil game.
The X-Men capitalized on Hayfield's marker to take the 1-0 lead into halftime. That goal seemed to energize the X-Men, who came out stronger and faster in the second half. A few key substitutions wore down the Panthers as the X-Men slowly took over.
"We made some substitutions in the second half and put the fastest team we could on the field," Kennedy said. "We had loads of speed on both flanks and I think that was the story of the game."
The win also happens to be the X-Men's first regular season win on Island soil in 20 years, Kennedy explained. "It's always hard to play over here," he said. "You play the whole Island when you come here and it's a united front you have to contend with."
The Panthers look to even their record at 1-1 when they travel to New Brunswick to take on the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus on Sunday. The X-Men will host the Saint Mary's Huskies, also on Sunday. Kick-off for both games is 3:15 pm.
Courtesy Thomas Becker, UPEI Athletics