Well, here we are. The regular season is over and our semi-finals are set. Although the final round of the 2018-19 Premiership was overshadowed by the tragedies in Christchurch and, to be honest, the football was not a priority this week. Too many in our football community have been directly affected, and all of us have been impacted. I’d urge you to seek out social media and other websites to read the stories of those who lost their lives, including Atta Elayyan, Tariq Omar, and Sayyad Milne who were all loved members of the footballing fraternity. It’s truly a tragedy beyond adequate words.
Tasman United vs Canterbury United was rightfully abandoned. The decision was made to consider the game a 0-0 draw. Points shared. Obviously football had nothing to do with that decision, but there was a consequence on the table as it meant, with Canterbury Utd’s head to head tiebreaker over Team Wellington thanks to a draw and a win, that the Dragons locked up third place irrespective of other results. Not sure that makes a difference to them as they’ve lost all four games against Auckland City and Eastern Suburbs (their only four defeats this season). Still, they deserved that third place. They’ve been excellent this season. I’ll try write a lot more over the next two weeks looking at season awards, my teams of the season, previews of the semis and the final, etc. along with the regular Premmy Files so more on them later but I really like they way they look going into next week. Aaron Spain and Dan McHenery have given them some real attacking width which allows guys like Stephen Hoyle and Maksym Kowal to hang out in the penalty area and do what they do. Some super talent in that midfield too.
As for Tasman, this was a point they wouldn’t have been expected to get otherwise and thanks to those couple wins after the league resumed in January they’ve snuck ahead of Waitakere to finish eighth on the ladder. Something to build from for sure, they have a nice selection of young goalies and in Fox Slotemaker one of the best performing defenders in the comp. Ahmed Othman had a fantastic season too. Some more squad depth and a reliable centre forward would be high on the shopping list.
First game of the weekend was Eastern Suburbs hosting Southern United, second versus fifth with nothing going to change those two facts. But plenty to play for as far as the home side went. Eastern Suburbs had both Callum McCowatt and Andre De Jong scrapping for the golden boot. Kelvin Kalua lined up at right back again, with one surprise in there as Hayden Johns started his first game of the season at left back with Dalton Wilkins missing just his second. Owen Parker-Price was back in there after missing a couple weeks. No Don Woolridge, he was on the bench. Mohammad Awad retained his spot. And naturally we had the dream team up front: McCowatt, De Jong and Just. Quick, somebody think of a cute nickname for that trio.
Southern completed their season with the incredible feat of having four different players start every single game for them: Stephen Last, Erik Panzer, Abdullah Al-Kalisy, and Garbhan Coughlan. And they only missed out on five because Danny Ledwith was suspended for this final game. Conor O’Keeffe and Tony Whitehead each started 16 games. Also shout out to Alex Cox on the start. His first. No Azaraiah Soromon however which was a bummer after his hot form lately.
Southern came into this game on a run of seven games unbeaten but you got the feeling the last two weeks that the season was grinding to a halt for them. A couple 2-2 draws against teams outside the playoffs which a month or two earlier you’d have backed them to win. But with four draws in their last six games you knew they’d be tough to break down and for almost an hour they were exactly that. Keeping Suburbs almost as frustrated as the media team when they ran out of data for the livestream (which was going good values on yootoob until then).
All goods, they got a pretty rapid highlights package out there to peruse instead.
But then a penalty was awarded for handball and up stepped Callum McCowatt to partake in one of his very favourite pastimes… scoring goals. He sent keeper Liam Little the wrong way (every way is the wrong way when you pop it down the centre) and Callum must have enjoyed that touch so much that he went and scored another goal a few minutes later before Andre De Jong, never one to be left out, contributed one of his own and, in the space of ten minutes, Suburbs had taken a 3-0 lead.
The Southerners had actually had a couple golden opportunities but failed to take them – even Coughlan missed a good one. Don’t take your chances away from home against one of the top sides and that’s what’ll happen. The second was a simple finish open in the middle from a classy low cross courtesy of sub Mike Built (also noticed Woolridge and Campbell Strong getting some decent mins in the second half). The third was a sharp spinning volley from ADJ after another cross from Builty… who himself later hit the frame of the goal with an effort. The game seemed to swing on the penalty decision and Suburbs all season have shown a ruthlessness to score goals in bunches.
