In a twist that we never knew we needed but now can’t live without, Southern United kicked off early on Sunday at home against Hawke’s Bay United. An 11am start and the more we get of that next season the better. Especially when there’s a delightful live streaming option as well – which only continues to put more space between Southern and their broadcasting competition with the introduction of instant replays. So much untapped potential in this competition in so many ways and I love that people who care about it are taking things into their own hands now. Beautiful.
Pretty obvious concern for HBU from the very start which is that they only had three dudes on the bench. This was the first game since Sam Mason-Smith left and Dan Allen said his goodbyes a while back. Their starting central defence both left midseason, Anders Eriksson and Joe Zupo (both imports). Cory Chettleburgh hasn’t played for three weeks, not sure if that’s because of injury or if he’s no longer with the squad. But they only named three subs, one was a reserve keeper and the other two were Kaeden Atkins and Harry Mason – both up and coming locals who last year were playing for Napier Boys High. Captain Birhanu Taye was back fit to start and Paul Ifill isn’t the worst backup centre forward out there, although they did still have a makeshift defence with Cam Lindsay and Jorge Akers in the middle, same as last week.
It was Hawke’s Bay’s tendency towards chaos rather than Southern’s tendency towards control that won out, leaving us with a pleasantly entertaining end to end contest. Gavin Hoy was looking excellent for the Bay, easily their most dangerous player, while Southern looked to pounce through their fantastic top three of Garbhan Coughlan, Abdullah Al-Kalisy, and Azariah Soromon. And with their captain also returning (from an accumulation suspension), Conor O’Keeffe, they were nice and settled in their familiar shape.
If anything you’d have to say that HBU were looking a little more likely… but then that penchant for chaos came back to bite them. Coughlan had already had a goal correctly disallowed for offside when Markus Fjortoft sent one long down the left wing for Al-Kalisy. That fella ran it into the penalty area and squared for Soromon, an easy finish for the Vanuatu international. Only thing with that is Al-Kalisy did kinda look like he was a mile offside and the HBU defence wanted an explanation from the ref. Perhaps they didn’t go about asking for it in the right manner though, considering that Cam Lindsay was sent off in the process and with only one more game this season that’s his campaign done with. Needless to say, Brett Angell had to be calmed down by the ref and lino.
But almost immediately they went up the other end and Danny Ledwith was judged to have handballed in the box trying to keep a cross from swinging in and that’s bread and milk for Paul Ifill, Saint Paul scoring from the spot and we were level at 1-1. Birhanu Taye had to slip back into defence with Lindsay gone and the funny thing is that the red card didn’t affect the game a whole lot. The HBU defence is always full of holes anyway and Southern are always a little hesitant to overcommit forwards anyway. But the home side definitely had their chances to regain that lead, with Soromon hitting the frame of the goal. Finally they got their goal when Garbhan Coughlan finished off from another Al-Kalisy assist in the 35th min and that might have been the start of the onslaught.
Instead Hawke’s Bay scored a slick looking goal right on the brink of half-time. James Murphy with a lovely cross and Max Olivieri supplying the final touches for his sixth of the season. Mason-Smith or no Mason-Smith, this was the kind of goal that Hawke’s Bay have been scoring all season and an indication of why they could have been so dangerous this season if they’d only had a stable defence.
They did look pretty damned stable in the second half, to be fair. Maybe it was the pace of the game catching up to everyone or maybe HBU just finally found a formula that worked for them (if so, keep an eye out for the early sacrificial, team-building red card next week). The second half just didn’t have the same legs. Southern were the team more in control only they couldn’t break things down and in the end had to settle for a 2-2 draw, repeating the scoreline of last week’s draw with the Wellington Phoenix. Same as HBU who also drew 2-2 at home to Tasman seven days earlier. Should’ve picked it.
