CLAYTON — Throughout his career, Nick Christiansen has heard from Clayton head coach William Williams how strong his right leg is.
Wednesday night, Christiansen put the strength of that leg to good use, scoring a pair of unassisted goals to lift the Comets to a 3-1 victory over D. H. Conley in the first round of the 4A boys’ soccer playoffs.
The victory was the first for the Comets, the No. 2 representative of the Greater Neuse River Conference, in a home playoff game since 2007. It also improved Clayton’s record to 18-3-2 and advanced the Comets into a second-round meeting at home against Millbrook.
Christiansen, a senior, needed just over two minutes to notch his first goal of the night, a direct kick from just beyond the top of the 18-yard box.
That kick was earned when Ray Lines was taken down 1:48 into the match.
Christiansen lined up his shot, and fired a low liner past a sprawling Vikings goalkeeper Trevor Reed for a 1-0 Comet lead which they would never relinquish.
“We’ve been practicing a lot on set pieces with free kicks,” Christiansen said. “It was kind of surprising to score so quick, but it was a hard, low shot.”
His second goal came 10 minutes into the second half, a low, 40-yard blast that Reed tried to stop, only to have the ball go right through his hands and into the middle of the goal.
“I’ve been working with him (Christiansen) since he was a freshman,” Williams said. “He’s got the strongest leg I’ve ever seen, and I told him if he were to kick that ball low, there’s nobody who can do anything with it.”
But between those goals, the Comets were frustrated by the inability to put additional shots away, despite dominating the Vikings (11-5-2) the first half.
Clayton, led by the consistent attacks of Christiansen, Lines, Brandon Sainz, Alex Owens and Michael Bynum in building a 14-1 edge in shots on goal and 3-0 in corner kick opportunities, found themselves thwarted by Reed, who registered eight first-half saves and 13 overall.
More so, scoring chances went by the board due to mis-timed crosses and execution on set pieces.
“We hit balls all over the front of the net,” Williams said. “But we weren’t doing what we needed to be doing – we should have kept the ball low. All three of our goals came from being two-to-three feet off of the ground.”
Williams said the strategy of keeping the ball low was because of Reed’s size, which enabled him to take everything out of the air.
“I also think we had some nerves,” Williams said. “I think we may have had a case of the jitters tonight - a first-round playoff game, and the fact we have not played (in a week).
“We started out strong and we got stronger as the game went along. We did everything except put the ball In the net.”
Christiansen echoed the sentiment.
We had a lot of runs at goal,” Christiansen said. “But we could not get any to go in the back of the net. We kept taking shots and luckily got one to go in.”
Despite being out-shot for the entire contest by a 27-5 margin, the Vikings kept pressing and were rewarded when the Comets let their guard down midway through the second half.
Following a free kick, the Vikings moved the ball up the left side of the field, slipped behind the Comets defense and scored when Dan Jacobo connected on a through ball from Nate Evans.
But the Comets roared right back, scoring when Owens connected on the rebound of a shot by Sainz that Reed could not control with 10minutes to play.
“The boys (Comets) stayed together,” Williams said. “I like the way we work, and when they (Vikings) got that goal, we had as much energy as they did when they scored. We matched their intensity and that’s how we got the third goal.”