Midweek football. It’s a tradition upheld across the world, beloved and loathed in equal measure. Fans love it because it means extra footy, another chance to watch their team… though they also hate it because the midweek aspect makes it bloody tough to get to, especially for away games. Players and coaches love it because playing footy is what they do. They also hate it because it’s rather difficult to be at your best on a short turnaround. Lucky for Team Wellington and Wellington Phoenix then that Dave Farrington Park doesn’t exactly require a plane trip for either of them. And it was a public holiday for the fans… that worked out well.
In the proper punk attitude of revolt, both gaffers flipped a middle finger to midweek tradition and named unchanged lineups from the weekend. Probably not too much choice for the WeeNix given the senior side are away in Newcastle for tomorrow night’s game, while Team Welly didn’t need to change anything following their six-goal explosion against Hawke’s Bay. But yeah, another game for Marcel Kampman. More delightful Aaron Clapham. Alex Palezevic started his third game in a row. Angus Kilkolly continues to keep Hamish Watson on the bench with his attacking enterprise. And the other side read: Jones, Mogg, Curry, Wynne, Smith, Sutton, Stensness, Elliot, Ebbinge, Kumsuz and Waine – the first time the WeeNix have named an unchanged XI all season.
The Oceania champs weren’t unchanged for long though, as Liam Wood got hurt about ten minutes in and ended up needing to be replaced after receiving treatment on the field. Here’s hoping it’s nothing too serious – with Justin Gulley gone the former WeeNix standout is looking like getting a nice extended run in the first eleven now alongside Scott Hilliar and Taylor Schrijvers in the back three. Also, they don’t have a huge amount of cover at the back there. With four attacking players and a goalie on the bench it was Nati Hailemariam who replaced Wood. Presumably with Mario Ilich slipping back into defence.
The Nix Kids had already gone close, Kampman tipping a shot from Taci Kumsuz onto the post after some lovely work from Ben Waine in the build-up. But despite coming off probably their best run of form all season (with a win over Waitakere, a close loss to Canterbury and a draw with Tasman), that was as close as the youngsters got for a while. Aaron Clapham and TeeDubs captain Andy Bevin started pulling the strings and in the 20th min it was Bevin who got down the left wing and cut the ball back for Hailemariam to score with an impressive strike.
Then another flurry of WeeNix chances. Sam Sutton swung a free kick off the crossbar, while Kampman was busy snuffing out the best of what Ben Waine had to offer. The WeeNix have had a few different attacking weapons do their thing this season but nobody has been more consistent a threat than Ben Waine, who made his senior debut off the bench in the FFA Cup last year. Hard not to cheer for a kiwi fella keen to run at defenders and make things happen.
It was 1-0 at the break, still a narrow lead. The TeeDubs are a team that knows what to do with a narrow lead though – you expand it. About an hour into it Clapham fed Jack-Henry Sinclair who scored his second goal of the week and fifth of the season – that’d be good for top scorer for either Waitakere or the WeeNix and this lad’s playing as a wing back!
Sinclair was subbed off straight after that, pretty much. Some silly bugger gave the Phoenix a lifeline ten minutes later with a push in the back leading to a penalty kick and up stepped Taci Kumsuz with a shot to open his account for the club. Then this happened…
Hell of an impact from the reserve keeper, aye? Eric Molloy became the second substitute to hit the back of the net for the TeeDubs when he scored a stunner of a goal with ten minutes to play, celebrating with a good old fashioned back flip like his compatriot Robbie Keane back in the day, and the game ended in a fairly predictable 3-0 win to Team Wellington.
Also, look at this image. Just look at it. Magical stuff.
Team Wellington have scored nine goals in four days and after getting the goods from their game in hand they’re now closer to Eastern Suburbs in second than they are to Canterbury United in fourth. With a +16 goal difference to go with an 11 point buffer between them and fifth, the TeeDubs are basically one draw away from securing a semi-final spot… though the real quest is to overhaul Suburbs and make it a home semi. Those two teams play each other in Wellington this very weekend and it promises to be an absolute bloody ripper of a contest.
