By Tris Wykes

WEARE, N.H. – Playing on a battered field and against a physical opponent Wednesday, the Lebanon High boys soccer team faced frustration and a scoreless tie at halftime of its NHIAA Division II playoff game.

John Stark’s back line had pushed forward at every chance, repeatedly catching the Raiders offsides. Lebanon coach Rob Johnstone changed tactics, instructing his strikers to no longer start and stop while trying to time runs behind the defense. Instead, they were to act as targets in front of it. 

Lebanon High’s Ryan Oliveira scores during the 58th minute.

Receive a pass, then hold the ball and look laterally first and forwards second, Johnstone said. Give the midfielders time for a running start and lay the ball off to them so they can break through the back line onsides.

“You’re intentionally taking the strikers out of the attack a bit,” the coach said. “It’s definitely a risk.”

The rejiggering paid off beautifully, however, Robert De la Cruz’s pass allowing Ryan Oliveira to split the John Stark defense in the 58th minute. In alone on goalkeeper Daniel Hilyard, the right-footed Oliveira opened his hips and slid a low shot inside the right post. The Raiders prevailed, 1-0, and advanced to Saturday’s division quarterfinal against the winner of Thursday’s contest between visiting Stevens (4-5) and Bow (4-0-3).

Lebanon High’s Ryan Oliveira flies above John Stark’s C.J. Brennan.

“I felt like placement was more important than power, so I just wanted to pass it into the net,” Oliveira said. “Everyone felt more energized, but we kept our composure and kept on fighting. I was proud of that.”

The Generals (6-1-3) certainly fought, though not with complete composure. John Stark’s Nate Innerfield was ejected for blatantly fouling Oliveira from behind not long after the goal. On his way off the pitch, the junior midfielder loudly told the official he was the worst in the business. Per futbol rules, the hosts played down a man the rest of the way.

“It’s not always going to be pretty, where we pass the ball around,” Johnstone said. “On this kind of surface and against a team playing high, they’ve compressed the space and left 45 yards behind them. You just have to play it behind them and hope for mistakes.”

Lebanon (7-2-1) created two corner kicks and a Tyler St. Martin breakaway during the first 10 minutes. The senior ran onto a bouncing ball with no one between him and Hilyard, but the orb hit a ridge in the field’s patchy surface and popped to knee height just as he was shooting. 

Lebanon High’s Tyler St. Martin (10) and Daniel Mladek confer before a free-kick opportunity.

Hilyard, a senior, was outstanding the rest of the way and although there seemed to be several opportunities for the officials to award Lebanon penalty shots, none was forthcoming. Senior Ryan Tanski made one save in the first half for the Raiders, who switched to Colbie Delisle after intermission. The junior also made one stop.

“They’re both good and they’ve rotated all season,” said Johnstone, whose 2019 team reached the state title match. “I know it’s unorthdox and I’ll accept the bulls-eye for the decision, but Ryan will play the first half and Colbie the second during the playoffs.”

Lebanon played without starting fullback Jake Kriplin, who’s out with a high ankle sprain. Starting striker Emmanuel Bello arrived with four minutes remaining after being driven down the interstate following a driver’s education exam. Bello has nursed a lower-body injury and Johnstone said he wasn’t sure he would have risked the senior’s pins on Wednesday’s surface, but said the transfer from London should be fully available Saturday.

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Lebanon High’s Preston Hewett is flanked by teammate Simon Amaro and John Stark’s Jakob Hardy.