Two days before HFX Wanderers FC would topple Hamilton’s Forge FC 2-1 at Wanderers Grounds, erasing the memory of four years of struggles against the defending Canadian Premier League champions, fullback Zach Fernandez offered his own pitchside prognostication of his club’s Friday fortunes.
“I think we’re more confident [compared to] the last result,” he told The Coast in the lead-up to Halifax’s Canada Day weekend tilt against second-place Forge—a team that stole a late draw against the Wanderers on April 22. “Mentally, we knew we had quality. But now, I think we can prove it a lot more.”
Prove it, they did. These are not the woebegone Wanderers of seasons past. Through 90 minutes and beyond, Halifax outlasted Forge FC in dramatic fashion, behind a pair of goals from winger Massimo Ferrin and centre-back Daniel Nimick.
The Wanderers got off to a choppy start. Bobby Smyrniotis’ Forge FC side appeared to be the more threatening of the two clubs through the opening minutes, with both midfielder Aboubacar Sissoko and forward Woobens Pacius testing Halifax goalkeeper Yann Fillion within the first eight minutes of the match. Pacius’s was the more dangerous of the two attacks; the 22-year-old native of Terrebonne, Que. beat Fillion for a header in front of goal, only for the shot to float above the crossbar. But a resilient Halifax side managed to weather the storm.
Both sides found the rain-soaked pitch to be a challenge. Not long after Forge’s opening flurry of attacks, Halifax winger Massimo Ferrin tried sending teammate Tiago Coimbra in on Hamilton’s goal with a through ball, only to watch the ball skid beyond his outstretched boots.
It was Ferrin again, though, who would prove the hero in front of the 6,145 at Wanderers Grounds—thanks, in large part, due to a world-class diagonal ball from Nimick. In the 25th minute, the Happy Valley-Goose Bay-born defender lofted a ball 70 yards across the bulk of the pitch to an in-stride Ferrin, who broke past Forge’s Rezart Rama and hammered the ball past goalkeeper Triston Henry to give the Wanderers a 1-0 lead.
GOAL 🌊— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) June 30, 2023
What a start to this match for @HFXWanderersFC as Massimo Ferrin scores a rocket from just outside of the box!🔥@ForgeFCHamilton will now have to respond!
🔴 https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/pzhZ1HMkqz
“I’ve known Mass[imo] for a long time,” Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar told reporters after the match, “I thought [he] was fantastic. The first half, and the first 30, he really caused a lot of problems. He’s so dynamic. What we all see is the goal and the opportunities he creates, but the defending needed, and the ball retention, and all the other things he does goes [unnoticed].”
Forge pressed hard for an equalizer before halftime, but the Wanderers held firm—something the club struggled with in its earliest matches of 2023. In the club’s season opener on April 15, the Wanderers saw a brilliant 1-0 lead vanish at the feet of Atlético Ottawa midfielder Ollie Bassett, two minutes into stoppage time. A week later, the Wanderers gifted a late equalizer to Forge FC in the 89th minute. Yet another week later, the Wanderers watched an early 1-0 lead disappear before halftime, courtesy of an equalizer from forward Shaan Hundal.
“We have 15 new guys, so many guys are learning what we’re trying to do,” Gheisar told The Coast in the days leading up to Friday’s match. “We let the [last Forge] game get away from us in the second half. And that’s a lesson we’ve learned, and we’re better for it now.”
Wanderers survive testy second half, climb to 4th in league standings
It was a nervy second half at Wanderers Grounds. Six players ended up with yellow cards: Halifax midfielders Tomas Giraldo and Wesley Timoteo, defender Cale Loughrey, Forge’s Abdulmalik Justin Owolabi-Belewu, Hamilton substitute Kwasi Poku and goalkeeper Triston Henry. Poku’s challenge, which sent Wanderers midfielder Mo Omar to the ground near Halifax’s 18-yard box in the 71st minute, drew the ire of Nimick.
Five minutes later, the Wanderers thought they’d earned a penalty kick after a shot went off the arm of Forge centre-back Manjrekar James inside Hamilton’s box.
Hamilton nearly equalized in the 78th minute. Rama had what appeared to be a sure goal, with a well-placed shot from inside the box to the bottom right corner, only for Fillion’s fingertips to preserve the Wanderers’ lead. For a moment, it felt like it would be enough to secure the win.
Forge, though, showed why the club has been the league standard-bearer for four seasons and counting. With just three minutes remaining in regular time, winger Tristan Borges found captain Kyle Bekker with room to operate on the edge of the Wanderers’ 18-yard box. As he has done so often for Forge FC, Bekker seized the moment.
“He’s an absolute gem of a player,” Forge head coach Smyrniotis told The Coast after the match. “He’s been excellent this year. He keeps on getting better, and he brings energy to the game—whether you ask him to play more advanced or a little bit further back in the field.”
Still, the drama wasn’t over—and this time, fortune favoured Halifax. Fullback Riley Ferrazzo earned a penalty for the Wanderers in stoppage time, beating ‘keeper Triston Henry and earning the referee’s penalty whistle after a moment of frenzy.
Both Forge and Wanderers players ended up in a scuffle. The pressure at Wanderers Grounds built to a crescendo. Nimick stepped up to the spot. And with a sure-footed strike to the right of Henry, he sent the crowd into a wave of euphoria.
The moment of the match: Daniel Nimick from the penalty spot to give @HFXWanderersFC its third victory against Forge FC in 18 matchups over five seasons—and in the 99th minute, to boot. pic.twitter.com/PhwDM0bVnG— Martin Bauman (@martin_bauman) July 1, 2023
It was Nimick’s first goal for the Wanderers.
“I don’t think there’s many better ways to get it,” he told reporters after the match. “Celebrating with a packed Wanderers Grounds, I’ve never experienced anything like it in my experience. It’s all a blur.”
With the win, the Wanderers climb to fourth in the Canadian Premier League standings. The club now has three wins, seven draws and two losses.
Halifax will travel to Langley, BC next to take on Vancouver FC at Willoughby Stadium on Friday, July 7.
After the whistle
- Wanderers winger Wesley Timoteo got a new look against Forge FC, starting out of position at left back. It largely worked. “We were trying to find a way to get Wesley on the field,” Gheisar said after the match. “Wesley is an elite player. And to be honest, I think that he’s probably deserved more minutes than he’s received so far.” The Wanderers needed it, as both fullbacks Jake Ruby and Ryan James have been dealing with injuries in recent weeks.
- With Friday’s win, the Wanderers improved their all-time head-to-head record against Forge FC to three wins, seven draws and eight losses in 18 matches over four-and-a-half seasons. It was the club’s first victory over Forge FC since Sept. 3, 2021.
- What will Gheisar do when captain Andre Rampersad returns from international duty for Trinidad and Tobago? The Wanderers’ veteran and all-time caps leader has found himself on the fringes of the Starting XI in recent weeks, as the midfield trio of Lorenzo Callegari, Mo Omar and Tomas Giraldo has found a groove during the Wanderers’ four-game unbeaten run. The likeliest outcome: Look for Rampersad and Omar to take turns in the starting role.