Facing a rare midweek afternoon contest on the road in a key match between a pair of playoff contenders, Wilmington Hammerheads FC was blanked 3-0 by Bethlehem Steel FC at Lehigh University on Thursday.
“It’s extremely disappointing to lose to a team we have competed so closely already this season,” said Wilmington Hammerheads FC Coach Mark Briggs. “We have to work harder than we have all season to reach a playoff position now.”
Josh Heard and Derrick Jones each contributed first-half goals and halftime sub Gabe Gissie put things away after the break to give the home side three points in the United Soccer League Eastern Conference standings.
Heard orchestrated an impressive individual effort in the 28th minute, working the ball up the left side, splitting Wilmington’s Mael Corboz and Ashani Fairclough and firing from 16 yards out to find the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Bethlehem Steel continued the attack thanks to the early advantage and set up a score in the waning minutes of the opening half. Ryan Richter sent the ball over the Hammerheads’ defense to Derrick Jones, who gained a couple steps on Wilmington’s back line. He was one-on-one with goalkeeper Eric Ati, who slipped briefly in anticipation of the shot, giving Jones his third tally of the season.
The Hammerheads had two shots ring off the right post, but had limited chances in the attacking third for much of the match. With its defense tested often, Wilmington conceded the final score in the 54th minute.
“We return home to prepare for our match against the number one team in our division,” Briggs added. “We’ve got a challenging weekend ahead and need to bounce back quickly.”
With the win, the Steel improved to 6-6-6 (24 points) overall and 4-2-2 at home, jumping into the eighth and final playoff spot withing the eastern conference. Wilmington falls to 6-6-5 (23 points) overall and drops to 10th place heading into a key match against Louisville City FC at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 17 at Legion Stadium.