Starting at the bottom this week, not the bottom of the table but the bottom of the country where Southern United hosted Hamilton Wanderers at an immaculate looking Forsyth Barr Stadium. Pretty as a picture it was… and with SU’s new-fangled live streaming prowess you could almost pick out the individual blades of grass. Resplendent with commentary as well. No kidding that Southern have surged into the leaderboard for live match footage since the Premiership resumed. Somebody must’ve gotten a high-def camera for Christmas.
Excluding the game that got abandoned (which will be replayed at some stage but not sure when) this was only Southern’s fourth home game of the season and it commences a sprint to the finish of six homers in their final eight contests (and continues on one of eight in their final eleven). That’s including that rained-off ACFC game which I assume is coming up soon. Including that one, this is the fourth different ground they’ve hosted a match at: Caledonian Ground, Sunnyvale Park, Tahuna Park, Sunnyvale Park again and now Forsyth Barr Stadium. Having sunk to eighth with four straight defeats, a few home comforts shouldn’t go astray and with three of those four consecutive homers at FSB that’s one to be aware of.
Paul O’Reilly recalled Jared Grove to the starting XI after playing three different left backs in the last three weeks. He also didn’t have the services of Markus Fjortoft but instead he was able to call upon Hayato Wakino, last seen playing for Hawke’s Bay United last season. But he plays his winter stuff in Football South apparently (according to the commentary at least) so here he is, bringing a bit more pace and fluency to those pesky Southern counter attacks.
Between Hamilton’s almost impatiently direct style of play and Southern’s own more compact and pragmatic way of doing things this promised to be a bit of a clash of strengths… but as tends to be the case with those things on the footy field, it was the perceived weaknesses that made the difference with Hamilton’s tendency to leak sloppy goals taken advantage of by a Southern side that had only scored more than twice in a game once all season (a 3-2 win vs Tasman). Garbhan Coughlan made a mockery of that idea with a brilliant first-half hatty.
The first was a grass-cutter from about 35 yards, dropping deep to pick up the ball and, given so much space to keep driving forward, he figured ‘bugger it’ and had a crack… which keeper Jono Mannes hadn’t even moved before it flew into the bottom corner. Not a pleasant memory for him as he started his first game of the season in place of the previously ever-present Matty Oliver, and it got worse soon after when Coughlan sliced through the defence, beating a couple centre-backs, and left Mannes on the ground as he slipped it back past him. You’d want a word with the defence after that for sure.
In between those two happenings was an equaliser. Xavier Pratt, also starting his first of the season and doing pretty nicely in the midfield, whacked one from the edge of the area and it took a hefty deflection before settling in the net. Parity didn’t last too long however and Coughlan even had a third before the break, a similar effort to his second, getting the ball on the left and cutting back across the defence, though this one took a big deflection.
The Tron Wads have a recent history of second half comebacks. Twice they’ve come from three goals down to get points, but they failed with the second half comeback against Tasman last week and they failed once more down in Dunedin. They did get one into the net in the 63rd min when Stafford Dowling threw a few stepovers down and his curling strike was poked in at the far post by Derek Tieku but the fella was clearly offside and the linesman happened to be paying attention. Tieku and Semmy were more involved in that second forty-five yet the absence of the third in their trio was pretty substantial. Martin Bueno didn’t make the trip down, the bloke who usually plays the central role up top. Ricki Herbert didn’t try replace him either, instead bringing Pratt into the midfield and recalling Rhys Ruka, with Joe Nottage playing in defence again. Stafford Dowling sorta got a roaming role.
It wasn’t quite the same and they lacked their usual firepower. After a first half of goals and action, the second was kinda tame with Southern showing excellent structure and discipline to shut it down. The best chance actually fell to Coughlan again, breaking free of the defence, but his shot one-on-one with Mannes was dragged wide off balance. Southern therefore snap that four-game losing streak while the Wanderers are now on a three-game streak of Ls of their own… just in time for four consecutive televised games.
And because it was a joyful, sunny Saturday in Aotearoa there was a second game on that day too: Eastern Suburbs hosting Canterbury United. A rather crucial game between two top four sides… and the two beaten semi-finalists of a year ago. No live stream for this one unfortunately.
