Ngaruawahia United 0, Birkenhead United 2
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, March 24 2012
It’s always a difficult thing, a promoted side’s first game in a new league. The moment of truth when they begin to find out how good they really are. Do they have to take a big step up, or were they always simply too good for the lower tier? It can be a confidence boost or a reality check.
Today was meant to be the day I went to Taupo for the final of the Oceania Olympic Qualifying Tournament with New Zealand’s Oly Whites one game away from qualification for London 2012. But gale force winds in the central North Island mid-week forced postponements and the final being moved to Sunday ruled me out. So instead, I headed to rural North Waikato for opening weekend of Division 1 (second tier) of the Northern Regional Football (winter) League. Some people would consider this to be trading down. Not me though. I actually firmly believe I traded up!
Ngaruawahia went into this fixture as a newly promoted club from Division 2. Birkenhead, from the North Shore of Auckland, were well fancied to be promoted to the Northern Premier League last season, but a poor run of form at the wrong end of the year cost them their place in the top flight. They are heavily favoured again this season.
‘The Green Machine’ looked pretty nervous in the opening minutes. With two early goals conceded, it would have been easy for the match to turn into a one-sided blood bath. But they composed and organised themselves and battled their way to a clean sheet against very good opponents for the three quarters of the game that followed. The signs were there that they are more than capable of winning more games than they lose over the course of the season.
The match actually reminded me a wee bit of Swansea City’s opening game of the 2011/12 English Premier League campaign. The perceptibly uneasy Swans went down 4-0 to Manchester City but went on to grab points off Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. They are now an outside chance of Europa League qualification. I’m very much looking forward to checking Ngaruawahia out again in the months to come to see if they can follow suit.
There are more photographs from the match, many of which I’m sorry to admit put mine to shame, available on Ngaruawahia’s website. It’s a great site where you can also view, amongst other things, the excellent match day programme.
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 1
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.