ST. PETERSBURG — Before FC Tampa Bay's friendly against Bolton of the English Premier League, Tampa Bay coach Ricky Hill stressed the importance of beginning the second half of the season on a positive note, starting Thursday at Al Lang Field.
With 13 NASL games remaining, Tampa Bay sits sixth in the league and would be the last team to qualify for the postseason were it to start today.
Hill wanted his side to kick-start a winning streak for the stretch run. Few, however, thought Bolton would be the first victim crossed off the team's list.
Tampa Bay goalkeepers Jeff Attinella (three saves) and Evan Newton (six) each played a half and combined for a shutout and second-half substitute Matt Clare scored the only goal three minutes after entering in a 1-0 victory over Bolton in front of 3,914.
"Our goal was to get on a winning streak for the last (14) games, including this one," Clare said. "That's four in a row for us, no losses. We're looking on the better side of things now. We're working our way up in the league."
Now, if Tampa Bay can just duplicate Thursday's performance in the exhibition against its remaining NASL schedule.
"I just asked them to go out and apply themselves as best as they can, to enjoy themselves and express themselves at the right times as well and see where that takes us," Hill said. "To win the game is a great bonus. We're indebted to our goalkeepers at times. Evan was tremendous this evening and Jeff likewise."
If Attinella looked like a goalie hoping to impress an international coach or two, Newton likewise was trying to gain the attention of the Tampa Bay coaching staff. Newton, seeing his first minutes in a Tampa Bay uniform this season, was under siege from the start after Bolton came out of a scoreless first half looking to push the tempo.
Newton made a diving stop in the 62nd minute after Bolton's Robbie Blake found himself unmarked at the edge of the box in the middle of the field.
Seconds later, Blake crossed to a wide-open Chung-Yong Lee on the back post. Newton recovered, twisting in midair to punch away Bolton's best scoring opportunity.
In the 65th minute, Tampa Bay broke through against the run of play. Pascal Millien, who entered along with Clare three minutes earlier, got behind the Wanderers' defense. Millien squared a pass to Clare running free on the back post.
Clare wasted little time, one-timing a shot past Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan.