With the top four teams in the Premiership all sorted, the question becomes what is there left to play for amongst the poor souls left out of that picture? Pride is the obvious answer, although that doesn’t always take you too far. For Auckland City and Team Wellington it was no dramas since they have the OFC Champions League to play for. Teams like Eastern Suburbs, Tasman United, Canterbury United, and Hamilton Wanderers didn’t have to worry either because they didn’t have anything to play for seeing as they weren’t even playing this week. .
For Waitakere and Hawke’s Bay though, the stage was set. Then some torrential Auckland downpour did an accurate job of representing, and then drenching, that stage (leaving the poor ball kids looking like they’d walked in out of a Charles Dickens novel). Neither of these teams are up to much in the ol’ financial stakes with Waitakere owing money all over town and HBU literally asking fans to fund the rest of their season with their own dollars running dry. They’ve both been in freefall on the field too.
Waitakere had lost eight of their previous nine games which at some point in there led Chris Milicich to shrug off most of his veteran players (although apparently a few stormed out of their own accord) and promote all their best youth players instead in a bit of a revolution. No such measures from Brett Angell, although he has been sneaking the odd local kid out there, his team have capitulated at the back lately and it’s cost them a shot at the semis. Here was a chance for each team to find something positive amongst all that trouble.
Let me tell you, this was an absolutely insane game. If you love goals at all costs then you were in luck, there were plenty of them. There always are when each of these teams play so having them play each other was a guarantee. But if competent defending is more your thing then avert your eyes because this was defending was so shockingly and unimaginably incompetent that the USA just voted it their next president.
The first goal was absolutely scandalous, to be fair. It began with an error from HBU keeper Alex Britton as he tried to punch a ball clear and didn’t see it fly very far. Somewhere along the line Kris Carpenter sent it towards goal and Max Olivieri did some jazzercise to put a knee on it and clear it off the line. Except the ref disagreed and awarded a goal. Which it absolutely should not have been. No way did it cross the line, and the virulently profane protestations from the HBU defenders suggested they had also arrived at that specific conclusion.
In all honestly, Waitakere deserved the goal. They’d started much more positively and having Ollie Bassett skipping down the left wing throwing in stepover after stepover was causing all sorts of hassles for a HBU defence that had a debutant at right back in Josh Murphy, Birhanu Taye playing central defence along with young fella James Marsh, and at left back was 18 year old Jorge Akers with a 20 year old goalkeeper in there as well. So of course they were going to be a bit vulnerable.
Starting debut for Luis Toomey in midfield, which is cool. Karan Mandair was also in that midfield, another impressive player but another young one, and they certainly missed Cory Chettleburgh who was absent – and no idea why Cam Lindsay, who played defence earlier in the season, was playing as an attacking midfielder under the circumstances. It just seems like all their experience is playing up front and watching the fresh blokes make mistakes from a safe distance. That might seem harsh but it also feels fair… because this one soon got ugly.
Hawke’s Bay should have scored almost immediately in response as Cam Lindsay got through but he side-footed his finish past the post. Then Taye injured himself in losing the ball to Andrew Abba and next thing Abba had set up Alex Connor-McClean for the second goal. Very fortunate again as the opportunity only came around because Taye had gotten injured – and would soon enough be replaced by Gavin Hoy – but it started because of an exposed HBU defence once again. Then Oscar Browne took advantage of some more sloppiness and slippiness in the wet weather and ACM had his second in three minutes.
Remember this is a HBU team that conceded six in their previous game to Team Wellington and four in the game before that to Hamilton Wanderers. Another four in the one before that to Auckland City. And five in the one prior against Canterbury United. And here they were 3-0 down after half an hour with things only about to get worse.
Of course, 3-0 up in the first half is not a lock for Waitakere. They’ve literally lost a game, at home too, from that situation this season. And Premmy top scorer Sam Mason-Smith teased a comeback when he polished off an excellent team move that involved Hoy and Max Olivieri, 3-1 after 39 mins. But they couldn’t even hold them out until the break. Abba had a header cleared off the line by Marsh before Connor-McClean completed a first half hatty with a poacher’s finish, again with Abba heavily involved. ACM has been in and out of the starting team all season as he struggled to score the goals to keep himself going but apparently he was saving them all up for one big bundle. He joins Martin Bueno, Callum McCowatt, Sam Mason-Smith, and Garbhan Coughlan as players to have scored hat-tricks this Premiership season.
Hey and as far as televised goal celebrations go, Maro Bonsu-Maro’s Cristiano Ronaldo effort was pretty memorable and nothing is going to top when Martin Bueno ran into the crowd to give his missus a hug… but Alex Connor-McClean giving it a cartwheel after his third is right up there.
Good on the Waitaks, aye. It’s been a super brave stance to run the kids out there and they’ve been competitive in basically every game since they began that strategy, though inexperience has cost them as they’ve failed to close out games or suffered from their own mistakes. A day like this when everything hit the back of the net is fine reward. Players like Luke Jorgensen, Niko Steinmetz, Lachie McIsaac, Nacho Maturena, Oscar Browne, Alex Connor-McClean… Hayden Aish had a decent impact off the bench too.
However in the second half it was a handful of the guys who’ve stuck around since the beginning of the season who got some much deserved benefits. Andrew Abba got an extremely well deserved one, Oliver Bassett, who’s not much older than some of the lads he’s now playing with, curled in a free kick from the edge of the area, and Sam Burfoot ran through a non-existent defence for the seventh right at the end. It’s one thing to have the youngsters out there but you’ve still got to have a few vets to lead the way and those three all had excellent games while providing excellent examples.
Sam Mason-Smith did slot a penalty in there somewhere too, so it ended 7-2. Paul Ifill had a run for the second half but that’s all I want to add about HBU other than that they’ve now conceded 26 goals in their last five games and that this season cannot end soon enough for them. I don’t want to have to watch that garbage again… and they’re on telly next week. That stupid Sky Sports coverage schedule still finding new ways to look awful.
Waitakere might want to bottle this one because their last three games are all against top four sides (Suburbs, Cantabs & ACFC). They’re back ahead of Tasman Utd for now though and this result did wonders for the goal difference, look at that! One other thing – thanks to these three points the poor old WeeNix are now guaranteed the wooden spoon.
But they’re going down fighting at least. The WeeNix looked pretty strong in losing to ACFC last time out, in fact they’ve looked much better in the second half of the season with a more consistent line-up. Noah Tipene-Clegg got a rare start here, as did Kieran Richards. And first-teamer Antony Golec played for the second time in this league. As for their opponents, Tony Whitehead was back after missing his first game but Captain Connor O’Keeffe was suspended for accumulation. Rookie Rory Findlay came back in to replace him. Incredibly with just two more games remaining Stephen Last, Erik Panzer, Garbhan Coughlan, Abdullah Al-Kalisy, and Danny Ledwith have all started every single one.
The WeeNix were sharp here. Guys like Will Ebbinge and Ben Waine continued on their recent form by creating a few things and with a couple shots from distance they had Liam Little on his toes. Sam Sutton was pushing forwards nicely from the middle. But then, as so often is the case, one mistake turned it around. Zac Jones with a poor touch outside of his are and Chris McDonald stole it from him to score an easy one in the 21st minute. McDonald had already picked up a yellow for a clumsy challenge and that insatiable energy was all the way through his game, playing the link man between the front three and the two holding mids.
It got worse when Tipene-Clegg had to be replaced by Kurtis Mogg having gone down hurt. The guy NTC had started in place of at left wing back was Owen Smith, who went off injured in the first half last game and was also replaced by Mogg on that occasion. Either an unfortunate coincidence or a brutal curse, it’s too early to tell.
By the way, Southern’s livestreams continue to be outstanding. Solid quality, no lagging dramas, simple enough set up where you wonder why nobody else is this keen, a couple heavily invested locals on the commentary… what you want from a ‘home broadcast’ so to speak is a friendly reflection of that club and this is that perfectly. Even with the odd Premmy-worthy humble touch…
And I’ve mentioned the Sunnyvale dugout tents before but I’m doing so again because I love them so much.
The more Garbhan Coughlan got into the game, the scarier Southern looked. Yet just as the home side were having one of their best spells the WeeNix went up the other end and won a corner, which led to Sam Sutton curling in a fantastic cross for Gianni Stensness to nod in on the bounce, evading Little with a bit of primo placement. Those bouncing headers are always funky because the ball rises back up simultaneous with the obligatory shared intake of breath in the crowd.
Ah but the deadlock didn’t last as Alex Soromon scored his first goal for Southern United three minutes later. They told us he was a finisher and they weren’t lying. The Vanuatu international showed a sharp burst of pace to beat his defender to Coughlan’s quick cross and his diving header looped back across the keeper to settle gently inside the far post. Every week Soromon has looked a little better than the last and I really hope they get him back for next season.
