By Thomas Becker
For the Panthers, who are on the outside looking in, every game feels like the playoffs. And on Sunday afternoon they inched a bit closer with a hard fought 1-0 win over the Dalhousie Tigers.
Mohammad Jaber scored the lone goal in the 6th minute and the back four of Jeff Moore, Jake Deighan, Jesse Cameron and Ben Keefe tamed the Tigers (4-2-2) with an effective defensive display. While Subway Player of the Game, Brett Strba was incredible in goal, making several game-altering saves.
"It was an emotional win for us," Strba said. "We're trying to make the playoffs here and all the guys in front of me gave us a great chance to win and they all played amazing."
For head coach Lewis Page, it felt like an old school UPEI game.
"We scored, we defended and we fought until the end," he said. "It was a great win."
With their playoff lives on the line, the Panthers (4-5) were hungry to get back in the win column after three consecutive loses.
In the 6th minute, a Tiger defender deflected a pass that reached Jaber, who connected on a strong strike to beat rookie keeper Ben Grondin.
"We talked before the game about coming out on the front foot and really going after them early," Page said. "I thought Lucas Ross did a great job of winning the ball back in midfield to set the goal up for Mo."
Near the end of the half, Strba made a remarkable one–handed diving stab to push the ball over net, preserving the 1-0 edge. The relentless Tigers nearly tied the game in the 37th minute, but rattled the shot off the crossbar.
With a lot at stake, the intensity was high to begin the second half. Neil Harte had a couple good strikes in the 64th and 67th minute, but Grondin made some key saves to keep his team alive.
Strba came up big again in the 80th minute. With a flurry of activity in the box, the keeper was able to make a diving save despite running into his teammate as the shot was being attempted.
"I have to give a huge amount of credit to the backline. They were so solid and let me see the ball through," Strba said. "Without their efforts today, we might not have gotten the result."
Fans held their breath in the final moments, as Dalhousie kept sending men forward in search of the equalizer, but the Panthers prevailed 1-0.
UPEI continue their fight for a playoff berth on Oct. 21 at 3:15 p.m. when they welcome the visiting Memorial Sea-Hawks.
"We have to stick to the process," Page said. "The boys had a great week of training and they didn't get ahead of themselves and we have to do the same for Memorial."
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan