The Phoenix (6-5-2) won their fifth straight outing but not without a great amount of angst despite dominating possession and the run of play for basically the entire 90 minutes. Cumberland outshot the Buffaloes, 28-4, in the match, including 17-1 in the second half, but a free kick in the final minute of the first period gave Milligan (5-6-2) a lead it would not relinquish until the final minutes.
Roberto Fernandez-Joseph drew a foul 45 yards from goal with just under a minute to play in the first half. Fernandez-Joeph flicked the free kick and CU goalkeeper Bennet Strutz made the save, but Andre Levarity was there for the rebound and the goal, the first goal of the year for the defender.
Bagayoko drilled the point where the left post and the crossbar meet from 10 yards just over a minute into the contest and Cumberland dominated possession for the entire first half, outshooting the Buffs, 11-3. Milligan’s first shot did not come until a header from Jack Royston in the 38th minute.
The Buffs packed the defenders behind the ball in the final 30 yards and Cumberland continually penetrated down the sides and even through the middle at times but was unable to connect short passes to players in position for shots on net.
Bagayoko smashed another chance from just inside the box in the 18th minute and headers from Tosin Abudiore and Williams off corner kicks sailed past the back post. The Buffs took a 1-0 lead at intermission with Levarity’s goal.
The second half was more of the same for the Phoenix, attacking left, right and middle but unable to make the short passes or more than one pass before a deflection or clearance by Milligan.
Cumberland finally caught the Buffs defense in the 71st minute, with Martin Walsh playing a long pass down the left to Williams, who dribbled past the Milligan goalkeeper, Luke Dove, near the corner of the box. Williams shot into an empty net with 19:20 remaining evened the match at one.
The Phoenix seemed to find their footing moving forward, with a nice combination ending with a point-blank shot from Tyler Watson that was saved by Dove in the 82nd minute. Just moments before, Fernandez Garrido drew his second yellow card of the match, this one for delay of game (kicking the ball some 40 yards after a foul), giving CU a man advantage for the last nine minutes.
Bakayoko finally ended the suspense with a beautiful move down the left side in the 87th minute, dragging the ball and beating three defenders before firing past Dove low and at the near post for his sixth goal of the year. Cumberland played keep-away the final three minutes to preserve the win in the first of three matches this week for the club.
The Phoenix will play host to the University of Pikeville on Friday at 1 p.m. and Shawnee State on Sunday at 2 p.m. in the final home Mid-South Conference matches of the season.