Is there some phrase, expression or idiom for a sports team that's simply playing to attain the result of whatever the score is at the moment? In my language, it's "dry the game up"

Let's say that Atletico are leading in a match and they start playing defensively to keep the beneficial-to-them score. So, they don't really try to attack or shoot; they simply keep the ball and try to defend their goal.

How would that be described? Atletico are...

  • 2
    I can't find references but there are a lot of phrases you'll see in match reports: "sit on the ball", "close the game down", "put ten (or eleven) men behind the ball". Most of these are pretty obvious in origin and meaning.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 17 at 10:37
  • 1
    A Portuguese coach speaking English introduced "parking the bus"
    – Henry
    Feb 17 at 21:06
  • The most natural phrase may be sport-specific. For instance, in first-class cricket this is called ‘playing for a draw’. Feb 17 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


There is the expression running out the clock, which has quite a few synonyms. According to Wikipedia,

In sports, running out the clock (also known as running down the clock, stonewalling, killing the clock, chewing the clock, stalling, time-wasting (or timewasting) or eating clock) is the practice of a winning team allowing the clock to expire through a series of preselected plays, either to preserve a lead or hasten the end of a one-sided contest.

Such measures expend time but do not otherwise have a tactical purpose. This is usually done by a team that is winning by a slim margin (or, occasionally, tied) near the end of a game, in order to reduce the time available for the opposing team to score. Generally, it is the opposite strategy of running up the score.

Grammarist says

The expression run out the clock is derived from American sports that depend on timed periods or quarters, such as basketball or football. In sports, a team may run out the clock by making safe, meaningless plays so the players may maintain their lead. The expression came into use in the mid-twentieth century.

Dictionaries give definitions as

  • to maintain control of the ball in the closing minutes of a game (Collins)
  • In sports, to protect a lead by using up as much possible time that remains in a game or match without giving the opposing team a chance to score, generally by maintaining a passive or defensive strategy. (FreeDict)
  • to keep control of the ball or puck near the end of a game so that the opponent will not have a chance to score. (M-W)

Another one is close out the game. Some examples from the Internet:

How to Close Out a Game When Leading

I find myself getting fed a lot but I can't seem to snowball my lead hard enough/close out the game.

Sharks couldn’t close out the game, surrendering game-winner in overtime.

Mike Conley INCREDIBLE defense on McCollum to close out the game!

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