Birkenhead United 3, Ellerslie AFC 2
Shepherd’s Park, Auckland, July 14 2012
There were a couple of good reasons to go to Birkenhead v Ellerslie in Division 1 of the Northern Regional Football League today. The first was the ability to have a good look at Birko, one of the protagonists in next weekend’s mouth-watering Auckland v Wellington Chatham Cup quarter final tie against Lower Hutt City. The second was the chance to witness a top of the table clash that had the potential to decide the battle for promotion to the Premier Division.
Both these two sides went into this match level on points at the top of the table, albeit with Birkenhead enjoying two games in hand. The thing about games in hand though, of course, is you still have to win them and this was a real opportunity for Ellerslie to take a psychological edge into the last five rounds. For the home side, a win here would all but seal their promotion.
But screw the league, it was the showpiece of New Zealand football, the Chatham Cup that was at the forefront of my mind. I have been fortunate enough to have already seen both Birkenhead and Lower Hutt City in action this season, but in Birko’s case, it was in their first game of the winter against Ngaruawahia when both sides were justifiably a little rusty. This game would serve as an excellent appetiser to my return next weekend for the big one.
When I saw Lower Hutt play, my impression was that they were a young side who pushed their Central Premier League leading opponents hard. They spent a lot of time pinned in their own half, sure, but their counter attack was dangerous and their striker looked quick, agile and incisive when able to break free. Their defence was solid and the one goal they conceded was only inflicted on them very late in the game.
Today’s match by contrast was mostly a pretty straightforward victory for Birkenhead. They led 2-0 at half time and made it 3 early in the second stanza with a spectacular diving header. Ellerslie’s two goals were both penalties and both in my view pretty soft. In reality, despite possession being relatively even, Birkenhead always looked a cut above. Their attack looked more dangerous and their defence more convincing.
This begs the question, how does a mid-table Central Premier League side compare to a table topping Northern Division 1 side? That’s the million dollar question and for my money, they should be very close. I’m not arrogant enough to think that the Northern League is superior to its Central cousin but I do think that Birkenhead are good enough to be at least lower mid table in the Northern Premier League. They probably would be if they hadn’t choked last year after leading the Division 1 race for much of the season. The disappointment of that failure must have hardened their resolve and they are now a much more clinical outfit.
My prediction for next week – Birkenhead 1-0.
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.