LITTLE ROCK, Ark — On a gorgeously cool Mother’s Day evening at War Memorial Stadium, the Little Rock Rangers defeated Heartland Conference rivals Ozark FC 3-1.
The Rangers got on the board early with a smooth left wing pass from Donald Benamna to striker Alex Guadron. Guadron drove the ball in from the left corner of the 6 yard box to the upper right corner of the goal to make it 1-0 Rangers.
There were plenty of opportunities for Ozark in the first half, particularly for set piece goals, but a solid defensive effort and keen goalkeeping by Walid Birrou kept Ozark FC off the board in the first 45 minutes.
In other first half action, defenseman Andy Stewart hammered a long ball from deep in the defensive third to just outside the 18 yard box that shook up the Ozark goalkeeper in a multi-player collision. Benamna took an undefended shot at 21′ that just sailed wide of the net. Right after that shot, Stewart collided midfield and came out to follow concussion protocol. He returned to the game shortly thereafter.
Ozark’s next opportunity came at 26′ with a set piece just outside the box. It went wide but resulted in a corner kick of which the ensuing scrum gave Ozark another corner. Guadron had a strong centered strike on goal at 32′ that was gathered by Ozark’s keeper. Ozark attempted their own similar shot at 36′ but was held off by Birrou.
The Rangers received the first yellow card of the match at 41′, giving Ozark another set piece just outside the box. The shot was off the mark. Just before the halftime whistle, Robel Dent centered a kick for Trevor Reed but it had a little too much on it to make the connection for a shot on goal.
As the teams went to the locker rooms, head coach Will Montgomery looked to minimize the opportunities given to Ozark FC. “We need better possession in midfield. Couple times our players were losing the ball in vital areas where they could get a quick goal,” Montgomery said.
The set pieces for Ozark continued with two early corner kicks that were quickly headed out by Ranger defenders, then a centered free kick on the edge of the box. In harmony with the first half, the Rangers struck early in the second with a sly strike by Benamna from the left side at 54′ to make it 2-0.
The ample corner opportunities for Ozark finally paid off at 60′ as the ball redirected just passed the outstretched hands of Birrou, to make the match 2-1. From there, the Rangers subbed out midfielder Trevor Reed for Sabelo in the 69th minute. Each team also earned a pair of yellow cards in the second half.
A hard play at midfield between Benamna and an Ozark defender took the forward out of the match. He lay on the pitch for several minutes as training staff attended to him and eventually a yellow card was issued for the shoulder drive into his head. Benamna was immediately taken off the pitch. Australian native Hayden Tucker replaced him.
In the closing minutes, the Rangers had a near goal when Guadron drew Ozark’s goalkeeper out and sent one in but the defensive line made the save. Not done yet, Dent passed to teammate Ben Watson who took a shot from about 20 yards and found the back of the net to make it 3-1.
“We got on a counter attack and Robel got on the ball. I knew he was looking for an option, so I made the run, trusting him to make the pass, and he made a perfect ball,” explained Watson.
The Rangers are 1-1 in Heartland Conference. They will head out on a series of road trips in the coming weeks, first to Springfield, MO to face Demize NPSL on May 18 at Lake Country Cooper Stadium. And then back to Missouri again for a Thursday night match (May 23) against Club Atletico St. Louis.
6′ Rangers 1 – Ozark FC 0 (Alex Guadron, Hot Springs; Donal Benamna-assist)
54′ Rangers 2 – Ozark FC 0 (Donald Benamna, Central African Republic)
60′ Rangers 2 – Ozark FC 1 (???)
87′ Rangers 3 – Ozark FC 1 (Ben Watson, Sherman, TX; Robel Dent-assist)