Big deal on Saturday, friends. Big deal indeed as Auckland City welcomed Eastern Suburbs to Kiwitea Street for a good old fashioned top of the table clash, the unbeaten defending champs putting their perfect record on the line against the form team in the competition, who had scored 19 goals along the way in winning their previous four in a row. Suburbs’ only two defeats had come to the two perennial finalists, ACFC and Team Welly. So this was a real test of their credentials. Win and they’d be just two points off top. Lose and that gap would be eight points and that’s with City having a game in hand and bugger that, everybody else’d be scrapping for second.
Yeah… didn’t really go as planned for Suburbs though. City brought out the high press in response to ES’s tendency to play it out from the back and after a few close calls they took the lead when Micah Lea’alafa nicked a Kalvin Kalua backpass and chipped it past a stranded Andrew Withers. Fourteen minutes gone. Then City took the Polynesian flavour to a new level when David Browne was fouled on the edge of the area by Mike Built (great switch of play by Jordan Vale) and, after a cheeky lay off for the better angle, Brian Kaltack absolutely crunched that thing into the net. We’ve been warned about what he can do with that right boot of his, the carnage he can cause with a thunderbolt shot, and here it was on glorious display.
City didn’t have Reid Drake’s services so that meant no need to choose out of Kaltack and Mario Bilen – they could both start! Another game without Javier Lopez however and he was an unused sub by the end of it despite City having a change up their sleeves. Suburbs were as per usual other than Campbell Strong starting instead of Dalton Wilkins.
After a nightmare first quarter of the game, Suburbs grew into it and began causing some trouble with Andre De Jong getting involved in most of it. Built struck a shot into the side netting which was their best actual attempt. But they didn’t have an answer for Micah Lea’alafa, who struck a ripper off the crossbar before making it 3-0 pretty much straight after play resumed and again it was some incredible work from David Browne that made it happen. That dude started the season in amazing form, spent ages out injured with an awful facial injury, then came back and picked up where he left off. Very few more dangerous players out there in the Premmy right now than David Browne.
Bit embarrassing for Suburbs, the best defence in the league trying to show they’re legit title contenders and here they were down 3-0. None of the goals were contentious or anything but a few Suburbs fans might still have felt a bit of cathartic release when Harry Edge accidentally barged into referee Matt Conger and left him needing a bit of treatment. Does the ref have to stand on the sideline and wait for permission to re-enter the game after getting medical treatment? Turns out… no.
Fabrizio Tavano nearly made it 4-0 from damn near halfway when he got he ball from a Withers clearance rushing forty yards off his line to cut out a through ball. Then Suburbs got the comeback underway. A slick passing move around the area led to Callum McCowatt heading in from a Built cross and it was 3-1 with a little over half an hour to go. Then Woolridge and Just combined in the box and Woolridge had the second. It looked like a cross but it hummed inside the far post. 3-2 with fifteen more minutes to play. Another assist for Eli ‘Assist King’ Just. But they couldn’t find a third. ACFC held on to win with a typically resolute defensive showing at the end and that’s 12 wins from 12 for them and the table’s looking pretty sweet if you’re wearing Navy Blue.
Suburbs are still in a good place. They made a real game of this in the second half and they’ve got breathing room in second with five to play. But at some point they do need to do more than take moral positives out of these games against ACFC and Team Welly. If they’re going to lift the trophy, and they’re good enough to believe that then can, then they’ll have to beat at least one if not both of them in a row. They’re in Wellington against the TeeDubs in two weeks. On telly against Hamilton next week.
Down in Nelson the resurgent Tasman United chaps welcomed Waitakere United to Trafalgar Park and they also welcomed the TotalFootball crew for a bit of livestreaming. Love seeing the quality of the Premiership easily accessed all around the country (and beyond) and love seeing the footy community of Aotearoa chipping in to make it happen. Prior to the turn of the year, livestreaming in the league was limited to Bookface vids and a couple yootoob full replays. Since then we’ve had Southern and now Tasman via TotalFooty take things to a whole new level with 720p images and enthusiastic commentary. Still pondering the idea of a deeper write-up (time permitting – support TNC on Patreon) on this topic but pats on the back to all involved for their hustle.
