And we’re back. Everyone deserves a decent break over the holidays but all good things come to an end and now it’s time to return to the daily grind or whatever it is that makes up your day. Hopefully something creatively fulfilling and invigorating. With plenty of football. The ISPS Handa Premiership knows what’s up, surging back into competition with a fantastic run of games this past weekend.
Auckland City made a few cheeky moves over the break. One was the signing of Omar Guardiola from Southern United. Here’s a dude who has looked good for the Southerners over the last two years but has only gotten three starts this season so the opportunity to move north to the championship favourites makes sense. Gonna find it tough to get games here too but he’ll be training at the highest level and, as a Colombian native (moved here at 11 and is a full NZ citizen now) he’ll rate a bit of that Spanish influence at City as well. Guardiola’s currently injured though so it might be a few weeks before he shows up. City also snapped up Swedish striker Patrick Lundemo, a big fella with a boost of pace who can also, apparently, play a bit at centre back. Lundemo had played pro in the depths of the Swedish system, familiar shores for a lot of ex-Premmy players, and this one sounds like something of a convenient pick-up for the Navy Blues. Somebody knew somebody and, sure, why not bring him in? Both lads are 24 years old.
City also announced that they’ll be taking part in the 2019 Lunar New Year Cup, a trophy which they won in 2017. Shandong Luneng Taishan (one of the stronger clubs in China who boast a couple recognisable fellas in Graziano Pelle and Diego Tardelli), Sagan Tosu FC (from Japan who’ll be flashing the cash at this comp with their marquee signing Fernando Torres) and a select XI of Hong Kong players will also be participating. There’s a semi-final and a final/third-place game, so two guaranteed matches. We’re talking early February for this one so the game against Canterbury United will need to be rescheduled.
Bit of an odd one to be playing an international friendly tournament while your league is ongoing but an opportunity to play against quality foreign teams is a worthwhile one. The other thing they did over the break was they blocked TNC on twitter… oh well. Not actually sure when or why but it sounds like that might not be the rarest of experiences. The Premmy Files Sympathy Fund can be donated to at our Patreon page, cheers for your support in this difficult time.
So how did ACFC get things going after running the table in the 2018 portion of the season? Yeah same old, same old. They were hosted by Waitakere United who you may recall finished off their 2018 with a rather devastating defeat against Hamilton Wanderers, blowing a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 in a modern classic of Aotearoa footy. Chris Milicich has had plenty of time to stew on that one and he sprung a few surprises with his team naming – which included two youth team grads in Jake Mechell and Niko Steinmetz. That along with Silvio Rodic getting his first start of the season in goal (the third starting keeper in three games for Waitak, import GK Nick Draper was back but only on the bench). Reilly O’Meagher also got a crack at centre back with neither Bill Robertson or Alex Gordon, regulars at CB for most of the campaign, in the matchday squad. Robertson was injured pretty bad last game.
As for City, they finally welcomed Fabrizio Tavano back into the starting team after missing most of the season so far with a carryover suspension from winter league stuff. Micah Lea’alafa also started for the first time since week four, having come off the bench last time after returning from a bit of the old non-injury related unavailability. Brian Kaltack got another start at the back. David Browne with his second start since missing six games with a fractured face. But the biggest talking point was that Ruben Parker came in for Enaut Zubikarai in goal, who had come up a bit sore in training (although shouldn’t miss more than one or two games). Parker, who was involved in U20 stuff with NZ a few years back (he’s 23 now), joined City from Hawke’s Bay in the offseason and this was his first opportunity to take the field.
With Waitakere as youthful as they were and City just flexing their incomparable depth this was always likely to go in the expected direction. Waitakere had a couple nice early chances as their pace up top is always going to provide but nothing that tested Parker in goal. Then City began settling into possession and turning the screws. Two goals were disallowed for offside yet with the front three of Browne, Lea’alafa and Javier Lopez looking as sharp as they were it was only a matter of time. Eventually Lea’alafa was taken down in the box and Lopez converted from the spot for a 1-0 lead at the break.
