There’s something going on down at Walter Massey Park. In their first six games of the NRFL Division Two, Manukau City scored eight goals and conceded five. Their defence was well organised and parsimonious, but they couldn’t quite match it at the other end of the pitch – relying on live-wire #10 Uba Nunez for their goals. That mattered, as early league leaders Waitemata and Takapuna were filling their boots in large margins of victory each weekend.
Entering this weekend, with four games remaining, City sit top of the table with a one point cushion and two games in hand. Because while their defence has remained stingy, letting in just thirteen goals in sixteen games, their attack has shaped up and sharpened up.
Their opponents were Northland, whose season has been brightened by three draws in sixteen games. The team from Whangarei have had a rough old time of it in Division Two, but their commitment and passion was evident in today’s game – as was their tendency to concede.
Nunez opened the scoring, slotting the ball home from inside the box after 4 minutes. His strike partner Iwa Shaker was sent through on goal, finishing coolly, 8 minutes later.
There was no collapse here though. Northland continued to harry and press, sending a volley on a tight angle looping over after productive wing-play on the right. Their efforts paid off when a free-kick awarded against City wasn’t cleared and Jordan Rudman scored the best goal of the half on 39 minutes. He must have been, to our eyes on the side line, about four feet in the air when his crashing header thundered in, followed by murmurs of appreciation from the watching City fans.
Manukau hit back straight away, and didn’t let up. Shaker completed his hat trick with a cushioned header from the restart, before scoring again a minute later. City’s big number 9, Leo Berlim, made it 5 – 1 just before the half-time whistle with an acute turn and rifled shot that the Northland keeper couldn’t keep out.
Half Time – Manukau City AFC 5 – 1 Northland F.C
The beer at Manukau’s clubroom was so chilled it gave me a brain-freeze as I chugged it down in order to get out in time for the second half.
5 – 1 isn’t a score which often leads to praise for a goalkeeper, but Northlands custodian deserves special mention and praise for his performance. Numerous times in the first half he pulled off reaction saves from close and long range, and without his intervention the half time and full time scores could have been six or seven more for City.
The second half saw nearly fifteen minutes where Northland remained compact and attempted to disrupt the ability of Manukau to recycle the ball from the full backs. Their attacking intent was severely blunted though, and when they opened up in order to claw goals back – disaster. An own goal, as a cluster of heads met a corner. 6 – 1. 58 mins.
From the restart, Andre Estay made it 7 – 1 with a left footed thud from just inside the eighteen yard box. The supporter next to me was amazed he’d managed it with his supposedly weaker foot.
Nunez got his second goal of the afternoon, his 17th of the season as the game entered the last 20 minutes. Never the tallest player on the pitch, a cross took a wicked deflection off a defender and the little Chilean managed a reflex diving header, putting it beyond the despairing keeper.
Manukau’s afternoon was finished off with Stephen Money latching onto a cross-pitch ball and racing into the box to put it across the keeper. 9 – 1 up, but they kept pressing for the 10th.
It was Northland, who never gave up despite the scoreline, who had the final word of the afternoon. Steve Schimmel’s free-kick wrong-footed the City keeper, pulling the deficit back to seven goals.
Full Time – Manukau City AFC 9 – 2 Northland F.C
The result puts City four points clear of Takapuna in third, with a game in hand. A victory next weekend at home against Te Atatu will likely seal promotion, a victory away at Papatoetoe the following weekend could see them take the Division Two title.
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2