The Tampa Bay Rowdies extended their streak of being unscored upon to 10 hours, and their unbeaten stretch to seven matches, with a hard-earned 1-0 road victory over the Charleston Battery on Tuesday night.
Tampa Bay (15-6-1, 46 points) reclaimed the top overall spot in the USL Championship, which Phoenix (44 points) briefly held after a victory Sunday evening.
Lewis Hilton ripped a low drive from just outside the penalty box, giving the Rowdies the lead in the 63rd minute. Tampa Bay withstood being down a player when Conner Antley was issued a straight red card, but Charleston’s Leland Archer accrued his second yellow five minutes later and the Rowdies held on.
“I thought our performance deserved the win,” Rowdies coach Neill Collins said. “We’ve had our battles with Charleston … any win is earned. Very pleased for the players that their efforts were rewarded tonight.”
The Rowdies are 2-0 against the team that dealt them all three of their 2020 defeats. The sides will meet twice more in a six-day span to start October.
The Rowdies have not allowed a goal for 621 minutes, but there were some close calls Tuesday night. Josh Penn, a forward on loan from Inter Miami of the MLS, dribbled in from 35 yards and blasted a left-footer that whizzed past the right post in the 25th minute. Charleston outshot the Rowdies 5-3 in the first half (12-10 overall) with Tampa Bay’s best efforts created by Leo Fernandes, who got his first start in more than a month after injury.
Fernandes set up the Rowdies’ first great chance, and moments later influenced Hilton’s winner. On the hour mark, Fernandes sent Juan Tejada in on goal, where Charleston keeper Joe Kuzminsky made a great save, and the ball ricocheted off the crossbar. Steevan Dos Santos got a head on the rebound — and it also struck off the bar.
The frustration was short-lived. Fernandes again delivered a quality through ball, gathered this time by Dos Santos. He drew a pair of defenders and sharply chipped a ball to his right that Hilton collected and drilled into the lower left corner.
“It was exciting to watch (Fernandes) tonight; I thought he created some really good stuff as the game went on,” Collins said. “Credit to his fitness, we left him on and I’m glad we did because he did really well for the goal, as did Steevan, and fantastic strike from Lewis.”
Charleston pushed hard for an equalizer, earning a free kick from 20 yards away that A.J. Paterson smashed low and right into the Rowdies’ five-man wall.
Paterson was on the receiving end of what was deemed a too-dangerous challenge by Antley in the 802nd minute — although Paterson, who rolled around on the ground after the foul, managed to quickly get back up to shove Antley before the official intervened.
“I thought the red card was a harsh decision,” Collins said. “At most a yellow card but I think the reaction from Charleston influenced the referee. It’s only human nature. But I thought the players handled it fantastically well.”
Charleston could not enjoy the advantage, as Archer gave it back, pulling Lucky Mkosana down by the jersey on a potential counterattack for a second yellow.
From there Tampa Bay’s heralded defense held firm, with Aaron Guillen snuffing out a potential dangerous surge in the 92nd minute. And at the very end Charleston appealed for a handball in the penalty box, but it was ruled that Sebastian Dalgaard had no chance to react to a cross sent in just a few feet away.
Dalgaard had entered early for Max Lachowecki, who was injured after 12 minutes. Tejada got his first start of the season, allowing Sebastian Guenzatti to rest up before entering in the 74th minute.
Charleston (8-8-4, 28 points) stays tied with Charlotte for the fourth and final playoff spot In the Atlantic Division. The Rowdies are two points up on Pittsburgh with both returning to action Saturday; Tampa Bay hosts former divisional foe Atlanta United 2.