By this stage of the season the hierarchy has been pretty well set. We know which teams are expected to finish in the top three, we know which teams are battling for that fourth spot, we know which teams are playing for pride and experience and we know which team is the Wellington Phoenix reserves. The WeeNix are without a point and languishing in last. That probably isn’t going to change. But Tasman United, despite some enjoyable moments, have emerged as the worst of the rest.
That’ll be why they set up so defensively against Eastern Suburbs then in the telly game. Which isn’t a criticism, by the way. They put two firm lines of four in the midfield and defence because it gave them their best chance of getting a result. That also required a very disciplined performance, particularly with the ball, but their defensive record (having leaked multiple goals in every previous game) sort of necessitated that in order to avoid a hiding at Riverhills Park.
For the second game in a row Nick Stanton was named to start at goalkeeper, with Keegan Smith on the bench. Two very young keepers scrapping it out there – remember that Corey Wilson started the season in goal but hasn’t played since that horrible head clash with David Browne (of ACFC, who is also still out). Stanton was also the first young kiwi player in what emerged as a pattern as you looked down the Tasman line-up. They had imports Ryan Worrall, Ahmed Othman and Kiernan Hughes-Mason in midfield (CM, LM & RM respectively) as well as Jordan Yong at left back but the rest of them were basically all young local dudes. Fox Slotemaker and Sam Ayers at centre-back. Corey Larsen on the right of defence. Bertie Fish in midfield. Ben Kiore up front with Matt Tod-Smith behind him. Kiore, Tod-Smith and Stanton are all just 20 years old.
Up against them was an Eastern Suburbs side which had Dom Woolridge back in the side at the expense of Mohamed Awad, while Michael Built started at right back – their fourth different RB to start a game this season. Front three of Just, McCowatt and De Jong as is becoming the norm. With a win here Suburbs could go ahead of Team Welly and this team certainly had the ability to put four or five past Tassie if it went their way.
But… it didn’t. Tasman defended magnificently, filtering Suburbs out wide and, despite working some nice combinations there, the home side couldn’t muster a decent cross into the box. You got the feeling that they were a little too careful in that attacking third. It needed to be rapid and dynamic to break down the Tassie defence of Slotemaker and Ayers but that’s not what they got. It was similar to what Suburbs did last week against Waitakere only to get more ruthless in the second half and take it 2-0. Again… that didn’t happen. Well, the ruthless bit did. We started seeing more shots, more intensity on attack… but they couldn’t find the goals to show for it. Michael Built missed a great chance in the first half. Just, De Jong and McCowatt all had nice moments, particularly McCowatt who looked most likely to break through (especially with some of those deft touches linking with ADJ around the box). Owen Parker-Price hit the post with a lob. For the rest of it, if the defence didn’t sort it out with block after block then Nick Stanton got it done in goal.
Mate, we’ve seen Keegan Smith in goal plenty and he’s a great prospect. By the looks of Nick Stanton here he might be an even better one. Dude saved bloody near everything, denying De Jong several times and the one-hander he pulled off to deny Eli Just in the second half was insane. In fairness to Suburbs they did more than enough to win this game, they just didn’t have the luck. Tim Payne was chucked forward near the end as a target man but Tasman held on for their first clean sheet of the season and their first point against anyone other than Wellington Phoenix. An outstanding defensive display from them. Slotemaker, Ayers and Stanton have already gotten their credit. Jordan Yong, who has won his way back into the starting team lately following a broken hand a few weeks back, was superb at fullback, even clearing an early chance off the line. Kiernan Hughes-Mason, as usual, was their most dangerous attacking weapon and he provided a few scares on the break.
Just the four games this week with Team Wellington off to the Club World Cup. Playing against Al-Ain, who are also competing in this tournament for the first time. Winner plays Espérance de Tunis of Tunisia in the quarters with River Plate of Argentina awaiting in the semis. Should be fun. That one’s on at 4.30am on Thursday so don’t miss it. Although if you do miss it then you can read about it later on within these very pages.
Without Team Wellington playing, Auckland City also couldn’t play since this is where they cut and pasted the Charity Cup fixture that kicked off the season from. The two top teams missing in Premiership action and Eastern Suburbs unable to make it count, stink for them. Also, if you’re missing ACFC then at least you’ve got their highlights from the win over Canterbury United a couple weeks back which are now available.
