CARY — It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Railhawks pulled out a 3-1 win Saturday night over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to stand alone atop the NASL standings for the first time this season.
Two penalty kicks in the first half and an early goal in the second would be enough to earn the Railhawks (2-1-1) their first win against the Strikers (0-1-2) and lead the league lead with the Tampa Bay Rowdies losing their first game of the season.
“I’m delighted with a 3-1 win over what I feel is a pretty good team,” coach Colin Clarke said. “We gave up a sloppy goal and showed character to keep going and keep believing and get back into it ... I’m delighted to have seven points as we go into a week off.”
An early goal by Jemal Johnson put the Strikers on top. The midfielder wove his way through the Railhawks’ defense in the 11th minute for his first goal of the season, giving Fort Lauderdale its first lead in 2013.
That lead would not hold up long, as Floyd Franks drilled a penalty kick that found the back of the net to tie the game in the 27th minute – the captain’s first goal of the season.
Brian Shriver followed up Franks’ goal with a nearly identical penalty kick following a handball to give Carolina a 2-1 lead heading into the half. The two goals on penalty kicks were accompanied by four saves by Railhawks keeper Akira Fitzgerald.
Shriver didn’t wait long to get back on the board, scoring his second goal of the game and third of the season in the 58th minute. The goal came on a rebound off his own shot. The forward had a chance late to earn a hat trick, but the shot deflected just high of the crossbar into the stands.
“I hit it well, and (Strikers goalie) Matt (Glaeser) made a great save,” Shriver said of his second goal. “Honestly, the defender kicked the ball right back to me and I had a wide-open net and I just directed it back in the goal.”
Fitzgerald continued his stellar season with six saves, but insisted he could have done more for his club.
“It felt good, but obviously I wanted the clean sheet,” the keeper. “It was a good goal by them, but I think the biggest thing was our reaction. No one got down and knew we would get our chances ... it’s a good step moving forward.”
Carolina now heads into an off week with seven points, two wins and five goals in the past two games.
“It’s only three games in and anyone can still be the champion,” Clarke said. “But I think there’s better (play) to come. We probably wish we didn’t have a break next week. We’d love to keep on playing.”
Smith: 919-829-4841; @RCorySmith