CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Charleston Battery used a first-half goal from forward Dane Kelly to defeat Wilmington Hammerheads FC 1-0 on Saturday night at Blackbaud Stadium.
With the win, Charleston gained two points on Eastern Conference leaders Rochester and stay in second place with 34 points on the year. This was Charleston’s third consecutive shutout in the league and extended its streak to 20 home USL games without a loss.
“We had to defend for 90 minutes and the guys did it,” said Battery head coach Mike Anhaeuser after the match, “To be honest, with the two games on the weekend, we are going to take it and walk away.”
Charleston took the first 15 minutes to find their feet and loosen their legs after playing English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion on Friday night. Both USL teams were sluggish out of the gate Saturday and no serious chances could be had before Kelly scored in the 18th minute.
After midfielder Justin Portillo collected the ball at the top of the Wilmington box, the central midfielder slid a pass over to Kelly about five yards outside of the box on the left side. With his path to goal seemingly blocked, Kelly curled one over and around the Wilmington defense and into the top right corner to give the Battery the advantage.
“Once I’m alone near the box I am going to try to shoot,” Kelly said about his opportunity in the first half. “Whether it is on or it is not, that is what I am going to try to do.”
The goal was Kelly’s ninth of the season, and Portillo notched his first assist of the year with his pass.
Wilmington has struggled to score all year and those struggles continued on Saturday night. After giving up the goal to Kelly, Wilmington really started to press forward. But Cooper was not letting anything by him.
Wilmington forward Qudus Lawal provided the best chances for the Hammerheads early in the first half. In the 17th minute, Lawal found himself behind the Battery defense, but his shot was weakly struck and Cooper easily scooped up the save.
Lawal broke through again in the 25th minute but a sliding stop from Cooper saved what could have easily been the tying goal. Unfortunately for Lawal, he wouldn’t be on the field much longer, as he hobbled of the pitch in the 34th minute with an apparent leg injury.
Cooper continued his fine play for the rest of the half with a sprawling save on a Wilmington shot from about 15 yards away.
Wilmington continued to push forward when the second half opened and found themselves in a dangerous position in the 47th minute. After a foul was committed by Charleston, Wilmington sent a free kick into the box and midfielder Paul Nicholson got his head onto the ball. Yet again, Cooper was a stone wall and poked the ball wide to force a corner.
Charleston would hold strong the rest of the way but Kelly was still hunting for another goal. After a defensive miscue by the Hammerheads, the Battery forward found himself all alone with just the keeper to beat. But this time Wilmington goalkeeper Andre Rawls was able turn him away to prevent the Battery from increasing their lead.
Cooper’s final act of the night came in the 80th minute. Wilmington forward Brian Ackley ended up wide open about eight yards from goal, but his shot was caught by Cooper for his fifth save of the night and his 32nd of the season.