By John Palethorpe
The end of the season approaches, accompanied by a New Zealand Football review and the continuing caterwaul over eligibility. In the Lotto NRFL Premier, always ahead of the curve, an eligibility appeal against Three Kings United ended up radically shifting the league table in the last few weeks, offering Melville United hope of an escape and giving Eastern Suburbs the league title.
For Waitakere City there was little comfort from Three Kings’ plight. Rooted to the bottom of the table, the black and whites had managed to muster 7 points in 18 games. Their opponents, Central United, had all hopes of a title challenge extinguished by the Three Kings ruling. An advantage to the home team, for whom anything short of victory would result in relegation to Division One.
Central have played some good football when I have seen them this season, with coach Jose Figueira focusing on short passing and a high intensity pressuring game. However, as the man himself noted frustratedly to himself in the first half, the first touch of Central let them down again, and again and again. New Zealand has no shorting of Tiki, but a few more years might be needed before we get the taka to go with it.
Waitakere City took the lead through a slaloming Santiago Falbo run and a fine finish into the far corner, despite Drake’s best efforts. There are occasions when a player demonstrates the individual willpower and determination to get a goal from nowhere, and when Falbo began his run there was an intake of breath from the sidelines in expectation of the net bulging, making fortune tellers of us all.
Central were working hard on distribution, and found a lot of time for their defenders on the ball. However, the organised and well drilled City side kept compact and ensured that their opponents were harried, diverted and denied time and space when venturing into their territory. Haidar Jabir caught the eye in this regard, getting stuck in and showing the sort of energy levels which belied his teams position in the league table.
James Hoyt linked well with Takuya Iwata, looking rested from his holiday, while on the opposite flank Finn Cochran attempted to chase balls put in behind the full backs, often in vain.When it worked though, it worked. As Central sought an equaliser, Cochran was a swing of the leg away from finding it only for City’s Sammy Khan to manage to impressively nick the ball off his toes without conceding a penalty.
If individual determination brought the opener for Waitakere City, then individual error allowed Central to draw level. Brian Shelley, commanding and clear voiced throughout, was caught in possession by Hoyt who went on to stroke the ball past Dion Lee. One all. Uh oh.
The threat of relegation required a reaction, and it was noticeable throughout the game that Waitakere had no illusions about what was required. Their counter-attacks were often rapid, with Drake having to accelerate out of his area on more than one occasion. Waitakere forced good saves from Drake through Jabir, and one looping misplaced cross had the Central keeper backpedalling with black and white shirts filling his field of vision.
Half time – Waitakere City 1 – 1 Central United.
I’ve always preferred relegation battles to title races. That’s mostly because the teams I’ve seen have either always been involved in battling the dreaded drop, or have managed to consistently stuff up title challenges. So going into the second half, despite making the journey up to Fred Taylor Park as a Central supporter, I couldn’t help but feel for Waitakere City.
They started the second half strongly, pushing down the flanks and mixing it up in midfield. The referee spent most of his time dealing with increasingly loud yells for free kicks and increasingly histrionic reactions to either calling a foul, or not calling one. While the clouds were cluttering the skies above us, there was no shortage of blue in some of the language from both sides.
Central continued to build pressure, but there was little incisiveness in their attacking. The experience and bite of substitute Adam McGeorge brought some authority to their midfield, although the yellow card he picked up emphasised the manner in which that authority was established.
Sepetaio Nokiosi created Waitakere City’s best opening, pinging another long looping cross in the stiff breeze that had arrived at half time. Drake, under pressure from Jordan Carter, managed somehow to push the ball onto his own bar and then retrieve it at the second time of asking. The positivity of City’s play and their attempts to recycle possession emphasised that they recognised they had a chance. Hope is a powerful motivator.
The game drew to a close with Waitakere’s bright endeavours being rebuffed by Central, punctuated by the chaos of Drake’s uncertainty regarding a backpass, Vince Pineau’s acrobatic but off target bicycle kick and the increasing agitation of home supporters who could see relegation the other side of the final whistle. It came. Just down from us on the weathered bleachers, one young man muttered “Well, that’s it” to his friend and trudged to the clubhouse.
The draw did neither team any favours. Waitakere City head down to Division One next season, hoping to avoid the same fate as last year’s relegated Ngaruawahia United who sit bottom of that division. Central United lose a relatively easy away fixture as the number of North Shore teams in the Lotto NRFL Premier starts to reach critical mass, with Forrest-Hill Milford United winning promotion.
Full Time: Waitakere City 1 – 1 Central United
[John Palethorpe is a thirty year old Primary teacher. He enjoys sport and politics, and writing about both. He steadfastly refuses to accept that football isn’t as mainstream in New Zealand as it is in the United Kingdom. He blogs here, and tweets here.]
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.