Canterbury sprung a curious one in an otherwise expected lineup as Daniel McHenery was named to start at fullback… who I assume is Daniel Hayden HcHenery, aka Hayden HcHenery who played for Hawke’s Bay last season and has been popping up off the bench for Auckland City this campaign (though without the minutes I was hoping to see from him, with Jordan Vale locking down that right back role instead). Didn’t see a transfer note anywhere though so what do I know? Anyway it was the usual jokers around him. George King getting the start after scoring off the bench last week. Seth Clark still out there making waves. As for Suburbs there were no changes from the last two weeks and why should there have been? A 6-1 win followed by a 4-0 win and there’s nothing needs altering.
Eastern Suburbs’ big trick is usually starting super quick on the press and getting that early goal. Not happening here though. The hosts might have had a lot of footy but they weren’t able to put the Dragons under too much pressure to start. Michael Built had a crack but otherwise you’d argue the Cantabs had the better chances and they made ‘em count after twenty when George King put them in front. Suburbs stepped up the intensity after that yet they hit the sheds down 1-0 and the Cantabs were looking good for a huge result.
Yeah… nah. What happened instead was a firestorm of fury, a hurricane of heroics, a whirlwind of wizardry. Andre De Jong tied the game up four minutes after the resumption. Then after the hour he scored again with a header. And things weren’t done there either.
Michael Built, Dom Woolridge and Callum McCowatt all scored in the last fifteen minutes or so and from 1-0 down at the break, Eastern Subs won it 5-1. We’ve seen this from them the last few games, especially that Southern game when a blistering start to the second half saw them run away with it. Fifteen goals in three games in 2019… they couldn’t possibly be hitting up Auckland City next week in better form.
Tasman United got their best result of the season against Hamilton last week. They took their clash with Team Wellington to Blenheim and, mate, those fine folks got treated to one heck of a game. Tassie had no reason to make any changes and so they didn’t. Team Wellington on the other hand did and in came Eric Molloy, Angus Kilkolly and, for the first time this season, Ross Allen. No Hamish Watson despite him losing his grip on the top scorer’s chart. But Allen was due a gig before too long – seven subs appearances and no starts was a bit rough.
Tasman started fast against Hamilton and they did the same against the TeeDubs… but without the breakthrough. Instead it was Angus Kilkolly who finally got on the board for the campaign midway through the first half when he broke the defensive line and beat Keegan Smith to score. Smithy then had to be sharp to keep things where they were with the Oceania champs going hundies, though the hosts had their share of half-crackers themselves. Fox Slotemaker went close from an Ahmad Othman cross.
On their early season form the TeeDubs would have gotten that second goal, maybe even a third, and been away laughing. Instead they left it at 1-0 for way too long and Tasman are really figuring things out these days. Nobody more than the red hot Ahmad Othman, who in the 85th minute seemed to have snatched a point when he converted from Alex Risdale’s cross. Except that, wait a second, this game was nowhere near over. Next thing there was a big old brawl and Joe Ellul was unsurprisingly in the middle of it, getting a red card in amidst the kerfuffle. Several other players also got booked in the fracas. Bringing back the biff, my friends. Oh and then Angus Kilkolly scored on the end of the free kick from the scrap.
Wait but we still weren’t done because there was juuuust enough time remaining for Othman to get his second and Tasman kept a stunning point from the whole thing. Othman scored a brace last week too. Four goals in two weeks, just as his team has taken four points in two weeks and against a couple very useful teams as well… where has this Tasman United team been all season! Oh hey and Team Welly might need a kick up the arse this week because after four wins in a row earlier on in things they’ve only won twice in the last six Premmy games. The Club World Cup hangover is a real thing but they were showing signs of this even before that. The TeeDubs have scored in every single game so far yet they haven’t struck three in a game in any of those last six. They also haven’t kept a clean sheet in that time and honestly that’s leading to a few too many draws.
Waitakere United bounced back from five straight defeats with a huge 2-1 win over Team Wellington a week ago. This week they crumbled back down to earth in a way that only Waitakere could… losing 2-0 to the Wellington Phoenix reserves. A team that had lost every single game this season and they finally got those elusive first points thanks to goals from Ben Waine and Kieran Richards. Raise one up for the WeeNix because this one had been a loooong time coming.
The Waitaks had offered the first major threat when Oli Bassett hit the crossbar. Then an unnamed WeeNix defender managed to rip one off the line with Zac Jones beaten (not a lot of coverage available for this game so bear with me). And they kept at it with Sam Burfoot clipping the frame of the goal from a free kick and then Bassett struck another one wide on the way to a nil-all scoreline at the break.