Since losing four in a row earlier on, two losses on each side of the Xmas break, Southern have gone seven games undefeated including draws versus Team Welly and Auckland City. They’ll try add another scalp next week when they travel north to meet Eastern Suburbs although there’s nothing left on the line but the formalities as each team is now locked into their final positions on the table – Suburbs in second and Southern in fifth. Massive for Southern to edge into the top half again considering where they were a few years ago. By the looks of up and comers like Ben Deeley, Rory Findlay, Stewart Catto, and Adam Hewson there’s plenty more to come too.
This is the second to last week of the regular season and by now most things are locked and loaded. Auckland City are minor premiers. The top four is all sorted. The WeeNix will finish last. Now we know that Southern are fifth. And Eastern Suburbs, with a bit of help from elsewhere, will host a semi-final in a couple weeks after securing second place with a healthy win over Tasman United.
The home side were boosted by having Sam Ayers back in the eleven, while Ed Sillars finally got himself in amongst the starters. Tasman are rather awful at getting opposition lineups out there and for once Suburbs themselves didn’t have much of a media presence for a game, but from the photos it looked like basically your regular Suburbs side. Kelvin Kalua at right back with Tim Payne returning from suspension. Nando Pijnaker in his second game back from injury. Mohamed Awad also started.
Last time these two teams played, Tassie frustrated ES into a nil-all draw up in Auckland on the telly which remains the only points they’ve dropped against anyone other than ACFC or TW. They just couldn’t find a way through. And there were shades of the same thing for most of the first half of the return fixture until two penalties were awarded their way in the space of about five minutes. If you trust the Tasman twitter account then one was “incredibly lucky” and the other was given the wrong way for a foul on the Tasman keeper.
Up to you if you trust the Tasman twitter account though. Callum McCowatt put the first one onto the crossbar but he scored the second attempt. I mean, I assume McCowatt took the first spottie. Info was a little sparse. Ryan Worrall levelled us up soon after the break but then Andre De Jong scored to restore the lead and Suburbs killed it off with a late strike for McCowatt, his second. 3-1 the final score.
Quick word on McCowatt. With another double here he moves to 16 goals for the season and that’s got him tied top with Sam Mason-Smith and one ahead of buddy Andre De Jong. Garbhan Coughlan and Marty Bueno each scored this week too so there’s a crowd at the top of the queue but gotta give it up to McCowatt because that’s now nine consecutive games that he’s scored in. He’s up against Southern next week – a team he scored a double against last time – and what’s most incredible about it all is that he didn’t even play the first four games of the season as he was still over in Europe training away with Sparta Rotterdam. So he’s scored 16 goals in 13 games. Good lord. Such a massive talent and those numbers are a dismissive and content chuckle in the face of the best imports this league has to offer, he’s been that effective.
While all that was going on, the game of the round was taking place as Team Wellington were the latest team to try and put a halt to Auckland City’s undefeated domestic season. The latest and the most likely, to be honest. Although with both teams returning from excellent OFC Champions League group stages there were some oddities in the lineups. After playing his 100th game for the club in the OCL, Scott Basalaj wasn’t even on the bench with Marcel Kampman playing his third game of the Premmy season. ACFC also gave a backup keeper a go with Ruben Parker in place of Super Zubi. Also his third start of the season.
Elsewhere Team Welly welcomed back new captain Andy Bevin after he missed the OCL stuff, while the hero of that tour, Ross Allen, assumed his rightful role up front. Eric Molloy was preferred to Henry Cameron at left back. Joel Stevens on the bench. As for City, they managed to find rest for Angel Berlanga, Cam Howieson, and David Browne who were all on the bench while Jordan Vale, Dan Morgan, Fabrizio Tavano, and Micah Lea’alafa were all absent from the squad entirely. Starts for Darren White, Alfie Rogers, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, Albert Riera, Reid Drake, and Omar Guardiola – and most excitingly for breakout youth grad striker Maro Bonsu-Maro. There’s a good chance these two teams meet again soon in the semis and safe to say the line-ups will look a lot different when they do.