Reid Drake then hit the crossbar with an acrobatic scissor kick, while David Parkinson had already chopped one onto his own post in first half stoppage time. Chuck in that Silvio Rodic was constantly being tested (and playing very well, it must be said) and it was clear which team was heading towards victory. In the 58th minute Lopez got his double after a nice flowing move and 2-0 was the way that it finished. Any hope that Waitakere could come back was extinguished with 15 mins left when Sanni Issa was sent off for a second yellow. City dutifully killed it off from there.
Waitakere have now lost five games in a row and with seven points from ten games they’re falling way behind. The semis are a long shot, so cool to see Milicich at least looking to develop a squad for the future. Along with Steinmetz, Mechell and O’Meagher all playing there was also another game for Ignacio Machucha Maturena as well as a pair from last year’s U19 international crew in Dane Schnell (first Premmy sighting of him this year) and Matt Conroy (been involved all season) who both came off the bench. Auckland City, on the other hand, have won every single game this season and they host Southern United next week looking to make it ten from ten.
That’s a Southern United side who’ll be licking some wounds having gone down in a heap to Eastern Suburbs at the ironically named Sunnyvale Park. Ironic because as the rest of the country was swarmed with sizzling weather the Southerners got a dose of torrential downpour. Not that it appeared to affect Eastern Suburbs, who started the season a 5-0 win over HBU and resumed it with a 6-1 win here away in Dunedin. Seems like a team that performs best when they’ve had extended time to train and prepare, which makes sense for a young squad with an energetic style of play.
Tasman sat fellas behind the ball and got a brilliant result against Suburbs a month or so ago (0-0 up in AKL), so Southern seemed like the worst kind of opponent for Subs considering their excellent defensive shape and control. Not really the way it went though. Didn’t help that there were a couple changes to the Southern defence either, with Liam Little still out injured which meant another opportunity for Stewart Catto, this time from the start, as well as Tim O’Farrell getting a go at fullback. Their bench was crazy youthful too.
Suburbs were without the injured Nando Pijnaker which meant Kalvin Kalua at CB alongside Tim Payne – reuniting their partnership from the start of 2018 – but Danny Hay had all the usual dudes to choose from up top. Hence Suburbs did what Suburbs do and started fast on the press and scored an early goal. Andre De Jong giving it the shimmy and showing his deceptive strength and balance as he held off a couple defenders to drive in on his left foot in the sixth minute.
Southern were pretty well overrun in the midfield here. The busy trio of Dom Woolridge, Owen-Parker Price and Harry Edge kept winning the ball and giving their forwards room to work with (that and Tim Payne’s ever amazing cross-field switches). A few set pieces and counter attacks gave Southern something to work with but Eli Just was closer to extending the lead on a couple other occasions. OPP had a close one as well. No worries there, Eastern Suburbs finally did score another on the brink of the break. Horrible time to concede for the hosts but what are you gonna do when Dalton Wilkins is putting in a cross of that quality? Callum McCowatt got the slightest of touches to guide it past Catto in goal.
That was disappointing but what followed from Southern was disastrous. Only ninety seconds after the second half kickoff they leaked another one. Some lovely play from Suburbs, just slicing through, and Assist King Eli Just set up Dom Woolridge for the goal. Aaand then two minutes later they made it four. This time Just took the shot himself from outside the area as Suburbs flowed forward and, mate, what a finish. Wait but we’re not done yet. 52nd minute and Eli had another. This time it was excellent work from Mike Built at right back and Just only needed one touch to make it 5-0. Eastern Suburbs at their sizzling best, three goals in the first seven minutes of the half. Safe to say that Southern didn’t respond too well to conceding on the verge of half-time but damn.
Quick detour: how good are these tents for the benches!? Nothing says ‘kiwi summer’ better than pouring rain on a leaky tent.
Then the incredible comeback began... jokes. Garbhan Coughlan did get the ball in the net but the whistle had already gone for a foul from the corner kick. In fairness, SU looked better with sub Rory Findlay down the left and Conor O’Keeffe had one decent sighter. But when Coughlan finally got them on the board from the penalty spot (following a foul by Built on Findlay), Callum McCowatt had already scored to make it six. Weird one as it snuck through the side-netting but definitely a goal. 6-1 the final score.