Then the WeeNix scored a couple times and the losing streak was over. Finally. Not only that but a team which had conceded at least twice in every game just kept a clean sheet. Waitakere were already pretty up and down before Chris Milicich started trusting the kids so that they’d be this inconsistent kinda comes with the territory of having a lot of inexperienced players out there. The WeeNix know that, though they seem to be getting some benefits from having guys like Zac Jones, Kurtis Mogg, Sam Sutton, Gianni Stensness and Ben Waine starting games week after week. Callan Elliot was out there this time too, though Taci Kumsuz missed his only game so far. Didn’t even need him as it turned out.
You know, this was Hawke’s Bay’s first televised game of the season. Twelve telly games prior and they didn’t get a single one. Lucky that they’re back on telly next week with two more games to follow over the rest of it… pretty back-ended deal, that one.
Interesting team from The Bay, with Alex Bitton starting in goal for the first time this campaign and James Marsh also given a first appearance. Jorge Akers played at centre-back, Cam Lindsay was back in the midfield. Birhanu Taye still at right back. Most importantly was they had their full contingent up front of Max Olivieri, Sho Goto and Sam Mason-Smith. Auckland City included Albert Riera on the bench looking for his first game of the season however there was no Javier Lopez in the matchday squad, with Fabrizio Tavano instead picked to play a sort of false nine, flanked by David Browne and Micah Lea-alafa. Yousif Ali played the deep midfield role. Brian Kaltack came in for Mario Bilen. Usual crew alongside.
Lea’alafa had a chance to make something happen bright and early when Britton gave the ball away but wasn’t able to convert. He also wasn’t able to convert a little while later when Tavano took a little tumble in the box and Lea’alafa missed the penalty, Britton making a quality save there to help himself settle into the match – he ended up having a very solid afternoon despite the scoreline. It was only a minute after the missed spottie that Tavano was given too much room in the box and curled in his second in two weeks, some sloppy defence as has tended to be the case from HBU this season to the detriment of their top four hopes.
Thing is, HBU have been getting written off all term but they’re a robust lot. City were dealt a blow when Reid Drake was forced off with injury, Dylan Manickum entering the fray, but Hawke’s Bay didn’t need the help to hang around, taking this thing into the break at 1-0 and still very much in the contest despite not really threatening at the other end. But they conceded at a terrible time, just after the break. David Browne whipped in a lovely ball and Lea’alafa, getting his redemption, could hardly have missed.
Thus Hawke’s Bay churned forwards. They had to. And three great chances fell for Sam Mason-Smith, exactly what the game plan was calling for. The first one was prime SMS as he smashed the ball past Zubikarai to make it 2-1. The second he got a fine volleyed strike on it but Zubi made a great save – as that fella tends to do. There are some top shelf keepers in this league but he’s the best. The third he wasn’t able to get a decent strike on it, dragging his attempt across goal where it was easily dealt with. That’s a decent conversion rate except that against Auckland City decent is not enough. They made it 3-1 when Kaltack lined up a shot that would have left a football-shaped hole in the net had he not sliced it wide… so good thing Jordan Vale was hanging around to tap it in with a clever sliding finish.
So it goes when you’re trying to play on the break like HBU were, players are running past the ball and you’re vulnerable in defence. Which gave us an outrageous second half of entertainment, just non-stop action and if City were on top form then they would have had a few more. David Browne had a couple opportunities he’d normally score in his sleep. Jordan Vale had an amazing one that he missed, Dan Morgan shanked one or two himself. All the while Hawke’s Bay were steaming back the other way trying to get the goal that’d get them back in range. Finally Browne put the icing on the cake with City’s fourth with only seconds left in stoppage time and 4-1 was harsh on HBU. Having said that, you need to be much better at the back if you’re going to hang with the top folks.
Brett Angell’s side have lost both their starting centre-backs from the start of the season (Eriksson and Zupo) as well as giving the flick to last season’s starting CBs in preseason (Robertson & Craven). They just haven’t been able to settle and with 31 goals conceded in 12 games, only the WeeNix are worse. In the last four games HBU have lost 4-1 (Eastern Subs), won 4-1 (WeeNix), lost 5-1 (Cantabs) and now lost 4-1 again (ACFC). Thrashed the bottom team. Got fustigated by the top four teams. Gonna be tough to hang in the race for fourth place from here but then none of the three teams directly above them won this week either.
Eleven out of eleven for Auckland City. Can anybody stop them?
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