It was Aaron Clapham who struck first. Picking off a bit of a mistake at the back, an errant back-pass (not sure of the culprit), he finished it well and the TeeDubs were up 1-0… for four minutes before Bonsu-Maro got in behind the defence and scored. Team Welly have lost numbers as the season’s progressed and it’s meant new faces in each of the three lines. After losing to Canterbury last week they had a great chance up a goal to get a statement result in the books against City and instead they were cut through in a way that you don’t normally see from the organised and efficient TeeDubs backline. But then MBM’s got a bit of something special about him.
Brian Kaltack went off injured after a head clash, best wishes to him. The word from Ramon is that there’s a fracture involved to the side of his face near one of his eyes and that’s gonna take a little while to recover from which probably ends his Premiership season, sadly. Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery by the time of the Champions League latter stages.
Both teams kept picking for ways through and each went to the bench with about half an hour left, City throwing David Browne on and Team Welly turning to Joel Stevens. Ross Allen was able to put one into the net only for the offside flag to go whipping upwards, then Bonsu-Maro decided enough was enough and he scored on the counter in the 73rd minute for what ended up as the winning strike. Yet another game between these two decided by a single moment, yet another game for ACFC in which they found a way to win.
Bit of a concern there for Team Welly because having lost to Canterbury last week, they now slip to fourth on the ladder and unless the Cantabs slip up against Tasman United next week then it’ll mean a semi-final at Kiwitea Street. Then again, the Dragons might not hate the idea of resting a few blokes. They were decent against City this season even if they lost both games and they didn’t fare too well against Eastern Suburbs, meanwhile Team Welly beat Suburbs twice and lost to ACFC twice so you know who they’d rather play.
As for Auckland City, what is there left to say? Undefeated in seventeen Premiership games this term and I see their website is claiming that streak to go all the way back to the opening game of last season. 35 games… because obviously it doesn’t count if you only lose on a technicality, right? If only they did their paperwork as well as they slammed that block button on twitter (Micah Lea’alafa missed a bunch more games this season too for ‘personal reasons’).
But jeez that’s a quality team. Suppose their best XI is Zubi / Vale, Berlanga, Kaltack, Morgan / Howieson, Ali, Tavano / Browne, Lea’alafa, Manickum. It’s something like that anyway, depending on whether Manickum or Guardiola is now higher on the list. Well, they just beat their biggest current rivals with only three of those guys starting and three more coming off the bench. It’s crazy (and a testament to the work of Ramon Tribulietx) that guys can come in and out of the team without them losing their identity, style, or success.
And if they win next week against Waitakere they’ll set a new Premiership record with 52 points in an 18-game season. Won’t be the first team to go through an entire season unbeaten but statistically they’d be the best.
There was a mini classic unfolding in Wellington simultaneously (side note: why are you playing simultaneous games in the same city?) as the Wellington Phoenix hosted Hamilton Wanderers. Neither team had much to play for but neither team also knows how to play it boring.
The WeeNix were weakened by the injury crisis to the senior team which took Gianni Stensness and Callan Elliot to Aussie for their A-League debuts the night before and there were no senior players to spare. But in the second half of the season they’ve really come good with more stability, largely built around the consistencies of Ronan Wynne and Sam Sutton down the spine. First start here for 16 year old Henry Hamilton after a couple subs apps earlier in the campaign against his namesake club. A start for Max Batchelor too.
Max Batchelor probably hasn’t played as much as he should have this season but he showed a pleasant striker’s instinct to tap home from about a metre out after Will Ebbinge did some amazing things and half an hour in the Nix were leading… although they lost Owen Smith soon after, I assume to injury, as he was replaced by Taci Kumsuz. Hamilton Wanderers had the likes of Tommy Semmy and Martin Bueno putting the pressure on and there were several times they might have had a goal from all that, but they didn’t and then just seconds before the half-time whistle Ben Waine snuck in to make it 2-0.