Almost as interesting is what happens below that. The Dragons need two more wins (minus the points dropped by Hamilton or Southern) in order to ensure they’re in the semis themselves. Two wins from a remaining four games. Technically Hawke’s Bay can still make it too but even if they win every remaining game then they’d still need Canterbury to drop plenty of points to help them out. Realistically it’s too much ground to make up. But here’s the fourth placed picture:
Canterbury Utd: Hamilton (A), Team Welly (H), Waitakere (A) & Tasman (A)
Hamilton Wands: Canterbury (H), Auckland City (A), WeeNix (A) & Team Welly (H)
Southern Utd: Tasman (A), Auckland City (H), Welly Nix (H), Hawke’s Bay (H) & Eastern Suburbs (A)
Hawke’s Bay Utd: Waitakere (A), Tasman (H), Southern (A) & Welly Nix (A)
Tell you what, HBU’s remaining fixtures are all winnable. Just a pity they’ve dropped so many games lately. If you want to crack the top four, you need to be able to beat the top four and one point from eight games against the current top wha ain’t cutting the mustard (whatever that means). The Cantabs have two tough ones in a row but should back themselves in the last two even if they are on the road. Not rating what the Tron Wands have on the dining table. Southern have a game in hand but it’s against ACFC so if they bank those points then they’ll deserve them. Most likely the top four’s been decided since week 11 when the Cantabs replaced Hamilton in fourth.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong…
Auckland City didn’t get to play against Marouane Fellaini, who isn’t quite fit enough to go for his new club yet (imagine a club debut against Auckland City! That’s the real big time, tree-man). But they did have plenty of star power on show, such as former Italy striker Graziano Pelle or 22 year old Brazilian gun Roger Guedes, on loan from Palmeiras (probably gonna stay on a permanent deal if he digs it). Also Brazilian defender Gil played more than 100 times for Corinthians and has 11 caps for the national team. I mean, none of them are Cam Howieson but it’s still a strong side.
City threw out all the big guns despite playing in Auckland less than four days earlier. Yousif Al-Kalisy was left on the bench after a run of games to allow for Brian Kaltack and Mario Bilen to both start, with Bilen bringing a bit of extra steel to the midfield. Javier Lopez also started having fallen out of favour in the domestic stuff, though he was subbed off at half-time. Scored some goals early that fella but he’s lost all momentum since.
Remember that Auckland City won this tournament a couple years ago, hence their being invited back. And they’ve all sorts of experience going up against foreign pro teams from the Club World Cup. So maybe it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they battled away with discipline and a little enterprise in a competitive but gruelling first half. Neither side was really able to take control, with half chances at each end but nothing drastic. Then, literally straight after the restart, Micah Lea’alafa did what he does best…
Right on. 46 minutes of football exactly perfectly precisely to plan for Ramon Tribulietx’s side. But Roger Guedes gets the big bucks for a reason and this is probably that reason…
Jeez, what a strike. Martin Bueno does that for Hamilton Wanderers every couple weeks but an amazing goal all the same. Not too often that Enaut Zubikarai is left flat-footed, he’s about as clever a keeper as there is in the Premiership when it comes to his anticipation.
This from the South China Morning Post:
“Auckland, who were playing their second game in four days with the prospect of a third-place play-off on Thursday to negotiate before they return to domestic action at the weekend, battled gamely to get back in front and weren’t without opportunities, the impressive Jordan Vale at the heart of much of their best play.”
Extra-time would have been on the cards if nobody scored a late winner. Despite the intense minutes in the legs and the international travel and the Premiership game last weekend and the Premiership game next weekend (if they were playing Eastern Suburbs or Team Wellington after this then she’d be all on… however they’re playing the WeeNix so probs not gonna matter)… taking one of the best teams in the Chinese Super League to extras would have been a huge scoop for ACFC. But it wasn’t to be and the winning goal, in the 88th minute, was scored by Guedes again after City’s most reliable battler made a rare mistake.
Super Zubi… of all people. Guedes had already hit the post a few minutes earlier to be fair so the goal was probably coming one way or another. In the end that’s a bit of a familiar feeling for Premmy clubs against worldwide opposition, scrapping hard and doing themselves proud but losing narrowly. So it goes. When you can play against a team with resources that deep and still feel like you let it get away then that’s a huge positive in a way.
Fernando Torres scored for Sagan Tosu in the other game, which his team went on to win on penalties, so City will play off for third place against a Hong Kong Select XI on Thursday night – four games in nine days in two different countries is almost absurd but then who’s turning down the chance to play against a team like Shandong Luneng? Micah Lea’alafa didn’t last the Shandong game with a bout of cramp so don’t expect to see him in that game. There’ll probably be a few shuffles in the lineup, if not for that game then for the WeeNix game at Kiwitea Street on the weekend.
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