BERKELEY HEIGHTS - Ben Peng and his New Providence teammates were a bit frustrated after misfiring on some promising offensive first-half opportunities against neighboring rival Gov. Livingston on Thursday.
“We had a lot of chances and out-shot them in the first half, but we just couldn’t put it in the net,” said Peng. “We’ve had an issue with that all season, so it was nice to get another chance and bury it in the second half.”
The elusive senior midfielder did more than that, finishing off two nifty opportunities in the second as he scored twice, and Miguel Garcia stopped eight shots to send New Providence to a 2-0 victory over Gov. Livingston.
The decision allowed New Providence to climb above the .500 mark and improve to 2-1 and avenged a 1-0 loss to Gov. Livingston in 2017. The Highlanders fell to 2-3.
Through 60 minutes of soccer the game was scoreless until senior James Miller picked up a loose ball at midfield and took off with Peng following to his left. Miller sent a pass to Peng cutting to the middle and Peng finished it off with a 10-yard shot that barely eluded Gov. Livingston goalie Andre Perez Santalla just inside the left post for a 1-0 lead.
“I kept waiting for the ball to drop and eventually I found the left corner,” said Peng, who displayed some fancy footwork throughout the match. “The rivalry is huge for us and it’s great to get a win. There wasn’t any need to an extra motivation today and it proved to be enough.”
The initial goal came just a couple of minutes after Gov. Livingston nearly struck at the other end.
Ethan Proper boomed a corner kick inside the box, where Rafe Barnum’s perfectly-timed header redirected the attempt for what looked like a goal, but Garcia stepped up to grab the attempt.
Still, the one-goal deficit did not faze Gov. Livingston.
“We were better in the second half and when we were down 1-0 we were definitely looking to come back,” said Highlanders’ senior Jacob Schkolnich, who played an assertive defensive game. “We had some chances of our own and Andre (Perez Santella) played a great game for us. We just didn’t get him a goal.
“But we play them again in a couple of weeks, so we will get another chance.”
The Pioneers extended their lead to 2-0 when Peng rocketed a shot from the left side into the far corner with 20 minutes remaining. The tally came shortly after another stellar save by Perez Santella, who made a diving stop off an attempt off the foot of Brian Kelly.
“We had some good runs, but they did, too,” said Gov. Livingston assistant Kevin Fontana. “We got going later in the first half and we created some good opportunities, but just couldn’t get that first goal. We made their goalie make some tough saves, but we just couldn’t put that one chance into the cage.”
The triumph for the Pioneers was their fifth in the last six meetings between the rival clubs. In last season’s 1-0 decision, Perez Santalla made 12 saves to post the shutout.
“We’ve had trouble scoring some goals,” said New Providence first-year coach Craig Barclay, who also credited the defensive play of senior midfielder Devin Mulligan. “So, it was really good to see Ben (Peng) get those two goals. His composure and left foot really showed in the game and defensively we played well in front of Miguel (Garcia).
“This was a big game for us, and to get the win is definitely a pretty big shot of confidence for us.”