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Up For It

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You have to earn promotion. Matches can be won by narrow margins, which can include good fortune or dumb luck. But promotion is the result of consistency, of excelling in the margins time and time again. You can’t fluke it.

Manukau City had to earn promotion today against Te Atatu. While their opponents may be in the bottom half of the table, the closeness in quality of sides in the division meant that spectators at Walter Massey Park were treated to a cracker of a game.

The visitors had the best of the opening half hour. They snapped into tackles and their midfield, driven by Tim Meyer and Prince Quarseh, had the upper hand on City. Their ability to intercept passes and recycle possession showed the benefits of dropping a man back into midfield and committing to an energetic, disruptive and effective style of play. They picked up a couple of yellow cards, a result of enthusiasm and commitment exceeding their control, but they were on top – but couldn’t quite make the breakthrough.

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Margins. In the case of this game, the margin was very small – about 5’6″ – in Uba Nunez. One goal off the division’s top scorer, the Chilean took a cushioned header on the volley from twenty-five yards out. The backpedalling keeper couldn’t get a hand to it. 1 – 0 to City.

Ten minutes later it was two. Except it wasn’t. As the shaky video I got shows, there was a handball following a rebound off the post. It was missed by the referee and his assistant on the near side, but after vociferous protestation from Te Atatu – correctly – the goal was ruled out after consultation with the official on the opposite touchline – who had put his flag across his chest to indicate an infraction, unseen by the referee when he initially awarded the goal.

Ten minutes later, Nunez was instrumental in doubling City’s lead. Taking the ball down on the right, he scootered in-field and sprayed a crossfield pass to the industrious Stephen Money. Money’s cross was met by Leo Berlim, whose downward directed header went under Te Atatu’s keeper.

Credit to Te Atatu, the scoreline didn’t affect their enthusiasm or change their style of play. They had chances, firing off some ranged shots and putting the keeper and defence under pressure with crosses into the box. But as the half time whistle blew, they couldn’t make the breakthrough.

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Half Time – Manukau City 2 – 0 Te Atatu

After a brief delay while one of the nets was re-affixed to the posts, the second half got underway. As with the first half, it was Te Atatu who started the strongest. Chances at both ends saw both sets of supporters nervously voicing their support and frustration in equal measure.

The introduction of the dreadlocked number 10, Lome Funafuti, gave Te Atatu the outlet their efforts deserved. His sashaying run towards the goal saw him brought down and a penalty awarded. Drama! But then the penalty was un-awarded, and a free kick given instead. From where I was standing, it looked like a penalty – to the linesman on that side, not so much. The resulting free-kick was deflected out for a corner as the men in orange turned up the pressure.

Eight minutes later, there was no doubt about the decision. A punted ball forward saw City’s captain Hone Fowler caught between being able to track the ball or the onrushing Te Atatu player. The resulting clash was a penalty, no doubt about it. Up stepped Funafuti, sending the keeper the wrong way and crashing the ball home. 2 – 1, game on with not much time left to play.

The pace cranked up. City had sat back a bit in the second half, content with their lead. They’d had their chances, but Te Atatu kept recycling the ball and pouring forwards – encouraged by the vocal Prince Quansah. The sight of their keeper coming up for a corner brought cheers, and the resulting chaos in the box saw a couple of City players down hurt. Minutes later a similar crunch saw Te Atatu players down in their box.

The second half appeared to go on for nearly an hour, with nearly ten minutes of play between the Te Atatu keeper going up for a corner and the end of play. In that time City repeatedly attempted to shepherd the ball down to the Te Atatu corner and their opponents repeatedly took it back and put the pressure on. Their best chance came as Vasquez in the City goal dropped a cross, but the resulting snap shot sailed over the bar.

As the final whistle blew, Te Atatu had the ball. They had gone toe-to-toe with City for far more than the 90 minutes, but the margins saw the victory go to the home team. With it comes promotion to the NRFL Division One for Manukau City, earned over the course of the season – but also hard earned against their opponents in orange this afternoon.

Full Time – Manukau City 2 – 1 Te Atatu

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Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2

John Palethorpe

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.

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