Absolute hype right here, Round 17 of the Aoteroa Men’s Rotating-Sponsor Football Premiership featuring the top four teams all in action against each other, potentially previewing the semi-finals – although we’ll find that out for sure next week. If that is the case then we’ve got some killer games coming up. If it isn’t then we still do because this season is not about a top two and everyone else. There’s a top four for sure, Auckland City are the favourites but don’t pretend they’re unbeatable… although you might need to take them to penalties to beat them because they don’t concede goals anymore. Any combination of semi-final matchups is gonna wet the ol’ whistle though. Get pumped.
Auckland City hosted Eastern Suburbs to close the week. Kiwitea Street all dressed up for the visiting cross-town rivals (and the TV cameras) and the occasion did not disappoint. This was some fascinating Premmy footy. Last time the two played, Auckland City were too good and claimed a 2-0 win that ended a four-game winning streak for ES. This time Suburbs were coming off three straight wins but had had said farewell to Andre De Jong in the midweek, ADJ leaving with 12 goals in the bag to try his hand in the Aussie club stuff again.
To combat the lack of their best player, Max Mata and Matty Palmer started together up top. Mata’s been a regular most of the season while Palmer, another young bloke and a super tall one at that, scored off the bench on debut a few weeks back and was making his first start. And Rebel Sport Superstar Moses Dyer was back from suspension to bring a little class to the midfield.
Which allowed Danny Hay to get creative, setting his team up to man-mark the City-Slickers across the park in a curiously ambitious tactical approach. Initially it had some effect and Suburbs were able to threaten a few times from set pieces and long balls, clearly targeting the size/speed of their forwards. A win here would’ve put them first on the ladder so it was all on the line.
However the problem with man-marking is that it leaves you vulnerable to individual errors. Suburbs have a solid defence and it’s gotten better as the season’s progressed but they were no match one-on-one for Emiliano Tade and Callum McCowatt. Too fast, too skilful. Especially when Fab Tavano and Owen Parker-Price were involved as well. OPP deserves a mention. While rotation was expected after the Champions League campaign, the only guys rotated were the ones who weren’t really playing Premiership anyway. Cole Peverley and Reid Drake specifically, allowing Tavano and Albert Riera to return, while Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi was also swapped out for Mario Bilen. Yet Owen Parker-Price got a start on the left wing after returning from a foot injury with a subs appearance in the last OFC game. Signed together with Dalton Wilkins and Callum McCowatt in preseason and he started the first three games before getting hurt. Wilkins scored a couple goals in the CL too. McCowatt’s the one who’s had the glamorous season but word on the street is that the other two are equally as talented.
Tavano and Tade linked to put the former through on goal in the 18th min but he fired wide. McCowatt and Tade both missed the target with good looks soon after, following silky work in the box from each. It then took a magical block from Tim Payne to deny Tavano. From a positive start, Suburbs were now clinging to keep this thing at 0-0. Their own chances to shoot were non-existent and if City’s finishing was on par with their build-up play then it would’ve been three or four nil by the half.
So Danny Hay switched things up a bit to try ease the pressure. To his credit, it worked. City still dominated proceedings but it wasn’t quite to suffocating, Dyer, Built and van den Hoven were more involved and were able to increase the scrappiness of it all. They couldn’t quite hold on though. Tade hit the post as a warning shot and then McCowatt slipped past the defence and put a lovely finish across Louis Caunter in goal for the 83rd minute winner. Damn that dude’s been handy. Second straight Prem game in which McCowatt has scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.
The victory all but guarantees that Auckland City will finish first now. They get the Wellington Phoenix next up and should smash them, although one point will be enough. Probably not even that. Meanwhile Suburbs are left in fourth and needing to beat Canterbury next week to finish ahead of them while begging Hamilton for a miracle against Team Wellington. Most likely is that the winner of Suburbs and Canty plays Team Wellington in the semis and the loser takes on Auckland City, who have won all four games against ES & CU.
Another bloody clean sheet for Auckland City. That’s a ridiculous seven in a row in Premmy action to go with three straight in the Champs League and thus ten in a row in all competitions. TEN IN A ROW. Who stole the cheat codes and sold them to Ramon? Enaut Zubikarai has been between the sticks for every moment of those games which means he’s now gone 918 minutes without leaking a goal and he can take that into four figures next week. All hail Lord Zubi.
Speaking of clean sheets, the other semi-final shuffle saw Canterbury United and Team Wellington cancel each other out for a 0-0 draw. Ross Allen was missing with illness which meant he couldn’t add to (or risk) his better-than-a-goal-a-game scoring record with the club against an in-form Dragons side. Team Wellington were similarly unfazed about rotating after the Champs League, making only one change with Andy Bevin coming in for Allen. As for Canterbury, they were back at their defensive best with the Spain/Schwarz/De Vries/Liddicoat combo all there again.
The Dragons could’ve given themselves a similar boost to Suburbs with a win but, like Suburbs, weren’t able to get those three points. Team Welly probably had the better of the chances, Hamish Watson started his first Premmy game for the club and it must’ve been strange for him to shake hands with Stephen Hoyle pre-match. Like looking in the mirror. Hoyle had one shot in particular which was close, while Jack-Henry Sinclair also threatened to add to his recent scoring form. Team Wellington finished both halves as the team in the ascent but the home side hung on for a point that at least edges them one clear of Suburbs on the table ahead of their massive game next week, ensuring that a draw there is in their favour.
