By Josh Brown
TROY — Still nursing a one-goal lead in a defensive battle, Troy simply had one thing that Lebanon didn’t.
A closer like Grant Holland.
“They really didn’t have that No. 9 shirt, and by that I mean that striker that, he wants the ball, and he can finish,” Troy boys soccer coach Richard Phillips said. “They may have that, but they didn’t show that tonight. They didn’t have that player up top that can dominate a defense — and Grant does that for us.”
The Trojans’ senior captain cashed in a breakaway less than nine minutes into the second half to put Troy up by two goals, then he hammered home a direct kick just outside the box after Lebanon, already a physical team, began to play more chippy than it had been throughout with roughly 15 minutes to play to ice a 3-0 Trojan victory Saturday afternoon at Troy Memorial Stadium.
“Grant wears the No. 9 shirt, and the No. 9 shirt is the player that you look for to put the ball away,” Phillips said. “They (Lebanon) didn’t have that go-to player tonight, and we have Grant.”
Holland — who finished the day second in the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division with 15 goals on the season, trailing only Sidney’s Jalen Hudgins with 16 — was kept bottled up throughout the first half by Lebanon’s (4-4-2) tough defense, which was both quick to the ball … and quick to knock players off of it. He spent the majority of the first half, and the entire game, trying to fight through double and triple teams.
“It was a really physical game, probably the most physical game we’ve had this year,” Holland said. “Every ball was a 50-50 ball it seemed. We were just stronger and worked through it. We’re all a little beat up — but (after winning 3-0), it’s all worth it.”
“Lebanon was a physical team, and we always expect that out of them,” Phillips said. “They play hard, they play physical and with a lot of intensity, and they never give up. Those are qualities you like in a club.”
Near the end of the first half, though, Troy (10-0-1) was able to use that against them.
The Trojans kept the heat on in the Warriors’ defensive end for the final 15 minutes of the first half, firing direct kicks from just outside the box, a series of corner kicks and even redirect attempts off of throw-ins in front of the goal — but the Lebanon defense turned it all away. But finally, a Lebanon defender pulled a Trojan attacker down inside the box, awarding Troy a penalty kick opportunity — one that Connor Hubbell did not miss. The sophomore went low and to the left-side post, and even though the Warrior keeper guessed correctly, he could not reach it in time, giving Troy a 1-0 lead with 3:18 until the break.
“When you apply pressure, as physical as they are, when they play that hard and with that intensity, it’s difficult for them to hold back,” Phillips said. “When you get into the penalty area and continue to pressure them, they’ll continue to play the way they normally play. We got the foul in there, and Connor finished.”
The score remained that way at halftime, and Lebanon came out of the locker room finally putting pressure on Troy offensively. With 32:35 to play, Alex Bowers hit the Warriors’ best shot of the day, a 25-yard rocket that went high by two feet.
After that, Holland wasted no time in adding to Troy’s lead. He was sprung by a 50-yard pass from the Trojans’ defensive end and got behind the defense for the first time in the match on a breakaway. He didn’t miss his chance, either, carrying the ball right up to the goalie and sending the ball between his legs to give Troy a 2-0 lead with 31:10 to play.
“It gives us a chance to relax little,” Holland said. “If they score a goal, we still have time to hold them. It just gave us some insurance.”
“You always feel better when you get the second goal,” Phillips said. “Trying to protect one goal makes it difficult. With a two-goal lead, the entire team starts to relax and really play since there’s not as much pressure on them.”
Things got even more physical after that as Lebanon tried to catch up, but as time disappeared and it became more clear that the Warriors were not going to put a ball in, play turned nastier. Henry Shaneyfelt was tripped up from behind just outside the box on a breakaway attempt with roughly 15 minutes to play, and the Warrior bench was hit with a yellow card for arguing the call.
As the Trojans tried to place the ball for the ensuing direct kick, the Lebanon defenders continually — three times, in fact — kicked at the ball to knock it out of place and force everything to be reset. The officials finally stepped in, and when Holland set up to take the kick he blasted it past everyone and inside the far post to make it 3-0 with 14:28 to play.
When asked about the sequence, Holland only smiled.
“Yeah, that one felt amazing,” he said.
From there, Troy goalkeeper Troy Breisch and the defense put the wraps on their seventh shutout of the season, but first in their last three games.
“The guys really enjoyed this one,” Phillips said. “They were out there having fun, and that’s the main thing.”
Troy faces a big GWOC American North test Tuesday night, traveling to Butler — which currently sits in third in the division behind Troy and Tippecanoe.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.