In the end it was like nothing we’d ever seen from Uncle Tony’s All Whites. Not only did they aggressively look to dominate their Island opponents but they scored a bunch of goals in the process. Chris Wood grabbed a hat-trick. We conceded our first goal against Oceania opposition since Roy Krishna’s penalty in the opening game of the 2016 Nations Cup – that’s 817 minutes – but the trade-off was that NZ also put six away at the other end. Ask any fan if they’d rather a 6-1 win or a 2-0 win and it’s probably not hard to guess which is preferable.
Getting that first leg at home meant things were stacked in the kiwis’ favour, the standard of Solomon Islands defending confirmed that much with dudes slippin’ and a-slidin’ all over the North Shore of Auckland. That it was a slightly chilly night in Aotearoa was a lucky break but they scheduled it at night anyway – just like how the return leg will be played in the middle of the afternoon in Honiara on Tuesday. That’s called playing to your advantages. All that stuff that people say about how hard it is to play in the heat of the Islands, it’s the same for them coming over here. Not to mention how rough it must’ve been on the team bus trying to get out of North Harbour afterwards – that place is a shocker.
The last time the All Whites scored six goals in a game, funnily enough, was the last time they played the Solomons at North Harbour. Beat them 6-1 that day too with Fa’arodo scoring after HT and Wood and Barbarouses both getting on the scoresheet then as well. That was in September 2012, so almost exactly five years ago.
What was most impressive about this performance was that they never stopped pressing for more goals even after they’d earned a strong lead. They could’ve shut up shop, subbed off a couple key players and taken it easy but instead there was a ruthless desire for goals which we’ve needed to see from them for a while. They can grind those steady and reliable results against OFC teams all day but if that’s what you’re settling for then the next step up in competition is always gonna tear to shreds. We saw it at the Confederations Cup even with some better performances.
Luckily in Chris Wood we have a player who literally leads from the front with his thirstiness for goals. He’s the kind of guy who scores three then has nightmares about the fourth that he missed. Woody’s always gonna shank a few but you give him enough chances and he will absolutely make it happen eventually.
The dude had 11 shots on Friday night. Six of them were on target. Each of those stats are more than the entire rest of the team combined and that’s the way it’s gotta be. Woody’s a finisher. He gets in the right positions to score and the rest of the team has to find him there. Put that cross into the right area. Build possession up in the right half. Guys like Ryan Thomas and Mike McGlinchey, whoever’s playing wingbacks… those guys are essential to all that. A few times we saw Wood get frustrated as teammates got too complicated with things. Sometimes the early cross is the best option and blokes have gotta trust Wood to do the rest. Winston Reid or not Winston Reid, when the All Whites are on attack this is Chris Wood’s team.
Does that make us a one-man team? No, it doesn’t. Just like Leeds weren’t a one-man team last season either. Obviously it’d be a massive loss if Wood was unavailable but if this team gets used, as they appear to be doing, to shaping their game around his presence then that makes it easier for, say, Myer Bevan or someone to fill in instead of him. Might need a couple years since this was Bevan’s international debut but say Deklan Wynne whips in a cross to the same area where Woody’s usually calling for it, Bevan should be trusted to put that one away too.
Rightio, so the team was roughly as expected, considering the half dozen players unavailable or dropped. Marinovic made his twentieth consecutive start in goal, Storm Roux returned from the wilderness (though he’s been around the squad for a bit now) for his first appearance since March 2015. Been a long wait. Kosta Barbarouses started instead of Marco Rojas, Monty Patterson got a start as well. Those were probably expected. The only real surprise was Sam Brotherton getting named instead of Andy Durante.
Hudson has a tendency to do that though. Brotherton was a late call-up as an injury replacement then he ends up starting. Just like fellow injury replacement James Musa was first man off the bench. Oh and Moses Dyer was on the bench even though he wasn’t even named in the squad at all. They just put him on the list. Like, fair enough but can you please tell somebody first? Doesn’t have to be a big press release, just a tweet will suffice. NZ Football like to run their lines of communication like a PR firm but this team represents New Zealand and New Zealand should know when a player is called up to its national team… let alone the player’s family and friends. Common bloody courtesy, really.
As to how the only Solomons player who actually plays in Aotearoa, Micah Lea’alafa, managed to have his visa declined while the rest of the team travelled freely, that one is beyond logical sense.
It was a little sloppy to begin. Mike Boxall deservedly gave Themi a bollicking for leaving his position and giving the ball away early on but none of that led to any kind of threat on Marinovic’s goal. The Vancouver keeper had to make a couple nice saves later on but even with the penalty he still got a hand on it. He was as safe as he always is in these matches. Meanwhile a sneaky element of Brotherton’s game that hasn’t been glimpsed before was on show with these Smith/Reid-esque long balls from the back whipped nicely to players’ feet or into space. Always a handy tool in the belt, that one.
With the Solomons sitting deep, that meant Ryan Thomas could push on forward with Wee Mac holding fort. Thommo has the best technique in this team and his clever passing and movement was, as is increasingly the case whenever he plays, the underrated factor in the All Whites performance. Chris Wood was the obvious stand-out with his three goals and plenty of impressive stuff outside that too. Boxall was good at the back (just a shame he kept getting in good positions up front on set pieces and stumbling over). However it was through a couple unlikely candidates that the All Whites found their feet in this one.
Monty Patterson made his first team debut for Ipswich the other day. Storm Roux was finally back on the park for the national team after injuries and ineligibilities kept him out what ended up being nearly two and a half years. Thomas’ advanced position allowed The Python to drift out to the right and between himself and Roux they were able to work an overlap down that flank every time. Understandably both had a few issues with their decisions and deliveries in those positions but they combined really well over and over again. The width obviously stretches the defence too and Kosta and Woody know what to do with that.
