After making over 100 appearances for the Wilmington side during his stint in the Port City, veteran Paul Nicholson made the most of his first start for United Soccer League expansion club FC Cincinnati on Saturday night.
Down a goal early in the second half, Nicholson placed a rebound attempt in the back of the net for his first goal of the season to lift FC Cincinnati to a 1-1 draw against Wilmington Hammerheads FC in front of 11,318 fans.
As conditions worsened through the match due to wet weather at Nippert Stadium in southwest Ohio, FC Cincinnati controlled tempo and scoring opportunities, but John Smits and the Wilmington backs stayed true to earn one point in the Eastern Conference Table.
Wilmington Hammerheads FC moved to 2-2-2 overall, with eight points in the division. FC Cincinnati picked up its first tie of the young season, improving to 3-2-1 on the ledger. Both clubs remain towards the top half of the 14-team conference. Louisville City FC holds top spot in the table, with a 4-1-1 mark and 13 total points.
Having logged just 47 minutes in five matches for FC Cincinnati, Nicholson moved into the starting 11 after defender Austin Berry was a late scratch following an injury during the final day of training leading up to Saturday’s match. Nicholson made the most of the opportunity as the home side was finally able to level the match in the 48th minute.
With an energetic home base on board once again, it was actually the visiting side that took control. Wilmington’s first scoring chance came in the 23rd minute when Qudus Lawal drew a penalty kick against Cincinnati’s Pat McMahon. Lawal took the subsequent penalty, but Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt anticipated correctly to his left with the diving save.
Hildebrandt’s stop completely energized the home crowd and bench, but that energy quickly evaporated as Bruno Perone scored off a set-piece chance with a nifty touch on a ball sent in towards the near post on the ensuing corner kick. It was Perone’s second goal of the year as Mael Corboz sent the service in for his third assist on the season.
John Smits was lights out at keeper for Wilmington, making huge stops through the late stages of the match to preserve the tie. Omar Cummings nearly found the go-ahead goal in the 72nd minute for the second straight week after netting the game-winner for FC Cincinnati against Toronto FC II.
Four consecutive corner kicks in the final stages of the match by the home side ended the drama as Wilmington was the beneficiary of a referee’s call after getting a leveler waved off late in last week’s 1-0 defeat against New York Red Bulls II. During the flurry of service pieces in the waning minutes, Smits had both arms wrapped around an FC Cincinnati player while inside the 18-yard box, which if called, would have resulted in a penalty kick.
Wilmington Hammerheads FC wraps a brief two match road swing with a trip to Richmond on Saturday, May 7. The Hammerheads and Kickers played to a scoreless tie in Wilmington’s home opener.