Two weeks since I last visited Kiwitea Street to see City put three past Team Wellington in the ASB Charity Cup. In that time we’ve seen the first televised games at the QBE, the emergence of Micah Lea’alafa and one win and a draw. It’s already clear that this years ASB Premiership is going to be a good season of competitive football. But today I was watching the ASB Youth League and Auckland City vs Waitakere United. A second Super City Derby in eight days, truly the fixture list is spoiling me.
Roz was along with me today, and had brought her new camera with her. Look out Enzo and Grant, there’s a new snapper in town!
The crowd numbered in the hundreds, which gave the place an expectant buzz. While much has been made of increasing attendances at senior ASB Premiership games, it was good to see people coming to see the youth teams play. The ASB Youth League is an eleven match sprint over three months and, unlike the senior competition, does not end with playoffs. In a way that makes it slightly more competitive, there’s only one winner at the end which means every match counts!
It showed. These two teams were separated by goal difference in the table, and were looking to edge closer to Team Wellington at the summit. My early impressions of City’s opponents were that Judd Baker looked like Ivan Drago, Stewart Mackay was from the brick shithouse school of defenders and Damian Hirst in goal was wearing the white Waitakere outfield kit which was briefly distracting.
Auckland dominated the first half with captain Reid Drake in midfield and the attacking runs of Dylan De Jong at full back. Up front, Nicolas Zambrano, Myer Bevan and Regont Murati probed and pulled the defence around. Tidying up in front of the defence was Luke Van Kan, who made some timely interceptions and well judged passes. But there was no breakthrough, despite their possession. The closest they came was with a sweet, curling strike from Drake which came spanging back off the post to the dismay of the crowd.
Minutes later it was Waitakere’s turn to rattle the woodwork through Jake Porter. Hirst had to make some good stops as the half drew to a close as City sought the opener. It looked balanced, finely balanced.
Half time – 0 – 0.
If the first half was Auckland’s, the second half was Waitakere’s. From the off they pressured. Now, I may have said Judd Baker looks like Ivan Drago but the performance from him at #9 for the Westies was a prime example of the classic ‘good touch for a big man’ striker. He was out on the wings, running through the middle, dropping deep and playing people in. Somebody near me even mentioned Ibrahimovic at one point. Steady now.
The pressure was relentless and near misses from introduced subsitute Niko Kirwan and a slide from that man Baker had hands clutching heads among the City supporters. In the stand behind me I became aware the family who’d been quietly conversing in Italian were the Kirwan’s, including Sir John himself, and they were audibly delighted when Niko capitalised on a loose ball to stroke home, taking a deflection off Dylan De Jong on the way past Conor Tracey in goal.
Auckland threw everything they had at their opponents in the closing minutes of the match. Substitute George Debenham came on, made two brilliant passes and then got booked twice in a matter of minutes to exit under the wave of a red card. There was the absolute delight of seeing Tracey come up for a corner in added on time, always a treat for supporters, but to no avail.
In the end, Waitakere wanted it more in the second half and while Auckland stuck to their gameplan they struggled to find width at times which reduced their options in a packed centre field of red shirts. The future of football for both sides looks bright though, which is exactly what the ASB Youth League is for.
The game had everything; chances, tension, niggle between the opposing sides and it was very, very evenly matched. Shame about the result, mind.
You can find more photos from the game here.
Categories: NZ Men's National Youth 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.