Waitakere United 4, Team Wellington 1
Trusts Stadium, Auckland, April 28 2012
It was hard to see how we might have ended up here.
Going into the semi-finals of the New Zealand Football Championship, Auckland City were seven points clear at the top of the table. Courageous Canterbury United was second, had all the momentum and won the first leg of their semi with Waitakere IN Auckland. The smart money was on a Canterbury vs Auckland final at Kiwitea Street. But as is so often the case, the football gods had other ideas. We needn’t be too surprised though. Waitakere and Wellington are very strong franchises and have natural edges at their disposal as well as talented big game squads. Auckland had already sealed an all-important O-League birth by virtue of ending the regular season top of the league – Wellington wanted it more. Waitakere needed to make the final to have any chance of chasing their international dreams and they had the personnel and determination to overcome the Dragons.
Thus, third placed Waitakere United came to meet fourth placed Team Wellington in last night’s summer season showcase. And just to shake things up even further, the game was also moved away from Waitakere United’s traditional home of Fred Taylor Park to a bigger venue and to an evening kick-off. This allowed the region’s winter league teams and supporters to attend after their games, and avoided a clash with tomorrow’s first leg of the Oceania Champions League Final.
As defending champions, and three time champs at that, Waitakere United carried the advantage of incumbency into this encounter. Aside from the experience of winning breeding more success, the serious money from Oceania Champions League and Club World Cup participation that flows from winning this league is a big ingredient in future success. Their coach, Neil Emblen, as a former Wolves, Walsall, Crystal Palace, Millwall and Norwich player has a wealth of knowledge and their squad is a great mix of youth and experience – the cream of the crop of local New Zealand Footballers not with the Phoenix or the other Auckland super club.
Team Wellington’s natural strength is its close proximity to the Phoenix setup. This means they have at times served as something of a reserve squad and youth nursery for the A-League franchise. They have some exciting young talent. I have been to two Team Wellington games this season, in Napier and Hamilton, and as a result of both occasions one name in particular stands out like a weeping sore on my psyche. Louis Fenton. His four goals against Hawkes Bay United were eye catching enough but his cruel yet stunning injury time winner to deny my beloved Waikato FC a share of the points back on February 5th still burns my delicate soul. That he was missing from tonight’s fixture was a big loss to the away side, although they still had their big star, Dakota (DK) Lucas, the official MVP in last year’s final which he played in Waitakere United colours.
This was always going to be a match where anything could happen. Wellington dominated the first half. They looked hungry, agile, sharp and dangerous in contrast to their opponents who looked like they had played their final last week. But for a top drawer save by Waitakere keeper Danny Robinson and a seriously debatable penalty shout waved away by the referee, the visitors could easily have taken a lead into halftime and who knows what would have happened next. But instead, Waitakere were able to counter attack from the alleged foul at the other end, catch Welly napping and poke one home on the stroke of Half Time to give themselves a 1-0 lead going into the break.
In the second half, Waitakere seemed to have woken themselves up somewhat but still didn’t look at their best. There were chances at both ends but ultimately it was sloppy defending that cost Wellington their second nail in the coffin and despite clawing their way back to 3-1 at one stage, there was only really going to be one outcome after that second goal – and that, as they say, was the ballgame. The 4-1 score line was not a particularly fair reflection of the contest. Team Wellington looked the better side on attack but unfortunately let themselves down a bit on defence. Waitakere were eminently beatable the way they were playing and the capital boys will be kicking themselves they couldn’t make it happen.
But none the less, a huuuuuuge congratulations to my home franchise, Waitakere United! New Zealand summer league champions for 2011/12.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.