Manukau City 0, Claudelands Rovers 3
Walter Massey Park, Auckland, June 8 2013
It’s the mid-point in the Northern Regional Football League season, and there’s no better time for a relegation six pointer. Three points adrift at the bottom of division two going into this match, Manukau needed a win more than anyone, in order to give themselves a fighting chance of avoiding the drop back to federation football. To beat Claudelands would have effectively counted for double, putting both sides level on points and setting up an exciting run to the finish. For Rovers, a win would put them 6 points clear of the drop and leave their fate well and truly in their own hands.
To make things even more interesting for me today, these are both clubs I have taken a keen interest in.
Manukau City captured my imagination last season when their Chatham Cup run took them all the way to the quarter finals and a trip to Dunedin where they ultimately fell to Caversham. Sadly their lack of resources have seen them lose a number of promising players since those heady days, and they are now fighting for survival. A feeling their supporters know only too well.
In the case of Claudelands, you might recall I enthusiastically followed their heroics in gaining promotion to this division at the start of the season. The team that nobody rated going into the playoffs came from behind on numerous occasions and more than quenched my perpetual thirst for a good underdog. A thirst that this match was set up for. Claudelands have hardly set the league alight since their elevation to this level, but they have been solid performers albeit with the same leaky defence that made their promotion more challenging than it might otherwise have been, and now sees them battling for survival at the foot of the table.
Manukau stared brightly today and had two great opportunities to score very early on. But against the run of play, albeit only a few minutes into the game, Claudelands hit the front. A corner kick resulted in a scramble in the box and a goal bludgeoned home by the visitors. From that point on they never really looked like surrendering the lead and Manukau had to battle on with ten men after what I’m told was an at best debatable red card (I missed it, sorry). Manukau still had their chances, but thanks to a combination of both sides’ strikers missing the target and some excellent saves by the respective keepers (who both had excellent games) the one goal lead to the team in red was preserved right through to half time.
The second half started rather like the first with an early goal to Rovers which essentially put an end to the contest. The game meandered on a bit from that point, as Manukau struggled for possession and Claudelands seemed reasonably comfortable with the circumstances they had. The visitors’ third, with only a few minutes left until the end of the match, was by that stage academic and their well-deserved three points were well and truly in the bag.
Now 6 points clear of the drop, and with it difficult to see where Manukau are going to pick up the requisite points to bridge the gap, it’s hard to see how Claudelands will not be spending a second season in the NRFL. But having said that, the fighting spirit of Manukau City AFC is well documented on this blog and elsewhere, and they have been known to be at their best with their backs against the wall. The other clubs will still be wise to look over their shoulders and never underestimate the black and whites.
Claudelands coach Jim Keaney was certainly wary of being too complacent down the stretch, as he told me in our post-match interview – a new feature on in-the-back-of-the.net that I plan to make a regular habit of from now on when I can get someone to talk to me. I hope you enjoy it and I don’t sound too naff…
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.