It’s games like Waitakere United versus Hamilton Wanderers that make the Premiership such a spectacle. Amazing goals and captivating drama… don’t even worry about anything else. It’s silly when people moan about the standard of the competition when, first of all there are some outstanding players at work in this comp and it’s improving every year… but second of all who even cares when we can witness games like this stunner?
Waitakere started with an absolute bang. Just four minutes in they won a free kick and Ollie Bassett curled that sucker in for 1-0. Boosted by the early goal, the Waitaks went on and caused all sorts of havoc. Sanni Issa hit the post after dummying his way into space (that dude has one of the best shot-fakes, as they call it in the NBA, in the country no doubt about it) and with he and Bassett running at what was still a patchy Hamilton defence that meant trouble. Hamilton did get a foothold with some typically impressive work from Tommy Semmy and it took a top save from Danyon Drake to tip one header over but then a debatable free kick (they were both debatable calls, actually – in the wet weather it was clearly a game where the whistle was going to blow very often) was awarded and this time it was Jake Butler’s turn to curl it into the top corner.
You think that was good? A couple minutes later it was three. Only 24 on the clock when Matt Oliver found himself with the ball at his feet and Sanni Issa pushing onto to him and for a second it looked like he might drop the shoulder and throw a cruyff turn into the mix but he didn’t back himself and tapped it out gently for a corner. Safety first as the maxim goes. As it turned out, he might as well have taken the gamble because Ben Gordon got on the end of that corner and made it three off the noggin.
On a luckier day Gordy might even have had a hat-trick. The tall centre-back also drew a sharp save out of Oliver as well as cracking another one off the post. All the goals came from set pieces conceded in weird ways but Waitakere were the team doing all the slicing and dicing. Hamilton were direct as you’d expect. They were also kinda sloppy.
Which gave us the unusual situation of both teams making half-time subs. Chris Milicich was forced into his with Bill Robertson playing most of the first half carrying what looked like an elbow injury and he was swapped for Conroy at HT, with Maturena sliding into the back four and David Parkinson moving to CB. Then Ricki Herbert made a couple swaps. Joe Terry was replaced by Steffano Riley with Stafford Dowling slipping into a very attacking right back role and then Rhys Ruka was replaced by Joe Nottage. Nottage who last played against Canterbury United where he left the field with a concussion. Funny thing is that Hamilton Wanderers were 3-0 down in that game and came back to draw. They were 3-0 down here too and, well…
You’ve probably heard what happened next. Martin Bueno whacked in another ripper of a free kick to give the Tron Wands a lifeline but with twenty minutes left they were still down 3-1. So Bueno skipped on down the right after Stafford Dowling had beaten a couple defenders then come out of the fifty-fifty with the ball against Parkinson and slipped him in. Bueno struck sweetly across Danyon Drake in goal and it went in off the far post. Just minutes later he almost tied us up with a cracking volley from a similar area but it went just wide. No worries, within a couple more minutes we really were all tied up. Dowling with a super cross, Bueno with a super header. All that remained was for old mate Tommy Semmy to take the ball down perfectly, beat a defender, and whack in the winner in the final ten minutes of the game.
Unbelievable contest, this one. What’s most incredible is that this is the second time in a month that the Tron Wands have come back from three goals down. Obviously it’d be nice to not concede those goals in the first place but it shows they’re a resilient lot. Absolutely no comparison between this season and last other than Tommy Semmy’s continued brilliance. Semmy who now has six goals this season and his mate Marty Bueno who has leapfrogged him with seven. Each in range of Hamish Watson who has eight and was off this week with Team Welly’s Club World Cup jaunt.
As for Waitakere, that’s now four losses in a row. Obviously not the full picture as they could easily have taken six points from their last two game, but the defence continues to be a real problem. 12 goals conceded in those four losses. The obvious one to say is that they were 3-0 up with Bill Robertson on the park and 0-4 down without him, though they’d been conceding goals with him too so not sure if that flies. But, sure, on this occasion they were a mess at the back without his veteran leadership. Hamilton can say the same in the inverse about Joe Nottage though, getting their best defender back out there really helped change things.
With Team Wellington having a bye for the Club World Cup that meant the Wellington Phoenix also didn’t play. No worries, we can make that one up later. And if you wanna read about Team Welly’s game against Al Ain then, mate, pop a click on this joker and you’re away laughing…
Auckland City will rate the absence of their closest rivals this week, given it allowed them the chance to expand their lead at the top of the ladder. Playing their third away game in a row, City welcomed back David Browne after seven weeks on the sideline recovering from that nasty head clash with Corey Wilson of Tasman. And, poetically, he made that comeback against Tasman. Down in Nelson, where Brian Kaltack also got another start (in defence with Mario Bilen coming off the bench) and Yousif Ali Al-Kalisy back in there too (Hudson-Wihongi an unused sub). On the other side of it Tasman followed up their best performance of the season away to Eastern Suburbs last week with what I assume was something close to an unchanged team but I can’t find the lineups anywhere so that ain’t ideal.
Neither was Tasman’s start. David Browne wasted no time in marking his return with a goal, scoring in the fourth minute, before Yousif Ali was fouled in the box with about a dozen on the clock and Javier Lopez stepped up to double the lead.
From there it was pretty bloody tough to even imagine a Tasman comeback. They don’t score a heap of goals at the best of times let alone against the defending champs and their outstanding defence. But fair play because Kiernan Hughes-Mason, who always looks their most dangerous weapon, did put one away soon after the second half kick-off to make things interesting. Not quite interesting enough though. Dan Morgan smacked one off the crossbar as a warning. Soon enough David Browne scored a beauty of an individual goal to wrap it up. Rounded the keeper and everything.