Good luck trying to pick the way this one was gonna go. Tasman were the blatant ninth team outta ten for most of the season but have come into some unexpected form lately, beating Hamilton and drawing with Team Welly. As for Waitakere, they beat Team Welly… and then lost to the WeeNix last week. All over the show, the both of them.
One thing that ain’t in doubt, Chris Milicich is all in on the youth movement. That much was confirmed midweek when the transfer window closed with Jake Butler, Eder Franchini Pasten, Kohei Matsumoto and Alec Solomons all released (along with Danyon Drake and Dylan Burns). Big call – Jake Butler’s been the heart of this team for years… but he’s off for a stint in Aussie now and good on him. So Milicich persisted with another extremely young side, though he did make a few changes to the team that contrived to lose to the WeeNix last game – with Nacho Maturena, Alex Connor-McLean and Hayden Aish all coming into the XI. Aish is the new fella there, a NZ U17 rep last year (believe that makes him the third bloke from that OFC Champs winning squad to play National League now after Jackson Manuel and Campbell Strong). However it was relative veteran Kris Carpenter who rose up in the 16th minute to nod in a corner, surprisingly unchallenged about six or seven yards out, to give Waitakere a deserved lead after they’d started comfortably the more aggressive side.
Tasman didn’t have new fella Joe Ellul after his red card last week so Sam Ayers got returned at centre back, while Jordan Yong replaced Jake Williams and Andy Hedge shuffled things in the middle to bring back captain Tom Hickey after an injury lay off (sporting a snazzy face mask, even). Tassie looked a little short of a focal point going forwards, unable to really get Kiernan Hughes-Mason, Max Winterton and Ahmad Othman linking up, and instead they were left vulnerable anytime Andrew Abba got near the ball. But the Waitaks have a habit of starting fast and not going on with it and about half an hour into the game, not long after a much needed drinks break with that ol’ dastardly heatwave crossing the country at the moment, Luke Jorgensen earned a red card for leaving the sprigs up in a challenge on Ryan Worrall.
To say that changed the game would be an understatement. Suddenly with the man advantage Tasman looked like they’d figured it out. KHM got involved more centrally and began providing a threat. They played with more pace and control. Worrall and McClay were pushing forward and causing problems. Waitakere held on until the break but it wasn’t looking great for them.
It was more of the same in the second half and then finally Tasman made the breakthrough in the 61st minute. Hughes-Mason may be the bloke with the pedigree but it’s Ahmad Othman who has been doing all the damage for them lately. So fair enough that they combined for the equaliser. KHM with a delightful ball over the top and Othman with an equally delightful lobbed volley over the on-rushing keeper from outside the box… very similar to a goal he scored against Hamilton Wanderers two weeks back. Othman’s now got five goals in three games and seven for the season.
The criticism of Waitakere is that with ten men they immediately went too defensive. They sat back and tried to defend for sixty minutes and it was too much to absorb, particularly for a group of players without a huge amount of experience at this level. They did look threatening on the break with Andrew Abba and when Sanni Issa replaced him it was no different – Keegan Smith made an excellent save with Issa one on one which turned out to be crucial. But eventually Tasman did get a second, a couple subs combining with Matt Tod-Smith getting to the line to set up Alex Risdale for the winner. Then James McClay made sure of it with a stunner of a free kick deposited into the top corner from the edge of the area. 86th and 90th minute goals and Tasman took the points. That’s seven points from three games for them. The resurgence is real.
Meanwhile at the same time but on a different stream we had Team Wellington looking to get back to winning ways against a Southern team that just snapped a dud streak of their own with a 3-1 win over the Tron Wands last time out, this match at Forsyth Barr in Dunners. Lucky old Southern who in Stephen Last and Erik Panzer have been able to name an unchanged CB duo for the entire season so far, although there was more shuffling at left back with the ever-versatile Markus Fjortoft in there while Sam Pickering replaced the absent Hyato Wakino in the front line. Much bigger selection drama for Team Welly though – inspirational centre mid Mario Barcia was missing entirely which meant a rare start for Alex Palezevic while Liam Wood also got his first start since before the CWC and for the second week in a row Hamish Watson was left on the bench, Angus Kilkolly the main centre forward instead after a double last week.
