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The Central premise

Central United 0, Eastern Suburbs 1
Kiwitea Street, Auckland, June 13 2015

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Two grand old clubs played each other at Kiwitea Street today. Between the two of them they have won 12 Chatham Cups since 1951, when Eastern Suburbs won their first, five Northern Premier Leagues and two National Leagues. Neither of them have been especially successful at Northern League level in recent years by their historic standards. Suburbs have just bounced back from a spell in Division 1 and Central have struggled in winter with most of their best players playing for Auckland City FC in summer as their first priority. But none of that mattered today. Because today, at the precise midpoint of the 2015 Northern League season, this game was exactly what this fixture is supposed to be – a top of the table clash.

Going in, the Northern Premier League table showed Eastern Suburbs holding the joint top position along with last season’s champions Glenfield Rovers, while Central United and Hamilton Wanderers were both only one point behind the top two. That made both this game and the Wanderers v Rovers clash taking place simultaneously in Hamilton, the undisputed matches of the round.

But there was something additional that drew me to this game, aside from the fact that it looked like rain and I was keen on the idea of being able to take photos from a covered stand… One of the things that has been on a lot of football peoples’ minds of late has been the persistent rumours that New Zealand Football is giving serious consideration to replacing the ASB Premiership with a return to the halcyon days of a club based National League.

Given the success of Auckland City FC on the world stage in recent years, including a third place finish at the Club World Cup just a few short months ago, all the speculation is that if a change is made to move our showpiece competition away from its current franchise format, Central United will be rebadged as Auckland City to compete. That means that the sun could be setting on the Central United brand at this level so it’s quite possibly a bit of a case of ‘enjoy it while you still can’!

And so enjoy it today I did. It’s not very often that I come to this hallowed ground and witness the home side suffer a defeat but that’s what happened to my great shock.

It was a bit of a stereotypical top of the table clash with neither side particularly living up to their billing. They largely cancelled each other out in the first half with Central getting plenty of possession but Suburbs looking more dangerous in attack. Things opened up a bit more after the break with both sides seeing opportunities to grab the points but, again, Suburbs just looked a little bit more potent as they gradually got closer and closer to calibrating their shooting radar.

It was the 79th minute when Tom Shaw found his range and sent a thundering shot goalward. Central keeper Danyon Drake got a big chunk of paw on it diving to his left but it ballooned up in the air and looped in.

If that was the last glimpse of Central that I’ll ever get, then it wasn’t how I’ll remember them – looking a little bit ragged and inaccurate. I’ll probably remember the side that demolished Lower Hutt 6-1 in the 2012 Chatham Cup final first and foremost. Not that it matters just yet. I’m absolutely certain there is more vintage Central United to come in my and everyone else’s future in the next 18 months at the very least – whether we like it or not!

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier

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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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