Caledonian Ground, Dunedin, July 22 2012
By Mark Currie
Before this game, I tried and I tried to find similarities between Caversham and Manukau City. The best I could come up with was that the home ground for both clubs is situated in Labour-held electorates. But, apart from that, all I could find was differences between the two teams, on paper anyway. Caversham had a star studded team that featured 8 players with NZFC experience in the 11, with a further 3 on the bench. Manukau had 2 total. Caversham had 9 premier titles under their belt since 2000, Manukau have not played premier football since 1990. That said it all.
This game was in reality, nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Make no mistake, as expected, in virtually all aspects of today’s game Caversham were the better team and are deserved semi-finalists. But it was the Manukau City team who covered themselves in glory today and has won over this humble Dunedin based footy fan.
It was abundantly clear from the kick off that Manukau could not out-skill Caversham, but the opportunity was there for them to rise a few notches and if not out play the hosts, certainly to out think them. And that’s exactly what they did. For the first 20-odd minutes out played a home side that was flat and lacked execution forcing a number of great saves out of Liam Little.
But despite this, the game always felt it was waiting for Caversham to take control of it and throughout the half they gained the ascendency and should have lead around the half hour mark as Harley Rodeka had his shot blocked on the line. Caversham did break the dead lock as Ant Hancock was put through one on one, before rounding the keeper and tapping it into an empty net. A few minutes later, it looked like Caversham had scored as a long distance Andrew Ridden shot hit some part of the goal frame. From the stand it looked like the back upright and therefore goal, but alas no goal was awarded. Ridden however, had his goal just before the break. 2-0 to Caversham at the break.
No one gave the visitors much hope in the second spell, but just 3 minutes in, as Manukau surged into the box, Matty Bruin gave away a penalty and saw red. Rhys Ruka converted with a very good penalty and suddenly this game had some intrigue. However over the next 25 minutes, Caversham did what champion teams do and began to close out the match, highlighted by Hancock picking up his second goal in the 54th.
Unfortunately the game took a turn for the worse with about 15 left on the clock as Caversham’s Tom Jackson and Manukau keeper Sergio Bustos both slid in at the ball, neither with any malice, a real 50/50 challenge. Jackson hopped up quickly enough, but it became abundantly clear that Bustos wasn’t right. A 30 minute delay followed as treatment was given on the field for the gloveman before being whisked away in a ambulance who I understand broke his leg in 2 places. The last 15 minutes offered nothing of note as Caversham did just enough to hold on and after seeing their teammate suffer a terrible injury, Manukau’s heart wasn’t in it anymore and the score remained 3-1 to the hosts.
Those are the facts of the game and while they are no doubt important, they don’t tell the full story. Much like the All Whites at the last World Cup, Manukau City were the team that everyone wanted to be drawn with, but also like the All Whites, they can hold their heads up high from this match and indeed this cup run. To their credit, they tried to play positive attacking football against a very solid, structured, effective Caversham unit. They knew Caversham wouldn’t give them much, so every strong attack, every shot on target, every corner, had to be earned. And it was hard work that earned it. And I think they won the hearts of a few locals as well.
This was exemplified by the fact that for the first time that I can remember, the victorious Caversham team formed a guard of honour and applauded their opponents, and they were worthy opponents, as they left the field. They’re a credit to themselves and their community and they can hold their heads up high.
To sum up, I used to be one of those people who thought the last few rounds of cup football was all about getting the result and nothing else. And yes today’s result is important. But anyone who still thinks it’s the be all and end all, clearly wasn’t at the Caledonian today.
For more on Dunedin football, amongst other things, you can follow Mark Currie on Twitter: @markcurrienz
Categories: NZ Chatham Cup
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.