One of those days in every way. One of those days for Southern. One of those days for Suburbs. And one of those days with the weather. Markus Fjørtoft’s match report on the SUFC website read as thus:
“Southern United lost 6-1 to Eastern Suburbs. We sincerely apologize to the home fans for the performance at display, and thank everyone who showed up and stayed throughout to support the team. We owe ourselves and you as fans a much better performance. We hope to count on you in the games going forward. #UnitedWeStand”
Not the worst summation, to be honest. Lucky for Suburbs fans (and those of us who are neutrals) the whole thing was live streamed by SU on youtube. Great quality stream, excellent picture. Much better than you get on bookface. No sound but that’s not the biggest complaint in the world and the only other drawback was the occasionally shaky camerawork which is something that can only come with experience, no dramas. A top effort all up. Best quality live stream yet. I wondered if we’d see more of this kind of thing after the holiday break and it seems that we are. Southern aren’t the only ones either, with the team at Total Football getting in on the act too in a few weeks. Might have to write about all this in more detail later on.
Hawke’s Bay United did what needed to be done against the Wellington Phoenix. With the senior team in the midst of a stretch of away fixtures and a few lads heading off to the States for uni in the New Year, stocks were as slim as ever for the WeeNix. They’re getting some more consistency of selection lately with guys like Zac Jones, Gianni Stensness, Sam Sutton, Taci Kumsuz, Ben Waine, Ronan Wynne, and Kurtis Mogg all playing most weeks now but there was no Callan Elliot again, he’s with the A-League side, no Liam Moore or Calvin Harris who are in the USA now, nobody at all from the top team… on the positive that did mean first starts this season for Kieran Richards as well as a second start for Noah Tipene-Clegg. That’s the thing, aye? There’s always more talent on the production line as long as you continue to invest in it.
And the WeeNix were rewarded twenty minutes in when Ben Waine gave them the lead. However that lead didn’t even last ten minutes before Sam Mason-Smith stepped up to the plate. SMS took a little while to get going (same as the rest of the team, really) with only one goal in his first five games but since then he’s scored in five consecutive. His goal gave us a 1-1 score as oranges were served, though The Bay were clearly the team on top of things. Therefore it didn’t take long after the resumption for SMS to get his second and that was the way it stayed until a couple minutes from time when Max Olivieri finally secured the points for the home side on a typically sunny Napier afternoon. But that wasn’t all, there was just enough time left for Mason-Smith to complete his hat-trick and give Hamish Watson something to think about at the top of the scorer’s charts.
That’s because with this hatty (and with eight goals in his last five games), Sam Mason-Smith is now top of that leader-board with nine total goals. Hamish Watson drops to second after having lead for the whole season until now, he’s on eight tied with Andre De Jong who also found the net this week. Marty Bueno is next with seven and Stephen Hoyle, Tommy Semmy and Javier Lopez all have six. Garbhan Coughlan has five.
It’s a result which does nothing much for the WeeNix. They’ve lost nine out of nine conceding 29 goals in the process. Only been kept scoreless twice but also only scored two goals twice and never more than that. Hawke’s Bay though, they bounce back beautifully from a hiding at the hands of Eastern Suburbs before the hiatus and with four wins in their last five they’re only four points off the semis as it stands. There are some tough games to come with the four teams ahead of them all in a row (minus Eastern Suburbs, who they’ve already been thrashed by twice) so whether or not they can overhaul that gap we’ll find out in the next month. Canterbury (A), Auckland City (H), Hamilton (A) and Team Wellington (H) is how that stretch of games goes. Here are the splits for HBU…
Hawke’s Bay Utd vs Teams Currently Above Them:
0 W | 2 D | 4 L | 6 GF | 17 GA | -11 GD | 2 PTS
Hawke’s Bay Utd vs Teams Currently Beneath Them:
4 W | 0 D | 0 L | 15 GF | 9 GA | +6 GD | 12 PTS
Bit different when you’ve got Sam Mason-Smith scoring goals as easy as he breathes, granted.