They’ll host a semi next week against Canterbury at Trusts Arena, Waitakere’s home ground. Plenty more to say on that in the coming days. I think they keep the golden boot yarn going through the semis and final but personally I’d rather separate the bonus games which means here’s your final standings…
Elsewhere our buddies Southern call it a season at that and it was a disappointing way to end, sure, but you’ve gotta say that fifth place is a huge success. Consolidating what Paul O’Reilly has achieved already at the club. They have a big core of import talent, specifically from Ireland, but what’s not always mentioned about them is how well they’ve done this season at bringing in local youngsters and giving them exposure in the national league. Ben Deeley, Stewart Catto, Alex Cox, Rory Findlay, Sam Pickering, Adam Hewson… it’s a substantial list.
Speaking of big improvements, they may have still gotten the wooden spoon but how about the WeeNix finishing off with a couple wins? In fact with all of their 11 points coming post Xmas, they’d have finished sixth on the 2019 table. Better recent record than Hamilton, HBU, Tasman, and Waitakere. One to ponder on over the winter – the more these dudes played and the more consistency they got in their starting lineups, the better they became as a team.
For the final game of the campaign they were dealt another of those regular blows that accompany their success with Ben Waine deservedly called up to the senior side for the rest of the A-League season. It meant that the WeeNix were without one of their most consistent performers – I’d put Waine in the top three alongside Sam Sutton and Ronan Wynne in that category. Waine had started every previous game. Along with him missing Callan Elliot and Gianni Stensness were also unavailable thanks to their newfound status as senior matchday squad members. But Justin Gulley marked his recovery from injury with a game, one of two changes to last week’s team along with Steve Sprowson starting his first game since early January.
They were hosting Hawke’s Bay United, a team who probably wish their season had ended a couple months ago, but the Bay took an impressive lead after quarter of an hour when Karan Mandair whalloped in a strike on the back of some quality build-up. Said it once, said it a hundy times, but check out for that dude on the U20 radar as the World Cup nears.
HBU were missing the suspended Cam Lindsay along with most of their week one squad. But Cory Chettleburgh did return to action just in time. However the dude who made all the plays in the second half seemed to be Kieran Richards for the WeeNix. He scored to level us up at 1-1 and then won the penalty that put the Phoenix in the lead. Max Batchelor converted from the spot.
Batchelor, who also scored last week, then added a second at the end and could have had a hatty after sub Oskar van Hattum won another penalty only Batch went and missed it. Guts, bro. There’s always next season. With three goals conceded that takes HBU’s season defensive tally to an unthinkable 57 goals. This from a team which I genuinely thought could challenge Canterbury for the semi-finals. Birhanu Taye was sent off with the score at 2-1, his second red card of the season. Then Max Olivieiri picked up a second yellow right near the end. Two penalties conceded and two red cards in a defeat to the bottom team is one hell of a way to end the season.
HBU beat the WeeNix 4-1 in Napier in the first game back from the holiday break. Since then they’ve collected three points from three draws and five defeats. 17 goals scored and 33 conceded in eight games. Add in the injuries, the departures, the financial constraints, and this was a season to forget in the Bay. Lovely way to close it out for the WeeNix, granted.
Simultaneously we had Hamilton Wanderers hosting Team Wellington and remember when the Tron Wands were looking a good shot at fourth place? Yeah well the second half of the season has been back to their 2017 form. Eight defeats from nine games to close it out, what a mess. And the eighth was looking likely from the very beginning as Andy Bevin scored within a couple minutes to give the TeeDubs the lead.
Bevin’s the new captain and he remains one of the most secretly effective lads out there in this comp. Such great vision. Alongside him in the starters were two recent re-signings making their first Premmy starts in Bill Robertson and Joel Stevens. Both have played off the bench and both started in the Champions League but first Premmy starts. Jack-Henry Sinclair got a rest after seventeen straight starts (did come off the bench to make it 18 games from 18 games though). And Marcel Kampman was in goal again. No sign of a team for the Wanderers so can’t offer much there.
However they did equalise before the break. Stafford Dowling with the strike and it’s one that he deserves after a wonderful breakout season, playing wherever the hell Ricki Herbert needed him. Second of the term for him. Also somewhere in that first half somebody missed a penalty for Hamilton Wanderers so not sure what happened there. Marty Bueno normally takes them, for what it’s worth. Hamilton folks – hit me up with a team list if you’ve got one.
Team Welly then made two changes at the break. On came Alex Palezevic and Angus Kilkolly and off came Bevin and Ross Allen. Probably just a matter of sparing anyone any injuries with so much at stake next week but it bloody worked, mate. Kilkolly scored a double and Aaron Clapham got one in between and Xavier Pratt’s late goal was only a consolation in a 4-2 Team Welly win. They’ve gotta play Auckland City in the semis next week so a win following two straight defeats goes down rather well. Gonna be super interesting to see how they shape up next week given some of the options they’ve got. More on that later in the week, be patient.