Too soon for this bloke… but bloody stoked to see him back…
Southern started quite sharply with Garbhan Coughlan testing Scott Basalaj out early on (it was straight at him but it was still a warning shot), yet Team Welly settled into their possession as you’d expect – their 3-4-3 formation is fantastic for always having an open passing lane or three with the way it spreads fellas out across the park. Palezevic was looking positive, trying to feed the ball forwards, while Andy Bevin was busy after three games out (especially when he got elbowed in the head accidentally by Liam Little) but Aaron Clapham was the man pulling the strings. Would say he was on fire but that might be taken the wrong way. On a similar follicle note, Coughers was sporting a colourful new do himself…
Team Welly didn’t really start threatening the goal until Hamish Watson came on in the second half. Prior to that they might have had more of the ball but other than a snapshot from Clapham and a couple overlaps from Jack-Henry Sinclair it was the home side who had the better chances. Coughlan with a few breakaways. Abdulla Al-Kalisy with an attempt from a rebound and another at the far post after a set piece.
But when Watto did come on it was a different story and the TeeDubs pressed hard for a winner in the final half hour. He almost scored with his first contribution only a chunky first touch ruined it for him and allowed Conor O’Keeffe to step over and clear after Bevin had played Watson in. O’Keeffe was just his typical self here, making some heroic defensive plays – an earlier challenge on Coughlan springs to mind also. Yet something about having that physical focal point up top, and a guy who’d have a crack on sight, really altered things. Southern dropped deeper in their lines and Bevan found heaps of space in behind the forwards.
Maybe the best of the chances for Team Welly was Sinclair’s diving header at the far post from a perfect Henry Cameron ball, which bounced agonisingly over the bar. But they lost some momentum towards the end as Southern were able to press them higher up and put a few chances together on the break. Not sure where Southern found the energy, utterly insane fitness on show. Not sure whether the roof would have held if Garbs had put this one in the top corner either.
Thus it ended scoreless. A third game in a row for Team Welly without getting the W. Just one win in their last five games. Here they were kept scoreless for the only time all term but they haven’t scored more than two in a game since the last time they played Southern back on November 11. Joel Stevens is about exactly what they need right now as the Oceania champs have sunk to fourth on the ladder and are pretty lucky for the points scramble beneath them to still be five clear of Hamilton with a game in hand.
As for Southern, they sure love a bit of Forsyth Barr don’t they? Plus Paul O’Reilly was able to sneak on a couple thrilling subs here too with debuts for Alex Cox and Azariah Soromon. Cox is a local fella, yet another on the growing list of Premiership players that Southern have brought through their NYL side. Soromon is the same age as his fellow debutant at 19 years old but has crammed a little more into his senior career to date, having already scored seven times in eight appearances for the Vanuatu national side. Wouldn’t mind seeing the pair of them have an influence over the last six matches.
The only game this week that promised to be straightforward was Canterbury United hosting the Wellington Phoenix but even then the Cantabs had lost 5-1 to Eastern Suburbs last week while the WeeNix were coming off their first win of the campaign. Just the one change for the Dragons with Sean Liddicoat in for Seth Clark, while the WeeNix reaped the benefits of a Saturday night home game of the senior team with Ollie Sail in goal again while Ryan Lowry backed up with the ressies for the second week in a row. Max Burgess also finally got a run with the youngsters. Of players on senior contracts, this is the list of games started for the WeeNix this season:
Callan Elliot – 10
Reuben Way – 5
Ollie Sail – 4
Ryan Lowry – 4
Michal Kopczynski – 2
Liberato Cacace – 2
Dylan Fox – 1
Sarpreet Singh – 1
Max Burgess – 1
Mitch Nichols – 1
Sam Sutton was left on the bench for the first time all season. Notable that the Dragons let both Reese Cox and Lyle Matthysen go in the transfer window. Cox left midseason from Eastern Suburbs a year ago too so he’s probably off to Aussie or something like that, no idea, while Matthysen simply wasn’t playing. Regardless, one of their replacements was crucial in the first goal, Dan McHenery getting down the right wing to set up the usual suspect, Stephen Hoyle, whose shot was in reach of Sail in goal but too strong to deny. Dragons lead 1-0 after four minutes.