Hey and then Micah Lea’alafa came off the bench! First time he’d appeared for ages, four games out in fact. Two frightening options in attack returning to consideration in the same week and Auckland City are looking imperious. That’s now eight wins from eight and they’re seven points clear at the top.
What more can you say about them? Only that there have been some closies in there too. Coming from behind to beat Team Wellington in the opener (they conceded three that day and have only leaked four in seven games since), a solid 1-0 win over Eastern Suburbs but one goal is always one moment away, then the 1-0 win over Hamilton two weeks back in which, to be honest, they were straight up outplayed. There is hope for the rest of the league yet, don’t worry. Except maybe not for Tasman, times are a bit hard on them and the holiday break that’s just arrived is coming at a nice time. And they don’t have to play City again.
Eastern Suburbs travelled all the way down to… the Hawke’s Bay this week. There they took on the in-form HBU, a team they beat 5-0 in the season opener but times have changed plenty since then. Or… perhaps not. There were five more goals in this game, only four of them for Eastern Suburbs but a 4-1 win was comprehensive enough. The Bay came good with three straight wins before this however there’s still a gap between them and the top few sides and Eastern Suburbs are clearly one of those.
Suburbs were unchanged from the team that failed to find a way through against Tasman last week, while Hawke’s Bay made one enforced change with midfielder Dan Allan suspended so Ben Lack made his first start of the campaign, as well as one unenforced change with Cory Chettleburgh back in there having served a suspension for yellow accumulation last time.
And in a surprisingly rapid contest (considering that summer Napier heat) the Auckland side was too hot to handle. Andre De Jong gave them the lead in the 24th minute as he took advantage of some sloppiness at the back to slip in his seventh of the season. The hosts thought they’d levelled up when Sam Mason-Smith had the ball in the back of the net but it was disallowed for a foul on the keeper. Then Callum McCowatt doubled the lead and things started to get testy on the two benches. I mean, what else would you expect with Brett Angell and Declan Edge in attendance?
Hawke’s Bay had a couple chances to get back into it in the second half but Eastern Suburbs had just as many chances to extend the lead. With fifteen minutes remaining they finally did, thanks to Eli Just. Soon enough Owen Parker-Price had his first of the season and it was four (ADJ had a goal flagged off for offside too). Fairly comprehensive, especially once Birhanu Taye got a second yellow and he’ll miss their first game after the New Year. At least Sam Mason-Smith finally got his goal near the end. Some great work down the wing from Karan Mandair and Jordan Lamb setting him up.
The one negative for Suburbs was their big centre-back Nando Pijnaker going off injured in the first half. Kelvin Kalua is a handy replacement but Nando has started every game this season and would be a major loss for Danny Hay’s team if he’s out any extended time. With this win Suburbs go ahead of Team Wellington into second on the ladder, although the TeeDubs have a game in hand.
Hawke’s Bay clearly have a problem with referees given all the suspensions they’re clocking up which has kept them from naming an unchanged team in all but one game so far. Add that to a defence which has conceded 21 goals in nine games and there is still work to be done… though they’ve got a good one in Sam Mason-Smith who has now scored in four consecutive games – only top scorer Hamish Watson has a streak as long this season.
Ah yes and finally, since this round was a reverse fixture list of week two of the season (which was really week one for everyone except Team Welly and ACFC), that meant a southern derby between Southern United and Canterbury United. Surprisingly at this stage of the season this was only Southern’s third home game and, guess what, it was their third home game at a different venue. They’ve played once at the Caledonian Ground, once at Sunnyvale and now once at Tahuna Park. Reason for that being the Caledonian took a battered from the athletics meets. Oh and also the first of those home games was abandoned just after half-time so… let’s just say Southern will be looking forward to playing seven out of ten games at home for the rest of the campaign.
Southern slid captain Conor O’Keeffe back into the starting team allowing Markus Fjortoft to play further forward again, Ben Deeley dropping out of the match day squad. Canterbury had Maksym Kowal’s services again but not James Pendrigh’s. Otherwise as you’d expect from the two sides, who played out a competitive 1-0 win to Cantab last time they met. This time… actually this time was exactly the same.
The home side started strongly by whipping some tough crosses into the box yet Connor Tracey was good enough to handle it all in goal for the Dragons. Then drama struck and Liam Little was ruled to have collected the ball in his hands outside the box and the red card came leaping out. That was a double whammy because Paul O’Reilly had to sub off Abdullah Al-Kalisy to bring on replacement keeper Stewart Catto, sacrificing his most incisive attacking player so far this term. Definitely a controversial one for the Southerners, but gotta take a second to say congrats to Catto for getting out there. Just 19 years old and a product of the youth team at SU. Love seeing those pathways. Check out the lad in action:
To be fair, Southern kept on throwing punches with those long ones into the ol’ mixer but then this happened and Canterbury were on top through the usual suspect. Stephen Hoyle now has six strikes for the season and Hamish Watson is going to be coming back to a very tight golden boot race now. It hasn’t always been easy for them either but Canterbury have scored in every single game, which only ACFC and TW can match.
The Dragons then picked things up in the second half with the lead, hitting the crossbar with Adam Thurston and managing to limit the work that Connor Tracey was having to do (that bloke’s having a fantastic season though, goddamn). With the wind in their favour that was one more thing they’d overcome too. Catto had to get big to deny Hoyle a second and there were a couple moments for Garbhan Coughlan at the other end, however there was no way through for Southern. Canterbury ground out that 1-0 win to get them back in the semi-final hunt, now four games unbeaten going into the break. See you back here in three weeks, mate.
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