Ah but you beautiful Tron Wands… where did it all go wrong? One point in nine games in 2019 so far. That’s wooden spooner form. They’ve conceded multiple goals in every one of those games including at least three in each of the past eight. Only HBU are keeping this from being the biggest extended defensive crumbling of the season and at least HBU were able to score as many as the conceded a few times. So disappointing the way those two fell off.
Better cleanse that bad taste then with highlights from Auckland City’s win over Waitakere. A win would mean 52 points out of a possible 54, a new record in this competition. And at Kiwitea Street against an obscenely inexperienced Waitakere squad… you knew what was coming. It was never in much doubt.
Pretty strong team from ACFC. With Brian Kaltack out injured, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Angel Berlanga are probably the top choice CB pairing. Enaut Zubikarai was back in goal. Albert Riera started his fourth game in a row. Fab Tavano was back. David Browne also started after being rested off the bench pretty much every second game recently.
And let me just tell you that if it weren’t for his injury at the start of things, David Browne would be the runaway MVP favourite. He’s the best player on the best team. An utter joy to watch play football. Against Waitakere he didn’t score and he wasn’t massively involved in the goals (he did get one assist) but he was almost untouchable all the same, looking so skilful and so threatening. Only drama was his shooting which was so wild that he nearly broke two windows and did break a gazebo over the fence. But yeah, it was Tavano who scored first with a rocket shot that Nick Draper possibly should have saved, at least by his high standards anyway.
Tavano was looking excellent too, while Dan Morgan and Jordan Vale were providing pressure from fullback which allowed for heaps of pace and movement from Omar Guardiola and Dylan Manickum. Kris Carpenter and Niko Steinmetz defended bravely but it was only a matter of time until the second goal came. Dylan Manickum with a simple touch and finish at the far post. Tavano with the assist. Oh and it was three before the break when Manickum sorta stuttered it in under pressure after Tavano had run into the keeper.
Chris Milicich made a change at the half with Alex Connor-McLean replaced by Julian Stevenson bringing about an alteration in formation which, to be honest, really helped things. Gave them more balance in the midfield and allowed the Waitaks to create a few things after getting thoroughly dominated in the first forty-five. ACFC also made a change at HT with Mario Bilen a straight swap for Angel Berlanga, protecting the fella for next week.
The game chilled out for a while but then Ramon Tribulietx did what needed doing and he put Maro Bonsu-Maro on. Within five minutes the super sub had made it 4-0 and what a delightfully cheek finish it was too. Who needs a simple left-footed tap into an open net when you can use that leg as the standing pivot to chuck in a reverse chop. God, I love this guy.
Ramon, seriously. Javier Lopez is basically out of the squad at this point. Patrick Ludenmo looked mud in his last start. Micah Lea’alafa for some reason hasn’t played since the OCL (please don’t tell me they buggered up another visa thing, probs just an injury). Meanwhile Maro Bonsu-Maro has only started two games all season and he just keeps on scoring goals regardless. Six of them in the Prem. I don’t wanna hear a damn word about being careful with him and not getting carried away. Give him all the minutes now.
Waitakere also brought on a useful attacking option of their own in Matty Conroy and guess who scored a late double? That’d be the one. Conroy is one of the few young fellas who’s been with the squad the whole way through and he almost set up Oscar Browne for a goal in the 79th min but Browney couldn’t put it away. So next time Conroy went alone and scored from a really tight angle after Super Zubi had done something very un-super in rushing off his line and getting beat. Tavano then scored an unbelievable fifth from distance for the home side but a reckless bounce and some misjudgement from TAHW allowed Conroy in behind the defence and he scored to make it 5-2.
I think I’m right in saying that Waitakere United used 26 different starting players this season. Pretty much two different squads. At least, supposing they don’t collapse into a financial blackhole, Waitakere Utd should have a bunch of prospects coming back next season with some valuable experience. But losing eleven of their past thirteen games was a wreck.
And so here we are. Auckland City polishing off a record season and they’ll face their traditional rivals of recent years in Team Wellington in one semi-final. Eastern Suburbs vs Canterbury United in the other match. No doubt at all that the four best teams have made the playoffs and it’s all on the line from here. An undefeated regular season from ACFC means very little if they’re toppled in the semi-final. Get excited. This is where it all happens.
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