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Napiexit. Miremain.

Napier City Rovers 3, Miramar Rangers 4 (AET)
Park Island, Napier, June 26 2016

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In some ways, I hate it when I watch a thriller. Now I have to find some kind of way to do an incredible game justice in my blog post…

As soon as I saw the draw for round three of the Chatham Cup, I got straight onto the Air New Zealand website and started looking for flights. I knew that whatever the score this Napier encounter was going to be a special clash between two old rivals for advancement in New Zealand’s showpiece national competition. These two proud organisations have a long history of being the two premier central region clubs in both regional and national leagues dating back to forever ago.

And boy, when I’m right I’m bloody right.

This was my second visit to Park Island, and you have to admit it is a special venue – made for the game of football, and you can’t say that about nearly enough grounds in New Zealand these days.

By the way, fun fact on the off chance that you’re wondering why it’s called ‘Park Island’: Before the game, Mastermind contestant Ian Anderson informed me that it was in fact an actual island surrounded by ocean prior to the famous Napier Earthquake of 1931!

This is obviously another New Zealand football ground that really deserves its own blog post looking into some of its history. But, for now, on to the game…

From a HamilJAFA’s perspective, there were lots of familiar faces in both line-ups for this one! It was like an all-star game between two teams selected from National League sides Team Wellington, WaiBOP United and Hawkes Bay United.

Rovers had the best of the early exchanges, and looked to be cruising along nicely to start with. Their first goal was the end result of sustained pressure with Stephen Hoyle constantly causing real problems for the Miramar defence in the box. In the end their lead came about from a possibly dodgy penalty but either way, when Ryan Tinsley sent the keeper the wrong way, it heralded a deserved 1-0 lead.

Miramar’s equaliser, which came at the end of a snaking Tom Jackson run, was right against the run of play at the time, but not long after it Napier seemed to go noddy byes somewhat and allow their opponents to seize control for the rest of the half. The two sides went into the sheds with the score still 1-1 but not before a couple of great chances were spurned by the visiting team.

Things got a bit scrappy in the early stages of the second half, before the blues’ afternoon took a turn for the worst. Miramar captain Patrick Fleming grabbed the lead right on the hour mark. They almost made it 3-1 too just moments later when Napier’s keeper Kyle Baxter was forced to make a fine save one-on-one with the advancing Miramar attacker. The visitors continued to dominate until there were about ten minutes left on the clock – and that’s when all of a sudden things sprang into life for the home side not a moment too soon!

First the referee pointed at the spot for a second Napier City Rovers penalty of the afternoon. Ryan Tinsley sent the ball the same way as last time, this time the keeper guessed correctly but still couldn’t keep it from crossing the line low between his fingertips and the right hand upright. We were headed for extra time!

Except, no we weren’t because former Rovers player Andy Bevin still had something to say about it! He got on the end of a counterattacking move and before anyone knew what had hit them, Miramar had retaken the lead with only a couple of minutes left in regulation time…

88th minute goals are for wimps though, it seems. Because a minute after Bevin’s goal, Napier’s Tom Biss frantically sliced home an 89th minute equaliser. After that, despite the two sides still managing to find some time out of goodness knows where for chances to win it at both ends, we were in for an extra half hour of fun after all as it turned out!

The thrills and spills continued but, as the first fifteen minutes of bonus football entered referee’s time added on, thoughts began to turn to the prospect of a dreaded penalty shootout… That was, right before Bevin broke his former club’s hearts once and for all by latching onto another perfectly weighted long ball, chipping the keeper, and sending the away side and their fans into rapture.

Rovers continued to fight hard for yet another miraculous comeback in the final quarter of an hour but they had used up their quota. And just like that, both of last year’s Chatham Cup finalists are goneburgers in 2016.

While I know it’s a bit schmaltzy, I have to make a special mention of the fantastic hospitality I received here. From the very generous offer of a lift from the airport (which I didn’t take up because I had organised a rental car) through to the people who were falling over themselves to make me feel welcome when I arrived, I was very impressed.

I’m sorry I couldn’t stay and enjoy a drink and a chat in the clubrooms after the game, but I’m guessing most of the locals wouldn’t have been much in the mood anyway. It was the kind of loss that’s always hard to take when you’re on the receiving end…

Last season, Napier City Rovers were complaining that they weren’t getting enough home cup ties – they went all the way to the final. After today, they might put in a special request to the football gods to only play away from now on! That would be a shame though, because Park Island is a winner regardless of what happens on the pitch and I’m already longing to come back soon.

Categories: NZ Chatham Cup

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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