At last the 2015/16 show! And it’s a Super City Derby start. Off we all trek to Fred Taylor Park to enjoy the actually quite nice coffee, the wooden stands by the edge of the pitch and. Oh. No, actually we’re at the North Harbour Stadium which, along with Mt Smart, will be Waitakere’s ‘home’ ground this season. And ours as well. Eh?
It was good to see the North Harbour pitch in a condition that could be described as arid, sprayed green and, no seriously, requiring a man with a bucket of sand to pour onto holes in at half time. The last time I was at the NHS was the U20 World Cup semi between Mali and eventual winners Serbia. The stands were packed that day, lured by the international stars of the future on display. Three of the four stands were closed today, so the 1000 or so crowd spread along the lower portion of the main stand.
There were Waitakere caps, Waitakere shirts and Waitakere jackets. But no people, you know, supporting. Not in the raucous, disorganised and refreshed manner of the 248 who swapped memories of Block 5 in the short time before kickoff. Both sides have made some additions over the summer. On the bench for Waitakere were Cunningham, a pacey U.S import and NRFL top scorer Nathaniel Bowen who, when I’ve seen him, combines bustle, hustle and sharp feet to good effect. In the matchday squad for Auckland was Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Micah Lea’alafa, both scorers in last weeks Charity Cup game.
The first half, well, it happened. Twitter and text updates from various viewers told us when we were on telly and whether or not they could hear us. The best chance went to Waitakere with one of those tempting ‘GO ON, HAVE A DIG SON’ balls was indeed dug out, up and back off the bar with a crash that even made those singing pause.
Things stepped up a bit after half time, which is where I get to spend a little bit of time talking about Micah Lea’alafa. In short, he’s got magnets in his feet and one in the ball. He spent the afternoon gliding around, through and at one point levitated over any players in his way. He’s a standout in an already talented side and was chopped down in the 75th minute to win Auckland a free kick.
From it, Joao Moreira, who missed much of last season with injury, ghosted into the penalty area to sidefoot a simple ball past Simon Williams. An important point here is Williams. He spent the afternoon keeping the scores level, making stop after stop of exceptional quality to prevent Auckland racking up the score. That said, Jacob Spoonley in goal for City was equal to the challenge of more than a few good chances for Waitakere. The game could have been 3 – 6 but for their outstanding efforts, and it was a good afternoon for both keepers, right up until Joao scored.
One viewer tweeted later that they’d turned off at 75 minutes. Fool! ASB games are known for the late flurry. And the storm in Waitakere’s case was the Solomon Islander Lea’alafa. NZ is developing its futsal league, and it’s little surprise with the qualities shown by the electric winger. At one point I swear he pulled off a rainbow flick just for how it looked when he could have taken his man for pace. Confidence, trickery and that wow factor. Oh, and goals too.
Either side of a fine Ryan De Vries striker, Micah cut in from the right hand side, bamboozled the defence and rippled the net. Twice. There were more than enough chances for a third or fourth as Waitakere’s heads dropped. While this is a biased report, credit to Dylan Manickum who was what a City supporter would easily call a worry. Brave, good technique and never stopped running. Good man.
The late introductions of Bowen and Cunningham had little effect on the game, coming as they did before the goal glut. For City, our next home game is where we’ve just played our away game which makes as much sense as spray painting a pitch that hasn’t got any grass on it. So, see you Thursday evening for Auckland City v Hawkes Bay United, a meeting of last season’s two grand finalists.
For some great photos, go here. No, really. GO THERE.
NEXT GAME (Live on Sky Sports)
Auckland City v Hawkes Bay United
North Harbour Stadium
Categories: NZ Men's National League
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.