The Pittsburgh Riverhounds finally broke through to earn their first road win of the season, 4-1, over the Wilmington Hammerheads on Saturday night at Legion Stadium.
The Hounds (3-12-4, 13 pts) took advantage of a depleted Wilmington back line, taking a rare lead this season going into halftime, then pouring it on in the late stages to score more than two goals for the first time this season.
After scoring one goal in the previous five games in July, the Hounds spread out a four-goal output among four different players, Kevin Kerr, Corey Hertzog, Steven Okai and Nick Thompson.
Hounds also ended a five-game road losing streak, moving to 1-5-3 away from Highmark Stadium this year.
Hertzog set up Okai and Thompson to also pick up a pair of assists, as the game opened up in the late stages as Wilmington pressed forward even as they were playing down a man.
The Hammerheads, having some depth issues, were short handed from the get-go on Saturday, playing without their two regular starters at center back, Ashani Fairclough and Bruno Perone. The pair are also their leading scorers.
Also, they relied on two new players on loan — Ryan Roushandel and Jermie Lynch.
After a pretty evenly played first half, the Hounds started to put pressure on the Hammerheads, who were doing a decent job of knocking it around but were only able to get one really good shot from distance on Mauricio Vargas.
Eventually, once the Hounds starting testing and pressuring Wilmington’s shaky back line – the momentum of the match shifted.
It started when Kerr slipped past the Hammerheads back line in the 37th minute — and drew a foul in the box from keeper Eric Ati.
Hertzog stepped up to take the penalty and buried the shot — blasting it through the left side past Ati.
But as the season has provided the Hounds with bad break after bad break — karma went against them again. The referee called the Riverhounds for an infraction — jumping into the box before Hertzog’s shot, taking a potential first half lead off the board. It looked as though it was either Lebo Moloto or Alejandro Aguilar who jumped the gun and carelessly got into the box.
Hertzog’s had another chance — but his low left shot was denied by Ati, and the Hounds still were not able to take a first half lead in a game since beating Montreal in mid-June.
But in the closing minute of the half, the Hounds finally got some breaks — and a pair of terrific strikes
Kerr’s goal that gave the Hounds the 1-0 lead in the 44th minute was a beauty. After the Hammerheads gave a bouncing ball away in the final third, Kerr ran to the ball on the left side, took a one-time shot with his left foot and drilled it past Ati into the upper right corner.
Moments later, in added time, Hertzog received a pass from Mike Green that skimmed off a head of a Wilmington defender. Hertzog drilled home his sixth goal of the season.
Wilmington battled back in the second half putting pressure on the Hounds, as Lynch buried a nice low shot past Vargas in his Wilmington debut in the 62nd minute.
Playing with the lead, the Hounds never panicked as things opened up for them to take advantage of counter opportunities.
Okai responded for Pittsburgh seven minutes later in the 69th minute to regain a two-goal advantage on a terrific effort which he played a nice give-and-go with Hertzog, who lunged forward to get the ball back to Okai, who showed some fancy footwork to side-step Ati to put the ball into the open net.
Qudus Lawal was sent off late in the second half for Wilmington after he booted Hounds defender Sergio Campbell after a hard collision.
The dirty play prompted Campbell’s partner in crime on the back line, Willie Hunt to go over to push Lawal, but the Hounds and Hunt backed off and there wasn’t any further altercation as Lawal was issued a red card, and the Hammerheads were down a man.
The Hammerheads kept pushing numbers forward — and the Hounds pulled out all stops to thwart all attempts — even forcing Zak Boggs, who has played attacking midfield and forward all season, into one of the center back spots.
With Boggs partnering with Hunt in the middle of the defense, the Hounds continued to get a handful of other counter opportunities.
In the waning moments, Nick Thompson got some redemption after missing a breakaway moments earlier, by taking a nice pass from Hertzog and sliding his shot into the goal in stoppage time.
And finally, for the Riverhounds, they locked up their first road win of the year in a place they haven’t won this decade.
Sure, it was against a depleated Hammerheads team, but after a season full of disappointment and empty results, they put forth a solid performance and a hard earned road win at a place where previous results since 2011 included five losses (1-3, 0-4, 1-3, 0-5, 0-1) and a tie (1-1 in 2015).
The teams will meet again later in August at Highmark Stadium, but next up, the Hounds will host Louisville City FC on Friday (7 pm kickoff).