Next it’s a visit to Wellington where Team Welly returned to familiar comforts after the Club World Cup journey to host Hamilton Wanderers. Not quite the usual eleven, as Mario Ilich and Andy Bevin were rested, but still a more than decent side. Starts for Nate Hailemariam and Angus Kilkolly in there. Wanderers were able to welcome Tino Contratti and Joe Nottage back to full fitness however Tommy Semmy and Rhys Ruka were each left on the bench for the first time all term. Odd with the Tommy Semmy exclusion in particular – he’s their talisman and it ain’t like he’d been logging up the minutes over the hiatus… perhaps a few too many Christmas Mince Pies then, God knows I did.
Both these teams are always going to be positive and look to attack but Team Welly were more threatening. Twenty minutes in they had their reward as Hailemariam buried one from Mario Barcia’s assist. Marty Bueno missed a great chance to level up and it was 1-0 at HT, neither team at their graceful best (HW are a second-half team anyway). Then Jack-Henry Sinclair floated one into the top corner from out wide and there you go (cross or shot… chicken or egg…?). Third of the season for JHS – not bad for a wingback. Check out our interview with that bloke right here if you ain’t already…
Hamilton Wanderers hit back straight away as James Hoyle headed in after a scramble from a corner had seen the ball bounce off the crossbar, and Jose Figueira went to his bench to get Mario Ilich out there to steady the ship. It did the trick. Last time TW played they lost (on penalties) from 3-0 up. Last time HW played they won from 3-0 down. This time was far less dramatic. Team Wellington held on to win 2-1 and it might not have been a comprehensive one but against a team well in contention for fourth place it was an important win. Interesting to note that the TeeDubs haven’t kept a clean sheet since week four though. And the two clean sheets they have kept were against the two teams they play in the next two weeks… Waitakere and Tasman.
Phew, one last game then and it was Canterbury United against Tasman United and that sucker was live on telly for all (Sky Subscribers) to see. Or, if you were still on holiday (or in the car on the way back) like I was then there’s always the highlights package on the toob. Canterbury didn’t have George King and Gary Ogilvie here though that did mean Andreas Wilson could play his 50th game for the club and young fella Luke Tongue got his first start. A few draws have held the Dragons back but they were also four games unbeaten to close 2018.
Tasman have been doing a whole lot worse and are only spared from the ignominious foot of the table by the WeeNix, with seven defeats from nine games… so they got to work in the break. One such move was getting Liam MacDevitt from Southern, an import fella who simply hadn’t featured for the Dunedin side. Too many other imports in the way. He’ll fit in well with his pace alongside some of the other dudes in Tassie, and he’s been joined by former WeeNix defender Jake Williams and local striker Cristian Benitez who steps up from the youth team. With the NYL polished off now we should see a few more of the kids promoted to the Premmy.
All three of those signings made the squad with Williams and MacDevitt starting… although there was no place for keeper Corey Wilson who is back in training after his head injury in the first game but Nick Stanton held on to his starting gig and Keegan Smith sat on the bench. Cool to see Stants still rocking the Boston Red Sox hat too. Gonna assume that’s a lucky hat or something because surely Tasman (or Nike) have something else to offer there.
The first half was a bit of a dud, with nothing much in terms of goal scoring chances. The best dude for the home side was Seth Clark, the youngster, and you always felt that the Dragons (with Maksym Kowal and Stevie Hoyle up top) were the better bet to score first… yet the longer it stayed at 0-0 the more it suited Tasman, who got more adventurous in the second stanza.
Only thing with that is Canterbury know how to win the close ones (it’s the big leads they struggle with). Maksym Kowal managed to find enough space in the box to curl one past Stanton on 58 minutes and that was the only strike in this one, Canterbury winning their fifth game of the season and all five have been by one-goal margins. Three wins in a row now too. The rough part for Tasman was that it was one of their former players in Kowal, who scored six times for them last season, who got the decisive goal.
Tasman didn’t go easy so don’t worry about that. On came Cristian Benitez and the former Nelson College lad – wearing the 10 jersey – looked real sharp, only an amazing outstretched arm from Conor Tracey denying him the leveller with seven mins left. Sometimes it’s a matter of inches. If Benitez turns out to be the answer to a very long pondered question at striker for Tasman then they won’t mind too much. Canterbury remain one of three teams to have scored in every game along with ACFC and TW… and with this win they leap ahead of Hamilton Wanderers into fourth place.
Sweet as then, back with a bang for 2019 and you can support the hustle over on our Patreon
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