…and some you lose.
This won’t be an excoriating, player naming whinge. I’m not going to call for certain players to be shipped out, dropped or tarred and feathered on the Sandringham road. I refuse to be tiresomely predictable and criticise the manager. We didn’t lose because Arthur Egan’s shorts distracted the players and even if they did, as we sing in the stands, “…we don’t care ‘cause his legs are a dream!”
Fifteen hundred people turned up at North Harbour Stadium last night. There was a queue. The staff on duty looked that curious mix of surprised and pleased at the people milling about on the concourse. Having attended most of the games in Albany, the Grand Final drew a crowd ten times that of a regular season game. Not bad. Not bad at all.
We lost. There you are. For a third time in just over twelve months a competitive match finished with Auckland City on the losing side. Wellington Phoenix in January 2015, Sanfrecce Hiroshima in December 2015 and Team Wellington in March 2016. Losing three games in fourteen months is the sort of problem that most supporters could live with. Just ask Southern United.
The reality is that Team Wellington played a better game yesterday. They allowed City possession in defence but committed two or more men to the challenge when the ball worked its way to Lea’alafa, Tade, De Vries or Moreira. There were faint echoes of the Sanfrecce game, where City were allowed to stroke the ball about between defenders but could not break down a side intent on suffocating space in the final third.
That’s not a criticism of their tactics. Not all football should be a slick passing drill of tika and taka and tika until you score a beautifully perfect goal. There’s more than one way to win a game. And when you’re playing an Auckland City side with a very defined style, it makes sense to work out the best way of countering that.
As the winners showed yesterday, there’s room for grit, determination and hustle if it’s channelled into a disciplined performance. Looking at their opening goal, you see Tade dealing with a bouncing ball in a defensive midfield position. Two Team Wellington players challenge and Jackson receives the ball, moves into the space and fires home. It’s a good goal, borne of placing your opponents under pressure.
Then the penalty. We thought it was a corner in the stand, and then it was a penalty, and then it was 1 – 1. Looking at the replays, I’m not sure what the referee saw but I’m glad he did because we hadn’t looked that threatening up front. The highlights sum up City’s chances yesterday, the De Vries effort in the first half and then precious little else until Kim’s header to give us the lead. It was a bloody good header mind, drifting off the back of the defence into acres of space. Basalaj had no chance.
I’m a natural cynic, having seen too many last minute collapses by rugby, cricket and football teams over the years. Sometimes you just know it’s not your day. Yesterday wasn’t our day. Team Wellington wanted the ball more and were prepared to put in the hard yards. It’s a credit to the fitness of the side that in the final ten minutes of the game they were pressing, harrying and causing our midfield and defence all sorts of problems. Harris twisted Iwata inside out and the penalty was inevitable. Penalty, Peverley. Two all, full time.
At half time someone in our section had noted, hopefully, that Auckland were more of a second half team. As extra time loomed, it was clear that we hadn’t been.
Throughout the game Team Wellington had threatened at set pieces. Their delivery into the box from both long throws and corners were troubling the City defence. To this set piece fan, the delivery of their corners were gorgeously deceptive rising strikes that initially looked like they wouldn’t clear the first man before suddenly becoming really dangerous.
Ben Harris scored after City failed to clear a looping long throw into the box. Five minutes later, Tom Jackson scored from one of those deceptively brilliant corners. Game over, with plenty of time left on the clock. In reality, Team Wellington could have scored at least one more – with the crossbar and the post being rattled with a gorgeous curling shot which would have rivalled Brock Messenger’s claim for goal of the season.
At the final whistle there was some mutterings about the team, about the tactics and about the players in the stand. That’s to be expected.
But the ASB Premiership, the last eight team ASB Premiership, has a brand new champion. And on the day, Team Wellington deserved the win. Bring on next season, the ten team league and that tantalising prospect of an away trip to Nelson.
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.