But this was a strong WeeNix side. And don’t forget that the last time they played Canterbury Utd they were 2-0 up before going on to lose 3-2. They’re a tricky side and after a run of corner kicks they finally levelled before the half when Sean Liddicoat accidentally deflected one up over Conor Tracey (second OG of the season for that poor bloke). That gave us a competitive second half. Seth Clark came on and immediately made a difference, shout out to the young fella really making a name for himself this season, but then Tracey had to make a ripper of a stop to deny Max Burgess a goal before the WeeNix threw on Will Ebbinge and Boyd Curry and started getting back on top. Then this happened…
… and the Dragons got out of there with a 2-1 win. Sweaty work but a fifth win in six games for them and with Suburbs losing this week and Team Welly also dropping points that means they’re up to third on the ladder. Tricky one next week: they’re hosting Auckland City who beat ‘em 4-1 earlier on in the season (although they were looking good until Adam Thurston’s first half red card). They then follow that with a trip to Hamilton and a homer against Team Welly so those top four credentials will get their validation one way or another over the next three weeks.
Which brings us to the televised game and you knew one thing about Hamilton vs Hawke’s Bay for sure and that was that there would be goals. Yes, there would be goals. A couple of very exciting teams going forward who are, let’s be honest, a tad compromised by their inability to keep them out at the other end. HBU especially, after this one they’ve now conceded as many goals as the Wellington Phoenix.
Sure enough, it went bang bang bang from the opening whistle. You had to see it to believe it (lucky it was on telly) because after fifteen minutes it was 3-2 to Hawke’s Bay already. The defending was awful from both sides but some of the goals were outstanding – Tommy Semmy scored yet another goal of the season candidate with an acrobatic volley that he struck whilst horizontal and still got enough power on it that if you look closely you can see flames flying off the back of it. Don’t know how the net survived.
That was the fourth of the goals. Sam Akers scored first when he polished off a mazy run which keeper Jono Mannes can’t have been too chuffed with considering his defence did that to him last week too. Marty Bueno scored a nice header to make it 1-1 straight away only for Sho Goto to cock up a relatively simple finish after Sam Mason-Smith had played him in except he cocked it up so bad he hit it back into James Hoyle who couldn’t really do anything at all as the ball bounced off his shins and rolled into an empty net. Not really where you expect to have to deal with a chance like that as a defender. Semmy then scored his wonder goal only for Sam Mason-Smith to go clear top in the golden boot ranks with his eleventh of the season. Okay… right… catch your breath now.
Ricki Herbert had gotten frisky with a back three but after conceding a goal for every man in the backline he pushed Joe Nottage into midfield and reverted to the usual 4-3-3. It made a huge difference and the game settled down into a normal pace after that. No more goals in the first half – although Cam Lindsay was trying pretty hard to make one, freed from central defence and looking outstanding in an attacking midfield role for HBU. Dan Allen’s left after a fine half season with the Bay so Lindsay might get a real shot to make that role his own now.
The other thing for Hamilton was that they didn’t have Brad Whitworth for the first time all season. Xavier Pratt’s a good player but it’s always tough to replace an ever-present. Still, they did have Jordan Shaw looking chuffed to be back amongst the starters, he had a fine game getting up that left flank, while Derek Tieku was making things happen and I’ve yet to watch Stafford Dowling play and not been impressed by him. Staffy was the fella who eventually levelled the game up in the second half with a quality goal before Bueno whipped in a direct free kick – yeah, he tends to do that – and Hamilton Wanderers were 4-3 up looking at another remarkable comeback.
Except that wasn’t the end of it. Substitute Gavin Hoy scored one of his own, another pearl of a goal in a game that was full of them, putting the swerve sauce on his shot to make it 4-4 in the 89th minute. Unbelievable game of football, this one. They often are when the Tron Wands play – although that late goal was a killer for them, means they miss a rare chance to close ground on the top four and having failed to win any of their last four games it looks like the semis might be slipping out of reach.
No guesses as to what the problem is. With ten goals conceded in their last three games (all against teams outside the top four who they’d have wanted to beat) not even their superb frontline could overcome that. And Hawke’s Bay are even worse having conceded 13 goals in their last three (admittedly all against teams above them on the ladder). Sam Mason-Smith has scored in seven of their last eight games and it’s still not enough. Tell you what though, it made for a flippin’ majestic spectacle.
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