Northland 2, Claudelands Rovers 4
Tikipunga Sports Park, Whangarei, May 28 2016
Another ‘sin of omission’ was ticked off my list yesterday! And this one was a whopper – never in my seven years blogging football had I ever seen North Force or Northland play. My excuse is pathetic. I wanted to watch them play at home before seeing them away and every time I went looking for them in the draw, they seemed to be playing in Auckland. But this week the stars finally aligned to see them play a good old fashioned relegation six pointer at their Tikipunga base, with the home side desperate to get up off the foot of the Division 2 table and the visitors equally desperate to not wind up there themselves! So there was no excuse and off on another football road trip Gina and I went!
I do like Whangarei a lot, and Tikipunga Sports Park is a beautiful spot surrounded by hills and trees. Standing on the side-lines, it’s hard to imagine you are in the midst of a significant New Zealand city with a population of approximately 55,000. But the thing I like most about Northland is its people. It’s a region with one of the highest percentages of Māori residents you’ll find anywhere and Whangarei is in my perception a fundamentally Māori city. That means its atmosphere is friendly, smiling, welcoming and not shy to speak up! And that’s the Tikipunga sideline experience in a nutshell!
What I witnessed was a lot of people actively enjoying their football, regardless of the result.
That said however if I was to pick the game’s star player out for you, it would be the 70kph wind gusts blowing straight down the ground from West to East… It made life particularly interesting in the first half when it was at its peak and Northland appeared to really struggle to come to grips with defending against both it and Claudelands.
The home side was on the back foot quickly, when a calamitous fifth minute own goal miscued from a regulation clearance was followed up just a couple of minutes later when another clearance that was heading for the side-line took a left turn (I kid you not) and blew out for a corner. The resulting set piece found Claudelands’ Josh Mayo, who bludgeoned home to make it 2-0.
The wind also played a decisive part in Claudelands’ third in the 20th minute. A free kick was awarded to the Reds just inside their opposition half and out near the side-line – an almost identical position to the one Andre Estay scored from in Taupo a fortnight ago – and just as Estay did, Mayo, and the gale, floated it just over the outstretched fingertips of the keeper and in.
But Northland weren’t about to give up, and a surge into their opponents’ box saw the attacking player taken out by Claudelands keeper Adam Pegler, who earned a yellow card for his troubles, in addition to a spot kick that was converted by Steve Schimmel.
The first half scoring frenzy was then topped off by Dean Shaw for Claudelands, who was unmarked on the end of yet another free kick and made no mistake from reasonably close range. 4-1 was the score in favour of the visitors as the two sides battled the headwind into the sheds!
A three goal lead for Claudelands might have seemed insurmountable in any other game, but on this occasion, in that wind, the strong sense was this game was still there for the taking for the home side. They must have sensed that too as they came out battling and dominated large chunks of the second half, but the breeze had died down a little by then and it took them until the 64th minute to finally cut the deficit down to two via Schimmel.
I suspect that if the game had gone on long enough Northland might have eventually tied it up but we didn’t have that kind of time (we may have still been there) and at the end of the prescribed 90 minutes the referee blew for full time and the score was still 4-2.
All and all a lovely outing! The highlight of the trip home was spotting a solid chunk of the Claudelands squad at McDonalds Wellsford – and it looked like it was former first team coach Jim Keaney’s shout! Now we know how player payments work in Hamilton. We hope Jim knew to bring a stack of those ‘player of the day’ certificates that are worth a free cheeseburger. There should have been at least one spare with the Westerly gale picking up today’s award!
P.S. That just leaves one last sin of omission for me to rectify – Waitemata’s McLeod Park is now officially the only NRFL venue I haven’t yet visited for a game. I promise to get that sorted before this season is out.
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.