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Rowdies get back on track with emphatic shutout win

The team tops Memphis 901 FC 5-0 at home.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies' 5-0 win over Memphis 901 FC at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday is cause for celebration.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies' 5-0 win over Memphis 901 FC at Al Lang Stadium on Saturday is cause for celebration. [ MATT MAY | Tampa Bay Rowdies ]
Published Aug. 27, 2019
Updated Aug. 27, 2019

St. PETERSBURG — Kwadwo Poku got his first two goals of the season and Malik Johnson added a goal and two assists as the Rowdies halted a modest slump Saturday at Al Lang Stadium with a 5-0 victory over Memphis 901 FC.

Including a season-opening 1-0 win, Tampa Bay swept the two-game season series with the 2019 expansion team.

The Rowdies, who began the match in third place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference, improved to 14-4-7. Tampa Bay, now 7-2-4 at home, had lost two straight and three of four before getting back on track.

“You can’t buy confidence, can you,” said Tampa Bay coach Neill Collins. “Tonight they got back to some of the high standards they set.”

Goalkeeper John McCarthy faced one shot and notched his 10th shutout of the season.

Applying pressure from the outset the Rowdies, who finished with 21 shots, made it 1-0 in the 11th minute when Poku one-timed an errant clearing attempt into the lower left corner. Goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell made four saves before Poku’s first goal.

Poku, who has played 15 games this season and started 10, got his second goal in the 62nd minute. The midfielder took a feed from Malik Johnson and drilled the ball into the upper left corner for a 3-0 lead.

“I always have the mindset of trying to score, but this season has been difficult,” Poku said. “We needed this to stay on top. We really knew what this game was about and we got the job done.”

Tampa Bay got a timely goal just moments before the first half ended. Andrew Tinari deflected Johnson’s crossing pass from the right into the center of the net for a 2-0 lead. That marked Tinari’s fourth goal of the season.

Including Poku’s second goal the Rowdies scored three times after the break. Leo Fernandes converted a pass from Sebastian Guenzatti for his fourth goal that gave Tampa Bay a 4-0 lead before Johnson beat Caldwell from in close off a feed from Mohamed Kone.

“It builds momentum up for the rest of the season,” Johnson, who got his third goal, said of his team’s decisive win.

The closest Memphis came to scoring was early in the second half, which got under way amidst a steady downpour. Tampa Bay defender Pape Diakite, who deflected a ball into his own net in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss at North Carolina, nearly did it again. Only this time a long through ball went off his right foot in front and sailed just wide of the right post.