Say, look who’s only two points off fourth place all of a sudden? Hawke’s Bay United, buddy. After starting winless in five they’ve chased that with three straight wins. Not overly surprising that they beat Waitakere and Tasman, to be honest, but getting past Southern this week was a massive deal. This was the statement win they needed to prove they’re the real deal despite those first impressions and they did it in a bit of a wild contest.
Southern struck first in Napier. Ben Wade, holding his place in the team as Markus Fjørtoft instead replaced captain Conor O’Keeffe in the line-up playing deeper (O’Keeffe was on the bench, having left the field injured last week, and was subbed on fairly early). The only change to the side that beat the WeeNix last week. Southern have been playing really well lately, though clean sheets have been hard to come by. Since their first few games, which were both extremely tight (one a 1-0 win, one a 1-0 loss… might as well chuck in the 0-0 abandoned half against ACFC too), there have been goals for both sides in all them. So after Garbhan Coughlan set up Ben Wade to score from a tricky angle, catching Mack Waite away from his near post, it was unlikely that we were going to be done at that.
Sure enough the home side levelled things up through Sho Goto. A tad too much space in the box and bang, 1-1. It was a goal that had been coming for a while as HBU dominated the early stages after falling behind. Goto himself had missed a wonderful chance to tap-in from close range and Sam Mason-Smith also couldn’t convert on the opportunity. Liam Little had made a couple top saves to deny Jorge Akers and Dan Allen. But soon enough Mason-Smith made the most of a cross from French playmaker Maxime Olivieri and SMS had his fourth goal in three games. Doing what he’s there to do, after all.
Hawke’s Bay were without Joe Zupo and Cory Chettleburgh in this one. With their stacks of midfielders they got away with the latter comfortably enough but Zupo’s towering presence at the back mighta been handy a few times. Like for example when Cam Lindsay decided to dribble the ball out of defence, got picked off, and Garbhan Coughlan levelled up on the brink of half-time. Poor lad probably got a bollicking from Brett Angell. Wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemies (not that I have any enemies – peace and love to all).
Speaking of… here’s a thing that should come as no surprise…
Zupo’s gone back to Canada for family reasons, so his campaign is over, which is a shame. Best wishes to him and his. Hawke’s Bay will also be without Dan Allan next week, who has been arguably their player of the season in midfield, after he picked up a yellow card suspension which is what led to Angell verbally launching into the ref – he thought Coughlan mighta milked it somewhat. Chuck in last week’s injury to Paul Ifill and there’s reason to feel hard done by in Napier.
But then you get Max Olivieri curling in the winner from a free kick in the middle of a scrappy but entertaining second half and things are much rosier. Despite all the goals in the first half and despite the openness of the second, that was the only goal of the last 45 mins – and if you ask the travelling Southern contingent then they’ll tell you it was a dodgy call to award the free kick in the first place given they’d already had the advantage. But without being too rough on anyone, that’s a bit of a salty reaction. Danny Ledwith hitting the crossbar twice was as much the difference in the game. 3-2 to Hawke’s Bay and if they can topple Eastern Suburbs next week in the last game before the holiday break then they’re really onto it.
Hamilton Wanderers hosted Wellington Phoenix at Porritt Stadium looking to do what every other team has done and take three points off the WeeNix, three points that they really needed after the demoralising way they dominated Auckland City only to lose 1-0 a week ago. But the WeeNix had some plans up their sleeve. Mitch Nichols joined the growing list of A-League players to take the park this season after being left out of the senior side, while the suspended Ryan Lowry also started. Only two changes from last week… but those changes included the disappearance of Callan Elliot. Assuming he was hanging out in Sydney with the top team or something. No Reuben Way either despite him also not featuring for the top side. Another start for Steve Sprowson in there. Same for Kurtis Mogg. One thing you can’t say about the WeeNix is that they don’t have bucket loads of young talent.
It was one of the senior lads that got their goal though. Tommy Semmy had already given the Tron Wands the lead with a tap in following some nice work from Derek Tieku mixed with some poor defence (the defence changes literally every week, it’s hard to get much done like that). But Mitch Nichols ensured that we were equal at the break at 1-1 with a goal on the counter attack. With the WeeNix already having hit the post, this was one of their happy halves.
