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Southern comfort

Mangere United 3, Western Springs 0
Centre Park, Auckland, May 18 2013

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One of the funny things unique to football is no matter the score, every game has the capacity to thrill you, or not. A 0-0 can be dour and boring, or it can have you gripping the edge of your seat from kick off to final whistle. A 3-2 can be a classic, or it can indicate a scrappy affair with two terrible defences. A 3-0 score sometimes indicates a comprehensive victory, or as it was today, it can be a tale of a game that could just as easily have been 3-0 the other way. This was one of those games that you leave with a spring in your step and a big grin on your face.

A couple of things initially attracted me to this as the match to attend this week. One was Western Springs’ player/coach former Millwall, Wolves, Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Walsall player Neil Emblen. The former Waitakere United coach had a few people scratching their heads when upon leaving the successful ASB Premiership franchise, he decided to join a second division outfit. But it is understandable. They have a fantastic set-up at Seddon Fields, including their freshly christened artificial pitch, that many other clubs would kill for and this is sure to see the club rise up the ranks before long. And since his arrival at Springs this season he has developed a reputation for subbing himself on and rescuing his team with his eternal knack of finding the back of the net.

The other deciding factor of wanting to check out this fixture was the top of the table aspect to it. Going in, Western Springs sat unbeaten, with six wins from seven, on top of Division 2 while Mangere were 6 points behind in third with a game in hand. So had Springs taken this out, they would have opened up a lead at the top that would have been very difficult to peg back. As things stand now, the title race has been blown wide open.

As alluded to above, it didn’t always look like this would be the case. It was only very late in the match that Mangere added their second and third and their first two goals were very much against the run of play. Springs dominated the vast bulk of the first half although the home side did show flashes of what they were capable of.

The contrast in styles was interesting. Western Springs appear to play a pretty orthodox kiwi style with no frills. Whereas Mangere were full of Pacific flair albeit with a bit of an unfortunate penchant for individualism rather than teamwork. I felt at times players held onto the ball too long and tried to take on the whole defence by themselves when one or two passes wouldn’t have gone amiss. The team in green and white on the other hand used their possession intelligently and piled on more than their fair share of pressure. The game is all about scoring goals though and while the visitors couldn’t find one, right on the stroke of half time it was the individual flair that won out with a stunning shot by the league’s leading marksman, Mangere’s Ernesto Lopez. 1-0 the score at the break.

One of the first things you notice at Centre Park is what sets South Auckland football clubs apart from the rest – nowhere else do you get hospitality like it. The vibrant, ethnic feel of the crowd sets you immediately at ease, the sweet smell of freshly cooked curry wafts across the ground, luring you into the club rooms, and when you step inside the atmosphere is just so, so welcoming. I literally got a great taste of it at half time with a super yummy, authentic as it comes, home cooked Fijian duck curry. It was so delicious that I felt like the judges on Masterchef, who when they get something truly special that they want to pay the ultimate compliment, they say they want to take it into a corner by themselves and savour every mouthful. And that’s exactly what I did. The fact that the game had restarted and I was still eating didn’t bother me in the slightest. The very definition of comfort food.

I would have quite happily flagged the second half completely and had another one. Or two. But there was a job to do and the recommencement of the match had seen Mangere look much more balanced. They enjoyed a long period of sustained attack, but before too long Springs were all over them again and shots were being fired in towards the target from all angles. Towards being the operative word though, once again nothing actually went in. They missed a couple or three sitters from close range and should definitely have equalised if not seized the advantage. But instead it was Mangere who scored next on the counter attack to give themselves a two goal cushion in the 80th minute and then again seven minutes later to put the final result beyond doubt. A fine victory for the team from Southside.

Over the course of the match we got to see Neil Emblen the manager, Neil Emblen the substitute, and Neil Emblen the player. Unfortunately we weren’t treated to Neil Emblen the goalscorer, but three out of four ain’t bad and in the context of the whole afternoon you certainly won’t hear any complaints from me. Plenty more action and drama to come in division 2!

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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