by Neil Morris
The RailHawks found themselves behind the eight ball early. In the 6th minute, Milton Blanco played a ball ahead to an officially onsides Rubén Luna. Luna rounded goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, then delivered an angled shot that deflected off defender Paul Hamilton positioned goalmouth and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Matters worsened for Carolina when Hamilton was forced to leave the game in the 16th minute. According to Jarrett Campbell, who was among a contingent of RailHawks supporters who made the trip to Atlanta for the match, Hamilton said postgame that he suffered a concussion.
Nevertheless, Carolina was the more aggressive and dangerous side for the remainder of the first half but was unable to convert their chances. Meanwhile, their frustration mounted with referee Jonathan Weiner over a number of curious calls, including a yellow card issued to RailHawks defender Julius James in the 23rd after James was taken down by Luna. Later, a two-footed, studs-up challenge by Atlanta’s Pedro Mendes earned the forward merely a foul but no booking.
When asked on the Silverbacks’ webcast at halftime what changes he might make for the second half, RailHawks manager Colin Clarke shot back, “I hope the referee has a better second half. I thought he was awful.”
Unfortunately, the RailHawks’ frustration with Atlanta's gamesmanship boiled over at the outset of the second stanza, culminating with a reckless challenge by Floyd Franks that drew a straight red card from Weiner. Franks will be suspended the RailHawks’ game at the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on June 1.
Once a man down, the RailHawks never got the opportunity to figure out a fast, aggressive Silverbacks midfield and a defense that earned its second consecutive clean sheet. The result was made inevitable in the 76th minute when Martyn Lancaster converted a leaping, point-blank header off a cross from Danny Barrera to account for the final margin.
The RailHawks lone bright spot was, per usual, the goalkeeping of Fitzgerald, who added to his league-leading saves total with a number of fingertip deflections and punchouts.
Carolina (3-2-1, 11 pts.) enters the midway point of the NASL Spring season tied with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, each with 11 points. However, the RailHawks remains atop the table based on goal differential.
The RailHawks has a quick turnaround as it returns to Cary to face the USL PDL’s Carolina Dynamo Tuesday in the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The winner will host the L.A. Galaxy, defending MLS champions, in the third round the following Wednesday, May 29.