CHARLESTON — Charleston Battery gave up a goal at the end of the first half, clawed it back just before the hour, then surrendered the match-winner with less than seven minutes remaining to fall 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion in an entertaining international friendly Friday at Blackbaud Stadium.
West Brom striker Brown Ideye, a Nigerian forward acquired by the team in 2014 on a transfer worth more than $16 million, scored a free header at the goal mouth to convert a free kick by midfielder Craig Gardner in the 83rd minute. Charleston had three half-chances off set-pieces in the final minutes, but was unable to find the equalizer.
Ideye’s goal came just moments after Charleston subbed in the last of three academy players as Coach Mike Anhaeuser rotated a large squad in hopes of keeping the Battery as fresh-legged as possible for Saturday’s USL/Southern Derby Cup match with coastal rivals Wilmington Hammerheads.
But Albion was just four substitutes into their rotation in the 57th minute when Battery reserve midfielder Dante Marini — who created havoc from the start of the second half — juked his way into the left side of West Brom goalkeeper Boaz Myhill’s penalty area. Marini’s resulting ball was deflected by an Albion defender, and fell into the path of right winger Navion Boyd, who finished confidently to the lower near-post for the 1-1 equalizer.
The goal was Boyd’s third in three matches, including a friendly with SC United Bantams in Columbia on Monday. “When I see the ball go in on the left side, I always try to creep up on the other side just in case the defender loses control,” said the former Jamaican Premier League MVP. “And then it came and I just had to take it.”
For the first 41 minutes, the Charleston Battery went head-to-head with starting players from the English Premier League and held them level. That’s not to say they played them even. West Brom controlled possession and held the initiative for most of the first half.
But Battery central defenders Shawn Ferguson and Taylor Mueller turned in heroic shifts. Mueller’s alert tackling and clearances held West Brom at bay, but it took a great play by Ferguson to save an almost sure fluke goal off the line in the fifth minute.
“i saw it go up in the air and nobody was really going after it, and we really couldn’t afford to go down 1-0 early, especially to a team like this,” Ferguson said of his clutch play in the early going. “So I just went after it. Luckily I got to it before it went over the line, and I didn’t kick it in my own goal.”
In the 42nd minute, strong-man forward Victor Anichebe held off Charleston’s defenders just long to pass the ball to English international striker Saido Berahino in the penalty box. The West Brom scoring sensation — making his first appearance since an injury rehab — took it up a step and fired to the upper left of Odisnel Cooper’s goal to give Albion the 1-0 lead.
It was the first shot on goal by either team during the first half, which ended with Albion out-shooting the Battery 5-4. The only shot on goal of the half was Berahino’s goal. Charleston ended the night with nine shots to West Broms 7, forcing the English squad into two saves.
“(Anichebe) was definitely something I wasn’t expecting,” said Ferguson, who spent the first half tugging, pushing, and trading sweat with the muscular forward. “I heard rumors about him, but seeing him in person, you could tell he was definitely the next level. I asked him if he did any push-ups, and he said no, it was all natural.”
The Battery began the night with Cooper returning to the starting lineup behind usual defenders Emmanuel Adjetey, Ferguson, Mueller and Obi Woodbine. Anhaeuser started Justin Portillo and captain Jarad van Schaik in central midfield, with Maikel Chang, Ricky Garbanzo, Zach Prince and Dane Kelly in the attacking corps.
To start the second half, Charleston subbed on goalkeeper Kevin Corby, defenders Forrest Lasso and Quinton Griffith, midfielders Marini, Boyd and Memo Rodriguez, and forwards Austin Savage, and Heviel Cordoves. Albion made four changes, bringing on defenders Gareth McAuley and Claudio Yacob, midffielder Chris Bount and forward Ideye.
Those fresh legs for Charleston seemed to catch West Brom by surprise, with Marini, Griffith, Savage, Boyd and Cordoves each creating interesting — and occasionally spectacular — chances.
Cordoves, who was listed as “Out” with an ankle injury just two days ago, talked Anhaeuser into giving him a run Friday evening. He rewarded the coach with a point-blank blast on West Brom’s goal — a gift created by a superb individual play by Savage — that Myhill somehow managed to save in the 60th minute. Eight minutes later, Cordoves collected an over-struck Albion corner at the back post, started a counter-attack out to Rodriguez on the left, and then outran his defender to collect the return pass in the penalty area. Only a clutch tackle by Yacob denied him a shot.
“They showed their quality, but we did well,” Anhaeuser said afterward. “They were able to kinda control the tempo (in the first half). They’ve got two forwards who kinda sit in the box, and unfortunately we gave them a little room and they scored a goal. Second half we came out, the guys got a little energy, and we got the goal, which changed it.”
The international exhibition with an EPL side was “a good way for our guys to see the level, And we were able get three of our young guys in, which was fantastic.”
SC Battery Academy players Cole Gulledge, Alex Henderson and Phillip Tran appeared in the late going, as did goalkeeper Robert Beebe, an academy product who signed an amateur contract with the club this spring after graduating from USC.
The match ended with West Brom the winner, but Battery players holding their heads high — and many of them wearing West Brom jerseys given in trade with their opponents. Anhaeuser said Tony Pulis’ club “showed a lot of class.”
Said Marini: “They’re quicker, they’re faster, they’re bigger, they’re stronger. But it’s the same game.”