Then they had one of the not so happy ones. Injuries to Tino Contratti and Joe Nottage have taken away half of their preferred defence (no Jordan Shaw either, missing his second game since his red card against Cantab – though Paul Clout’s done well in his absence). That’s a tough one to deal with but it’s also kinda offset by the return of Derek Tieku from suspension, reuniting one of the best front trios in the league: Semmy, Tieku and Martin Bueno. Got Stafford Dowling pushing forward from midfield too and that bloke’s doing excellent things. Only 19 years old too, yet another young kiwi making waves in the National League.
Tommy Semmy and Martin Bueno each scored in the second half. Call it. 3-1 to Hamilton Wanderers and they hold on to fourth place for another week. In truth they were always the dominant side but they did get made to work for it, the WeeNix simply can’t keep clean sheets. Yet another game in which they’ve conceded multiple times. 25 goals leaked in eight games and I could make the same point every week (and it’d be one more point than the WeeNix have… sorry, that was harsh).
Hey, check it out. A few heroes attending the game as VIPs.
Finally it’s a trip down to Christchurch where Canterbury United beat Waitakere 2-1 at English Park. A result that the Dragons desperately needed after three games without a win. Waitakere now make it three losses in a row… but that doesn’t give the right impression of a bloody close game which could have gone either way.
The usual suspects at the back for Cantab, while George King was recalled in the forward line and Seth Clark got his third start of the campaign - the 18 year old midfielder beginning to really crack it this season. He’s been a common presence off the bench in most games that he hasn’t started. Love it. Maksym Kowal missed his first game of the season though. Scored his first of the campaign last week but also got sent off late.
Meanwhile Waitakere made a couple curious ones amongst their starters. Sanni Issa played ahead of Alex Connor-McClean again, the two of them having alternated the last four weeks now, and Andrew Abba got the nod ahead of Matty Conroy. Lachlan McIsaac was in there with no Ben Gordon, moving David Parkinson to CB, plus Eder Franchini-Pasten’s absence was covered by 21 year old Chilean Ignacio Machuca Maturana who played for Hamilton last season and whose name was spelled wrong in the NZ Football preview… typical.
Sanni Issa gave Waitak the lead in the 23rd minute when he showed good composure to finish after Connor Tracey had saved Ollie Bassett’s initial attempt following a mesmerizing dribble through the defence. After some back and forth footy it was 1-1 going into HT when Gary Ogilvie and Stephen Hoyle linked up on the break, Hoyle playing in Ogilvie who slipped it past Nick Draper and into the net. Draper would be replaced at the half by Danyon Drake, not good news for Waitakere, neither was the keeper at the other end with Connor Tracey making save after save to keep the home side in it.
That was until Tracey chopped down Sanni Issa in the 63rd minute. Issa blew past Mitchell and Schwarz in defence and well and truly earned that spottie. So he stepped up to take it himself… and missed. Not a terrible penalty at all, aimed low to his right, but Tracey guessed the right way and got down to save it. Excellent save. Excellent performance all around for CT. Issa missed another great chance later on, which was a bit rough on his overall efforts – one where he played quite well, always looking dangerous, but a couple moments clouded the overall impact.
Then Canterbury Utd subbed on Juan Chang and he scored straight away for what proved to be the winner. Adam Thurston with the assist. Willie Gersen will have rated a slice of that cake, one of these games which could go in any of the three possible directions but happy days for the Dragons in the end. They’ve been on the wrong end of a couple of those but the omniscient pulsating energy of the universe usually balances it all out in the end (and if it isn’t balanced then it isn’t the end).
Happy days for all Canterbury football as the Pride have gotten back into National Women’s League final too, playing Northern Lights next week in Auckland for the title – at Trusts Arena directly before Waitakere play Hamilton Wanderers in the televised Premmy game. How convenient. Still, a cracker of a day of footy that should be. Both games are on Sky telly. Both games will be covered on TNC.
Smash an ad if you rate the domestic footy reads every week
And, quick plea, get involved financially on our Patreon to support TNC’s independent endeavours
We’re just out here trying to produce top quality stuff for ya, so if you appreciate it then feel free to help pay for it… even if it’s only a couple bucks
Keep cool but care