The first goal came by a lucky deflection but Thomas’ deep shot was well worth a go with the space he was given and Wood’s ghosting positioning wasn’t all fluke – nor was a smartly guided shot past the keeper from the kind of area he dreams of getting the ball in unmarked. Patterson couldn’t repeat the performance after the break and was subbed off for James Musa, steadying that midfield. Roux ended the game in right-central defence as Tzimopoulos pushed up after McGlinchey was subbed. Those two deserve heaps of credit for getting this train rolling.
And once it got rolling it never stopped. Boxall misjudged a header at the far post, Thomas smashed a shot into the crossbar, Wood had a few headers where the timing was ever so slightly off. One which was hooked back off the line by Mango in goal. Thommo especially shoulda scored his one, those finishes are way trickier than they look but you’ve just gotta not try hit ‘em so hard. Gentler touch and that one was in.
Despite a couple good stops, Philip Mango was bringing an odd style of goalkeeping to this one. That lad treated his goal-line like the White Walkers treat The Wall… and unfortunately the Solomons didn’t have a dragon on hand to help him out there. By the time Chris Wood benefited from a horrible slip by Nelson Kilifa, Mango had already displayed his proclivities for rushing out and Woody did the respectable thing: he chipped him from outside the box for goal number two.
The thing with Kosta Barbarouses is that all the stuff he does off the ball – his energy, his high-pressing, the runs he makes into space, the positions he collects the ball in – is absolutely brilliant. Like, top class the whole way down. Problem is he then gets the ball and four of every five times he does something stupid. Someone tell him to stop cutting back inside all the time for one thing. But then on that fifth time he can unleash an opportunistic finish like for the third goal. Magnifico.
The two free kicks at the end were lovely and the first three goals weren’t bad either but the best one was arguably Thomas’ slick finish on the end of a slick bit of build-up. Just a couple minutes after Fa’arodo had pulled one back too – the penalty was soft as a pile of pillows but he left his arm up there and had a little scratch so no complaints. Silly from Wynne, who has held off the challenge of Tom Doyle so far but is yet to have that 10/10 performance that proper guarantees his place. With a lot of the play going down Roux’s right in the first half, it was a quiet one from Deklan.
Quick word on a couple other blokes who weren’t there: Bill Tuiloma and Dane Ingham. The Dane is in a strange place after getting dropped for a lack of fitness only for his club manager to deny that. Either way, Roux did fairly well in his place and Kip Colvey… well if fitness is the issue then he won the beep test for the San Jose Earthquakes in preseason. Hmm. Dane got schooled in two Confederations Cup games and with Huddo preferring a tag team wing-back pairing he might have fallen back to third on that list. He’s young though, no dramas.
Speaking of Hudson, don’t those glasses make him look like a 1970s accountant going through a difficult divorce? (Just a joke Tony, don't be mad - your lot did good out there).
As for Bill Tuiloma it must’ve been weird watching that game. James Musa was called up late to the squad but he plays the same position as Tui and in the same league. Both began their All Whites careers as defenders but have established themselves as midfielders for their club and into that second half it was James Musa who came on as holding mid – the same sub that Tui was used for in every Confeds Cup game. The Moose was even wearing his same number 6… eerie. It’s not quite a ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us’ situation yet but it’s hard to see them both starting, tell you that much.
Musa was really impressive too. Didn’t try anything too complicated but he moved the ball around to the place it needed to go while holding a firm position in the middle. In other words, he casually maintained the All Whites’ control of the match. Would like to see him start next game.
Here’s some stuff on Chris Wood after he completed his hatty. It’s been a bit of a wait to see him really cash in for NZ but here it was and those goal stats are gonna all be his soon enough. He might double Coveny’s record.
Chris Wood’s Professional/International Hat-Tricks:
- Birmingham 3-0 Millwall, English Championship, 11 September 2011
- New Zealand 4-3 Solomon Islands, OFC Nations Cup 3rd/4th Playoff, 2012
- Leicester City 4-0 Bristol City, English Championship, 12 January 2013
- Leicester City 5-2 Carlisle United, English League Cup, 27 August 2013
- New Zealand 6-1 Solomon Islands, OFC World Cup Qualifier, 1 September 2017
With Boxall and McGlinchey getting yellows, they might be rested now to avoid a suspension that’d cost them a game against the South American reps in the intercontinental playoff. Chris Wood says he’s good to go but if he were to be rested then there shouldn’t be too many complaints, same for a few other injury prone blokes with big club seasons ahead like Ryan Thomas, for example.
Keeping that in mind, Hudson could name a near-completely alternative eleven in Honiara. Not fully completely since the squad’s a bit smaller than usual but expect Colvey and Doyle to start at WB for sure. Marinovic will probably still keep goal but Musa’s the obvious replacement for Wee Mac at this stage. Here’s what that could mean:
Marinovic / Colvey, Tzimopoulos, Durante, Brotherton, Doyle / Musa, Rufer, Patterson / Barbarouses, Bevan
Would be perfectly fine with that team and can definitely see them getting at least a draw. Now, just for fun, here’s a potential XI built entirely of players not in this squad – which might even beat the team that played on Friday night:
Gleeson / Ingham, de Vries, Reid, Smith, Ridenton / Tuiloma, Lewis, Rojas / Boyd, Brockie
Depth on the bench coming from the likes of Tamati Williams, Shane Smeltz, Jai Ingham, Mike den Heijer, Andrew Blake, Cory Brown, Luke Adams, Logan Rogerson and a few others. Makes you think, at least.
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