Hey, no drama. The Tron Wands have made a habit of second half comebacks. They may not have won a game in 2019 but they always score a goal or two and on this occasion it was two – both Semmy and Bueno finding the net for the second consecutive game. Those two get all the goals. Semmy slammed in a volley and Bueno, in the 89th minute, slipped home a penalty kick. What a comeback, aye? Bloody old Tron Wands bringing back the goods. Oh no wait but then Ben Waine scored in stoppage time for the win. Scored in stoppage time of both halves.
Ben Waine is a fella not to overlook. Callan Elliot and Gianni Stensness have progressed into the A-League ranks but Ben Waine made his club debut in the FFA Cup way back in the middle of last year and he’s been brilliant this season, a constant threat from the left wing, scoring eight goals when no other player in his team has more than two. Elliot actually hasn’t scored at all so if he’s not in the senior team again then hopefully he gets a crack at Hawke’s Bay next week.
Finally we’ve gotta pop back up to West Auckland where Waitakere were on TV once again, though at least this time they were up against a team with something to play for. Canterbury United already knew that Team Wellington had lost and they knew that a win would send them above them on the ladder.
Kris Carpenter was back for the Waitaks, with Matt Wood partnering him in the middle and Niko Steinmetz sliding to fullback. Lachie McIsaac on the other side because he’s been laying it down for seven straight weeks now. Of all the youngblood in this team, he’s one of the ones looking most comfortable and consistent. Also keen to say Oscar Browne and Dane Schell held their spots and that Matty Conroy was back in there off the bench. For the Cantabs, they made one change from the side that beat Team Wellington in their last game and that was breakout attacking midfielder Seth Clark coming back in for Cory Mitchell.
Bit of a shock early on though. Sixth minute of the game and Ollie Bassett took advantage of a mistake from Dan McHenery and then his shot somehow snuck in via a mistake from Conor Tracey. Tracey’s been excellent this season so don’t judge him on that one error but yeah… not his finest moment. Didn’t matter too much, granted. Seth Clark is a mini maestro and when he charged down Matty Wood, nicking the ball off him in the box, Wood didn’t have much choice but to drag him down and screech went the whistle and pop went the red card. Adam Thurston scored the penalty and Matt Wood, well…
Yeah the changing rooms were locked. Had to wait like twenty minutes until half-time or something. The fact that this delightful clip made the official highlights tells me that somebody’s got a sense of humour and that there’s hope for the Sky Sports x NZ Football thing yet. Top, top stuff. Got me wondering if there are enough of these funny/humble/cheeky/kiwi-ingenuity Classic Prem moments to make a whole article of them after next week, maybe. Hit up the DMs if you’ve got something that missed the Premmy Files treatment.
Soon enough the Dragons were in front as Thurston combined with Aaron Spain and the former picked up the return pass and guided it past Nick Draper to go in front. Spain then nabbed a second assist when he regathered a clearance from a corner and fed Aaron Schwarz, who I think was trying to cross to the far post but it floated in all on its own. Might be that I’m not giving a defender enough credit for the finesse finish, might be that he meant it all along. Either way it was 3-1 at the half.
Waitakere pretty much lost their way after the red card. Andrew Abba came on off the bench but couldn’t find a goal to change things, then Maksym Kowal made sure it wouldn’t matter even if he did when he tapped in from close range after Schwarz had headed off the post. The only reason they didn’t score seven in the end was Nick Draper, who three times came up with magnificent stops against one on ones. First Hoyle while the score was still 3-1, then McHenery and Kowal. Each time just getting a hand on the ball to deny them. Great goalkeeping from one of the rare blokes to have been doing the work all season for the Waitaks – along with Ollie Bassett and Sam Burfoot.
The 4-1 margin of victory doesn’t mean much for the ladder in all reality but the win itself is huge. Puts Canterbury United ahead of Team Welly by two points and if they beat Tasman next week then third place is all theirs. We already had that chat though. Tell you what fired me up… James Pendrigh came off the bench. Finally got that lad back and available and just in time for the playoffs. This second half of the season the Dragons are scoring a bunch more goals and they’re looking in great form at the time when it really matters. Don’t sleep on ‘em.
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