Onehunga-Mangere United v Manukau City AFC
Friday, 25th March 2016 – Mangere Domain
There are few better places to start a football season than Mangere Domain on a Good Friday. With a pitch in near perfect condition, and the grassy sloping banks surrounding providing ample lounging spots for the hundred or so spectators, everything was set for an absolute treat.
It didn’t disappoint. The season got off to a typical NRFL start with an attack snuffed out in the opening seconds and, minutes later, the sort of crunching player pile-on that makes shinbones quiver. City’s Andre Estay was spoken to by the ref, who was in for quite the afternoon.
The first goal was scored shortly after, City struggling to intercept a ball threaded through for United’s Sangster Crawford to send a rising shot across the keeper. Onehunga-Mangere United 1 – 0 Manukau City. Up and running then.
The visitors tried to press, although the wisdom of sending head high balls to the diminutive Ubaldo Espinoza, thoroughly towered over by the United defence, eventuated in the Chilean 10 receiving a yellow card for his troubles.
A rare moment of fluidity came through Espinoza and Jabir combining on the left, slipping a one two through the red defensive line, leaving only the keeper to beat. The ball was fired to the ‘keepers right, you don’t save them son. 1 – 1.
Scrappy was a word that came to mind, both in the play and the attitude of some of the players. The United tactic to force City out wide was working, and there seemed to be an evenly matched game in prospect. Conor Stoton on the right wing for City demonstrated both skill and tenacity in the first half, certainly not afraid to get stuck in. United’s defence stood firm though, Marumaru’s speed being of particular note.
Penalties calls came at both ends with an agricultural challenge on Espinoza (possibly afters from a free kick he’d been forced United into giving away a few minutes earlier) and the Manukau keeper doing a fantastic job at entirely clearing his area of ball and man, if a little explosively. Nothing doing from the referee.
Then, drama. Off the ball, Espinoza goes down around the edge of the area with red shirted defenders in proximity. The linesman flagged frantically and the game stopped. The referee, after consulting with linesman, returned to the penalty area and issued a red card to Shane Pascoe, also ordering the penalty. Blimey. Espinoza again and City had a man advantage and led by a goal going into half time.
Half Time: Onehunga-Mangere 1 – 2 to City.
The second half saw the tempo, and the niggle, step up a level. United could sense there was the potential for an equaliser, but were repeatedly forced back from good attacking positions and coped well with their opponents one man advantage.
The sending off marred the contest. Even with the deficit, United alternated between attempts to spring the offside trap and work the ball down the wings. City were also capable of retaining possession, stringing together long passing moves at times. Both sides suffered from a lack of central midfield presence though, with wingers often tucking in to do the work in the space that was available.
One person who received much more attention than they needed to was the referee. I’m not sure if players know, but shouting at a referee and swearing in the aftermath of decision definitely won’t change his mind.
Of interest to Fallon watchers, the City coach spent the first half relatively quietly, delegating his orders to assistant coach Ricky Espinoza. As the second half wore on, the broad tones of a coach trying to organise his team rose above the other shouts.
Two goals were ruled out for City. The first, a close range strike, scrubbed after Haidar Jabir overran the ball getting to the byline for his cross. The second was for an offside that wasn’t noticed for long enough for play to go on and the goal to be scored, enraging some vocal spectators on the sideline. The lino made the right call.
If the first half was to have all the goals, this half certainly had the grunt. A clash of heads led to a substitution for United, Neil Heron taking the field, and a yellow card for the City’s Michael Day. From the resulting free kick, more drama. The City keeper, Iona Lupona, came flying out for a high punch, getting a touch but only to a United foot, with the volley flying high, wide and not so handsome.
The keeper and the recently booked City player, Michael Day, were down and not moving and, sensibly, the game was stopped. When a cry of ‘call the ambulance’ is heard, it’s time to take a breather. The ambulance wasn’t required in the end, with the United physio helping carefully put Lupona’s arm in a sling and apply some ice.
The remainder of the game saw an outfield player don the yellow goalkeeping shirt and the injured keeper be replaced by Krishneel Krishna. Frustration was evident among United as their vociferous midfield Niall McHale bemoaned his teams position in fluid, unstoppable scouse.
There was yet more drama to be found in the closing seconds. A United corner scorched into the area, missing everyone and pinged off the inside of the far post. It dropped into a melee of players in the box, falling at the feet of a red shirt. A swing, a shot and a comfortable save for the rookie keeper. Howls of positive and negative disbelief on both sides were accentuated by a thump of perspex as the United coach vented his frustration.
The final whistle blew. The NRFL is up and running for another year and if every game is like this, it’s going to be far from boring.
Onehunga-Mangere United 1 – 2 Manukau City AFC
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2
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.