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New Zealand Development 2, Northern Football 2
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, October 19 2014

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I have to confess, actually it’s no secret, that I have never been much of a fan of North Harbour Stadium as a football venue. I must say however that it’s all of a sudden beginning to morph in my mind from a white elephant into a pretty kick-ass sports complex. The reason for this is, if you can look past the half-arsed lop-sided atmosphere-free wasteland that is the main field, there are a couple of cool little features springing up around its edges. One of them is undoubtedly the artificial football turf that this game was played on. Sure, Albany is still on the outskirts of nowhere land in a part of Auckland I would prefer to pretend doesn’t exist. But that’s ok. Sometimes it’s fun to rough it a little bit!

And new facilities are not the only thing being developed here! I speak of course of one of the two tems I came to see – New Zealand Development, AKA the NZ Under 18s, formerly known as the New Zealand Under 17s. They are certainly developing! This year’s squad appears on paper to be much more competitive than they were last year, especially on attack with two of the country’s best forwards in Martine Puketapu and Jasmine Pereira leading the line.

On the other hand, Northern, finalists the last three seasons and champions two out of the last three, are perhaps a little weaker than previous years. Maybe there’s a chink developing in the armour… No sign of previous stalwarts like Estelle Harrison, Chloe Knott, Tiffany Patterson and in particular Hannah Hoeksema who was always good for a few goals. Pam Yates has been replaced by Erin Nayler who has come across the bridge from AFF in goal which is hardly a downgrade but apart from that they are just a touch below the quality of previous seasons.

As solid as the attacking credentials of both sides were though, on the day they were both a little bit suss on defence and this one could have easily had more goals in it than it eventually did. How we went into the break goalless was beyond me, with most of the quality chances falling to NZ Development. The most glaring golden opportunities were both towards the end of the first half, the first of which was when Puketapu thundered a shot into the right hand upright. It fell back into the path of Paige Satchell whose shot was unfortunately directed straight at Erin Nayler. Then, in an almost identical situation, it was Issy Coombes who found the woodwork and Pereira’s turn to miss with only the keeper to beat, this time pushing it wide.

Come the second half, and NZ Development were still getting in behind the Northern defence quite regularly, and even though Northern were improved, it seemed like just a matter of time before the young ‘uns got their breakthrough. Unfortunately for them though, it was their own blunder at the back that saw Sophie Stewart-Hobbs give the ball away cheaply to Malia Steinmetz who slotted home the opener for the side in black and pink. That seemed to click the Development side into gear a little bt more and in short order they had restored the equilibrium via a cool Martine Puketapu finish. With about ten minutes to go more determined probing finally paid off a second time when Paige Satchell slotted one past Nayler and they had the lead they had been deserving all game. It was short lived however. Northern flew straight back down the other end and punished the Development side for more weak defensive work and Katy Jackson made them pay. 2-2 was how it ended.

It’s not easy to predict how this competition is going to end! WaiBOP followed their big win last weekend with another strong effort in beating Capital 4-0, but have still to be tested against a strong attacking side and will be without Football Fern Helen Collins next week when they face Auckland. Auckland remained unbeaten, dispatching South 3-0 but my spies tell me they were less than convincing against a traditionally weak side. Mainland continued to impress with a 7-zip thrashing of Central, which coupled with their win over the Development team last week must make them pretty strong candidates for favouritism as things stand right now.

I’m not entirely sure where I’ll be next week but my car has been giving me troubles so my first choice of WaiBOP v Auckland probably won’t be feasible… That just leaves a return to Albany for Northern v Central. Lucky the place is growing on me so much!

Categories: NZ Women's National League

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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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