The Wee Nix beat Hamilton Wanderers a couple weeks back to end their horrific run of form (four straight defeats conceding a total of 19 goals). Earlier in the season they went and beat Tasman over the Strait, ordinarily something to take confidence from ahead of a home return fixture. But a couple weeks is a long time in the life of the Wellington Phoenix and things look very different these days. They look different even since their last game what with Chris Greenacre stepping up to take over the A-League side as caretaker boss (for the third time) and all. Greenie took a few of the ressies with him: Liberato Cacace started again for the Welly Nix. Sarpreet Singh also continued his run of starts. Alex Rufer and Logan Rogerson came on as an 83rd minute double sub. Adam Parkhouse was back with the seniors. That’s a heap of Premiership experience hanging out in Sydney.
On the plus side, Monty Patterson had been ill during the week so he was left out of the A-League side but was considered good enough to play 82 minutes against Tasman. Wouldn’t be surprised if that was at least partly decided in order just to get him some footy in the legs. The Python hasn’t had a crazy amount of game time to settle into the Nix so this was valuable football – and with it being the second to last game of the season it was a now-or-never opportunity. No Andrija Kaludjerovic though, he’s above such belittlings.
Also back was Sam Philip who’s been out a couple weeks and, say wouldya look at this, Ollie Sail got a game! He’s been off the radar recently, the Wee Nix have used five different starting keepers this season so poor Ollie’s been stuck on the roundabout since starting seven of their first ten games. Good for him… although he coughed one up after ten mins which allowed Maksym Kowal to tap, tap, tap it in on the rebound for the first goal.
It’s hard to keep track of past games with the last three weeks giving everyone a bit of a break at some point along the way but Tassie’s last two were scoreless defeats – 3-0 to Suburbs and 1-0 to ACFC – so they’d have been chuffed to get on the board early on. The lead only lasted quarter of an hour before James McGarry earned a spottie that Monty Patterson converted… although just minutes later Kowal got taken down in the box and Paul Ifill made it 2-1 from the resulting penalty. Saint Paul had already gone close with a volley, he was out to keep his golden boot stakes alive.
It was a competitive game with chances at both ends. Tasman almost welcomed back Cory Chettleburgh after he’d finished up his OFC Champs League stuff with Lautoka FC but then it turned out to be an old teamsheet causing havoc. Chettleburgh had been a crucial part of their midfield earlier in the season except that somehow the only game they’d won in which he started was the 3-0 default win over Auckland City which was a 3-1 defeat in practice. Guts to that bugger but Tassie are doing fine with the likes of Callan Elliot and Matt Tod-Smith anyway. At least they were until Ollie Whyte equalised with a dozen or so left to play. Set up by Will Ebbinge and while everyone’s keeping an eye on which Wee Nix kids are next up in the ranks for A-League squad selection, those two are probably number one and two. Liam Moore’s up there as well.
Wait, we’re not finished yet. Then this happened…
A 12th goal of the season for Saint Paul. With Emiliano Tade shut out again, Ifill is only two strikes behind the Auckland City dude – although he’s gonna need another hatty next week because Tasman ain’t gonna be in the semis. Tasman play Waitakere though so it’s possible. Annoyingly three of the top seven scorers this season (De Jong, De Vries and Linderboom) aren’t even in the competition any longer.
Waitakere lost again. Hawke’s Bay dropped by West Auckland and scored twice in the first half through Sammy Adjei. That chap’s spent a lot of this season injured which explains this a bit but he hadn’t actually scored a goal until this week. In fact he’s been limited to only four starts which means you can’t blame him for that but all the same he’ll be relieved to finally hit the net, you don’t wanna be an import striker in the Premiership and not even score a goal.
Bloody Waitaks, Chris Milicich made four changes from the team that battled with Eastern Suburbs last week and still a sloppy first half and some wasteful finishing put them in the doghouse. Charlie Thomas scored a ripper late on to bring it back to 2-1 but that was the way it ended and Waitakere will just be glad that after six defeats in a row and nine games without a win they only have to play one more game before the blessed winter season returns and these lads can get back to their local clubs. Shout out to Hawke’s Bay for snapping a three-game run of losses. If they can beat Southern next week then they’ll finish sixth and given the player turnover between this season and last that’d frankly be a huge achievement. Hey maybe Brett Angell oughta coach the Phoenix, does he have his badges? Does anyone have their badges? Why do we even care about badges? Sing it, Declan…
Ending where it all began, Southern United hosted Hamilton Wanderers on Saturday and the game was over after barely half an hour. Alex Risdale slipped in the opener from Conor O’Keefe’s cross before Captain O’Keefe won a penalty for Garbhan Coughlan to slot home. Wonderful start from Southern and it got even better when Risdale added a second, finishing off Danny Ledwith’s cross.
You can forgive them for settling back a tad in the second half, which allowed the Tron Wands to get back into the game and eventually that tolled with Tommy Semmy adding his seventh of the campaign, yet that was only a consolation. Southern might have added more but 3-1 will do fine, thanks. Having been the worst team in the competition last season, Southern now have the chance to finish fifth if they can win in The Bay and if Tasman lose to Waitakere in Round 18. Massive turnaround for them and you know the improvements are taking hold because they didn’t have to wait until injury time to score the winner this time.
As for the Worst Team in the Competition tag, Hamilton Wanderers already made a permanent claim on that one weeks ago and it’s not getting happier. Only one game to go, guys. Only one game to go. Close your eyes and it’ll soon be over.
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