Again the WeeNix responded with a positive beginning to the new half, though tempers flared when Markus Fjortoft went down in a collision and the WeeNix continued to attack. Ben Waine dribbled into the box – right down Fjortoft’s flank – before Tony Whitehead shoved him off the ball and gave him a right serving for his perceived lack of sportsmanship. Or whatever, it’s not like they were obliged to kick it out, this happens every time, aye? Anyway, Coughlan gave away a foul in the next spot of play after giving everyone a good talking to and then McDonald left a foot in late on Boyd Curry and he had his second yellow, Southern down to ten men for the final 38 minutes. A wee bit unlucky to be honest, Macca not really going in with much intent and possibly copping some collateral refereeing damage courtesy of his teammates’ indiscretions.
Immediately Paul O’Reilly subbed off Al-Kalisy in order to get Adam Hewson out there as a spare midfielder. It meant the team had one fewer option up top and it meant the WeeNix were able to push forwards against a deep-lying and crowded defence desperate to hold on for the win. But 66th minute, following some big pressure, Ben Waine got his head to a cross from Richards and how about it that was 2-2.
But full credit to Southern for staying compact at the back, doing enough to maintain that scoreline and earn a difficult point. It was a game they’d have certainly planned on winning beforehand and even at half-time they were in a great position. Yet the red card made things very tough against a WeeNix team that’s playing much better than their record at the moment.
With this result Southern have now alternated between a win and a draw over their last six games... which is six games unbeaten. For the WeeNix this was their third positive result of the campaign and just the fourth time in 16 games that they’ve scored multiple goals in a game. At the moment they’re getting really superb performances from guys like Gianni Stensness, Sam Sutton, Ben Waine, Will Ebbinge and Callan Elliot. Every one of them is a good shot to make the U20 World Cup squad. How good!?
Rightio, you wanna know about the OFC Champions League platter? Shan’t go too deep because it’s only the early stages after all and it’s a little routine… although neither ACFC nor Team Welly had it easy in their first games.
City played AS Magenta of New Caledonia and in the first 45 minutes it was pure Auckland City. They scored almost straight away when Micah Lea’alafa, playing in his home nation, threw down some craziness and chipped the ball to the far post where Dan Morgan slammed it home. Then onslaught then continued and Lea’alafa was involved in almost everything. Finally he got his reward after half an hour with a strike from a close angle that snuck past the keeper. Manickum, Tavano and Howieson all also went close. 2-0 to City at the half.
One player who wasn’t as dominant as in recent times was David Browne, though he came into his own in the second half and should really have made it 3-0 and killed it off when he got through on the counter attack. Instead he passed to sub Omar Guardiola and then Guardiola inexplicably passed it right back to him and Browne, now under some pressure, lofted it over the bar. Guardiola had an open goal there and Browney took out a bit of his frustration on him.
Weird thing was that Magenta were creating a whole chunk of chances. Set pieces and some aggressive work through the middle, they were putting the City defence under as much pressure as almost anyone has all season. They were definitely worth a goal and they finally got it in the third minute of injury time. Too late to affect the outcome but it reflects what was surprisingly a really tough second half for ACFC. But they got away with the win and should be better with that first game under their belt – on Wednesday they play Tupapa Maraerenga of American Samoa who lost 10-1 to Solomon Warriors in game one so… yeah. Goals should flow.
As for the defending champs, Team Welly are in Vanuatu where they played Ba of Fiji. Tough game first up and made tougher with Liam Wood still injured and Andy Bevin unable to make the trip because, apparently, of work commitments. What they do have available instead is mass experience and class from the duo of Ross Allen and Aaron Clapham and the pair of them combined for Clappers to score the opener in the ninth minute. Quick cutback and a side-footed finish, lock it in. Then Allen got one of his own, the Guernsey Gunner, as he pounced on a poor defensive clearance. Get in.
At that stage Team Welly looked like they were in for a massive win, 2-0 up after less than twenty minutes. Instead there were no more goals. The sweltering conditions soon took their toll and the TeeDubs couldn’t maintain their early pace, instead settling into a more controlled way of playing and trying to make sure they didn’t concede anything silly. Counter attacks became the plan with Angus Kilkolly hoarding his energy for the ball over the top or in behind.
Team Welly had heaps of chances to add a third and if it weren’t for some casual finishing and a few ripper saves from Ba keeper Josaia Ratu then they would have scored again. But Ba were also good value in that second half and it’d be a lie to say that Scotty Basalaj didn’t get his gloves dirty. 2-0 was the final score and both kiwi sides are off to winning starts, albeit with narrow victories.
Sweet as, if you’re enjoying the Premmy coverage then support the TNC venture by getting generous on our Patreon so that we can keep taking this thing further – every little bit counts
Also whack an ad whenever you read something decent which always helps
Keep cool but care