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Rowdies offense catches up to defense

By Kelly Parsons, Times Correspondent
Published: August 6, 2017 Updated: August 6, 2017 at 03:22 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Bay took control from the very beginning of Saturday's match against Harrisburg and never let up, scoring an early goal after one of many first-half corner kicks. What seemed mercilessly out of reach for much of the game, though, was the insurance goal that the Rowdies have grown accustomed to scoring.

Against a squad that hasn't won since July 15, the Rowdies had five shots in the box and seven corner kicks before the break. But it wasn't until Martin Paterson headed a Marcel Schafer cross into the net in the 73rd minute that the Rowdies could breathe a little easier, and Walter Restrepo scored another in the final minutes to help the Rowdies cruise to a 3-0 victory.

The shutout was the third straight for the Rowdies, and it gave the crowd of 5,619 at Al Lang Stadium one more reason to celebrate goalkeeper Matt Pickens, who made his 100th appearance.

"The guys made it easy for us, and we're just turning in the right direction," Pickens said. "We don't want to count our chickens before they hatch, but we're doing all the things right. We're playing very clean games right now, and we're just trying to keep it going."

Fresh off back-to-back 2-0 victories, the Rowdies began the game with plenty of momentum, but misses and deflections kept them from scoring, and midfielder Joe Cole left the game in the seventh minute with a back injury. In the 15th minute, defender Neill Collins broke through, scoring his second goal of the season after a Rowdies corner kick.

"I take a lot of pride in keeping a clean sheet," Collins said, "but ask any professional footballer, scoring a goal is the best feeling. You just never know when it's going to come again."

The Rowdies (10-5-7), who finished with nine corner kicks to Harrisburg's two, almost scored on another in the 43rd minute, but it was grabbed out of the air by goalkeeper Brandon Miller.

After the break there were even more close calls. A Collins header went wide and a rocket from Michael Nanchoff missed the outside post by inches. A solid outing from Tampa Bay's defense secured the one-goal lead until Paterson's and Restrepo's strikes.

"(Restrepo) promised me that (Friday), actually. We were talking after practice. … He said 'I'm going to score today,' " Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "I reminded him of that before we went on, and he duly obliged."