Top of the table Song Lam Nghe An, from the city of Vinh, traveled to Hanoi for the Sunday afternoon game. SLNA boast an impressive start to the campaign with 3 wins from the first three games and would surely provide the hardest test yet for Hanoi.
Whilst walking to the ground, I had decided we should sit opposite the main stand in amongst the ‘Hanoi Fans group’ to really make the most of the atmosphere of this top of the table clash; a win by any score would send T&T to the top on goal difference for the first time this season. Fifteen minutes in to the walk and something happened, something that changed the season for me, something that brought me a step closer to Hanoi T&T becoming my team. As we crossed Nguyen Thai Hoc on to Trinh Hoai Duc and had the familiar glance through the access gates across the pitch, there they were; fans and a lot of them! I was stunned to say the least, the two blocks that sit directly on the half way line, below the portrait of Ho Chi Minh, were packed some 50 minutes before the kick off with the T-shirts and flags creating a sea of yellow.
This was a sight I’d not seen before in the Hang Day stadium. Unfortunately the sea was not created by those Hanoians I was wishing to be amongst; this was the yellow of SLNA! They had fans, everywhere! The streets were incredibly busy, everywhere we looked there were more and more Vinh fans horridly making their way around the stadium to the ‘away’ entrance. Being outside T&T’s home stadium, waiting for a friend to arrive before entering, brought me closer to the team. We were loitering around the entrance to the singing section, tickets purchased, watching more and more opposing fans turn up finally brought out the a buzz I’ve not felt since I last watched Stevenage beat Newcastle in the FA Cup, back in January 2011. We were spotted by a few of the loyal fans who we had sat with in Ninh Binh and received a couple of nods in acknowledgment and a thumbs up; goose bumps appeared on my arms……I felt part of something.
Outnumbered. At home. Against a team top of the league…. who happen to have thousands of fans.
I became a T&T fan.
Once inside the grounds with 10 minutes to go most of the seats were taken, no room in the singing section; we went up stairs, again no room. The Hanoians had also come out for the game. We ended up one block down from the noisy T&T fans. Looking over at the stand opposite was a sight I thought I’d not see; the stand was packed and the fans from both sides were creating a great atmosphere.
The game got underway at a good tempo and I was instantly engrossed as T&T pressed early on with some difficult crosses directed at the away goal. From early on, it was clear that T&T’s main tactic would be to utilise the height and strength of Gonzalo and Samson against what appeared to be quite a small SLNA defence. After some nice early pressure, SLNA were getting hold of the ball, passing more effectively and on 8 minutes took the lead when Nguyen Trong Hoang finished a decent move. Disaster. It seemed like the majority of the stadium rose as one to cheer the goal; the block of seating next to and around us mostly rose too; the away fans were everywhere and now in full voice celebrating their early lead.
T&T remained composed though and dominated possession, consistently looking for Ngoc Duy or Thanh Luong to deliver the cross that would find the equiliser. Half chances came and came with a couple of acrobatic attempts from Samson missing the target. More crosses, more chances but each time off target. It was clear that SLNA were a good passing team when they got the ball and, with ten minutes to go until the break, missed a great chance after some nice football.
Half time, 0-1. Surely with continued pressure and crosses, one of the chances would go in. The second half got underway very much like where the first left off; T&T possession with crosses and then the real threat of an attack when the SLNA front men got possession. Some big tackles were flying in and tempers started to fray a little. Finally after more half chances, the equaliser came and not in an acrobatic fashion, quite the opposite. The ball came in from the left and Gonzalo Marronkle used great movement to lose his marker and somehow scramble the ball over the line. 1-1. Cue wild celebrations on the pitch and for the T&T fans. The stunned silence of the visiting fans was quite amazing.
T&T continued to apply pressure as the game became very stretched. The SLNA midfield were nonexistent as Sy Cuong and Thanh Luong continued to distribute the ball to the wingers, who then would in turn seek out the impressive front pairing of Gonzalo and Samson. A few more chances came and, on another day, may have gone in. SLNA decided to bypass where there midfield should have been, sending long balls and hopeful clearances up towards Plaza and Bryan but the central defensive pairing of Cristiano and Van Bien were dealing with the pressure well.
With ten minutes remaining, T&T pressed again and the ball was played towards the area. Gonzalo Marronkle was forced out wide and somehow smashed the ball from a very tight angle beyond Nguyen Manh and in to the roof of the net in the far corner. 2-1. What an incredible finish from Gonzalo Marronkle. Delirium and silence; one of the wonders of a football stadium. Hanoi had turned it around and were playing well. Each time SLNA attacked though there was always a threat, the front players have real quality and with some midfield behind them it could have been a very different game.
A hopeful long ball forward nearly turned in to a wonderful pass, as half the T&T defence played for offside while forgetting to tell the other half, SLNA raced clear and only some desperate defending and poor finishing maintained T&T’s lead. T&T were three minutes away from going top of the Vleague when SLNA again raced clear and some neat work by Bryan managed to knock the ball to Hector who hit home the equaliser and sent the travelling fans wild. 2-2.
The last few minutes were intense, with no real clear cut chances but certainly end to end stuff. As the whistle went the whole stadium rose to applaud a great contest with T&T showing great resilience to take the lead from one down and SLNA continuing until the end for an equaliser.
Maybe on the face of it a draw was a fair result but I instantly felt injustice as earlier in the half Bryan had followed through on T&T centre back Cristiano and caught him in the face with what looked like his arm and then just moments later, after an off the ball confrontation, knocked the T&T captain to the ground. Granted the referee couldn’t see this but the linesman was pretty close and the impressive SLNA player should have received a red card. Maybe I’m just being bitter though.
Next up is Thanh Hoa away on Saturday afternoon. 155km bus ride south of Hanoi, should be fun.
Ha Noi T&T 2 v 2 SLNA
8’ Trong Hoang