By Rod de Lisle
Tauranga City 1 Hamilton Wanderers 2.
28th August 2016.
A nine man team somehow overcome the red carding of 2 players and the awarding of 2 penalties to score a 97th minute goal and snatch a very unlikely 2-1 win? There’s a story in that surely? My match reports have been few and far between the season, err… mainly as a result of conflicting priorities and work pressures (he clichéd desperately), and ok, a touch of laziness. And I had no intention of penning one this week either but the highly unusual game at Links Ave yesterday couldn’t go unremarked on.
On a day when the glamour ties of the Chatham cup semifinals ruled the weekend discussions there was also the tasty prospect of a dark and dirty relegation dogfight in Tauranga where the home side were hanging by a thread to their newfound position in the Premier league. And Wanderers were precariously placed above the bottom three, looking over their shoulders, like Quade Cooper eyeing up a Wellington crowd : when you’re not at the top pointy end of the league table, life is nervous.
And in the R word end, things that can go wrong, normally DO go wrong (like losing two players for instance). It’s mean and rough, it’s the back alley behind the shiny façade of the Premiership hotel. Every point is a hard earned diamond and as Ringo Star sang, “it don’t come easy”.
Anticipating a rowdy and competitive game a decent crowd rocked up to the Mount Maunganui venue to watch some fireworks. Being a Sunday game, and sunny for a change, there was a bunch of travelling “Blue Army” fans from Hamilton to cheer on the blues of Hamilton, who were actually clad in their black away kit. “Black Army’ chants don’t sound quite right do they? We like visiting Links Ave, they are well organised behind the scenes and it feels like a proper football place.
Wanderers rolled out a cobbled-together first team as they have done over the last few weeks. Once again, with injuries and suspensions to key personnel, coach Shane Comber was forced to make changes to a team that has fielded 30 different players over the course of the season. And sometimes the 11 taking the field have not been 100% fit. If this team was a soldier in battle it would be a war-torn bandaged and bloody warrior missing a limb or two but still up for a fight, like the armless legless Black knight in Monty Python.
Then a minor panic when number 14, Franco Berti couldn’t find his number 14 jersey and we had to hurriedly arrange a number swap and alert the refs. Oh and no reserve keeper? We had to draw straws for that. It’s the bottom of table thing again, it don’t come easy.
However the travails of the week did not seem to faze the away team who enjoyed the most of the first forty five minutes. Very encouraging was the surging run from the right wing by Sunny Singh, who has looked rather a damp squib since his return. This time he managed to evade two defenders and curled in a steaming left footer the home keeper somehow managed to fingertip to safety. A top drawer shot and save. This was a precursor to the first goal of the game. Once again Singh had space on the right and whipped in a threatening cross that careered off a defender’s leg into the net. I do have a video of this goal but lacking the professional lens-men skills of say, Enzo, I somehow contrived to film it upside down.
It was a fairly run of the mill first half, save a booking to Alexi Varela. The Chilean, scythed down by a Tauranga player, did the South American player’s union roll of acute agony. To be fair, it was a horrible challenge, and his knee was like a balloon at half time. But being berated and baited by the player standing over him (why did the ref allow that?) he lashed back, thus earning a card. That would prove costly later on.
The real action was to break out in the second half. In the first minute, defender Jonathan Tobias was penalised for handling in the area, pretty unlucky really. His hand was near his body and last week we were denied a penalty for a much more blatant hand. Coming the rescue, custodian Matt Oliver redressed the karma ledger with an excellent save and then was down like the proverbial cat to deny the follow-up. “We practise those double saves” said goalie coach , David Douglas.
Then came a pivotal moment when home defender Raymond How, ex of Wanderers, who had milked the reaction from Varela in the first half, put a vicious boot into the foot of Jama Boss, who retaliated by kicking back at his attacker. Red card for Boss, the referee obviously hadn’t seen the How infringement. Wanderers forced into defence mode pulled off Singh and replaced him with the more redoubtable Paul Clout. However Tauranga still seemed fairly unthreatening, a good result was still on the cards.
Matters became much more serious for Wanderers when Varela received a second yellow card and also took an early bath. Down to nine men it was backs to the wall for Wanderers, man the barricades time and Comber bought the last two subs on to stem the attacking tide. Tauranga huffed and puffed and succeeded in obtaining a further penalty, this time successfully converted.
The home crowd erupted, 1-1 and it seemed a certainty that the home side would knock in a winner against a team missing 20% of its players.
However from the kick-off the nine Wanderers men summoned a last attack via the indefatigable Cory Mitchell who surged up the field into the penalty area. The keeper scooped up the ball but then suffered a wee brain explosion giving Mitchell a firm petulant shove and this time a penalty was awarded to Wanderers, wonders never cease! Substitute Franco Berti stepped up and dispatched the kick, he was coolness personified, although having no English it could be that he had no idea of the important nature of the game and his role in it. I congratulated him in sign language after the game and he said yes yes yes, oblivious to what I was on about.
A minute or so later the final whistle peeped, to the palpable relief of the Blue army and the famous nine were buried under an avalanche of delighted Wanderers personnel and supporters. What a priceless three points and perhaps a Wanderers legend born in that moment. You cannot beat this kind of feeling, even if it wasn’t the Chatham cup the lads were fighting for .
The post match revelry was delayed by the reluctance of the Tauranga players to show their faces in the clubroom, and who can blame the poor sods. The home team seem fairly well assured of relegation. Comber in his after match speech praised his lads, saying it was “a game for the ages” and the players had to go to “horrible dark places to get this result”. He singled out man of the match Mitchell who was clearly the best player on the pitch, although Oliver in goal had a fine game too.
Not easy, not straightforward, not without sweat and tears. To complete the day the Wanderers bus broke down on the way back to Hamilton, that’s what happens in the back alley. Nothing come easy.
It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.
It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.
Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don’t come easy.
You don’t have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.
Forget about the past and all your sorrows,
The future won’t last,
It will soon be over tomorrow.
Ringo Star.[Rod de Lisle is the Hamilton Wanderers first team manager (in the UK that means coach, here it means dog’s body) and a Leicester City former tragic who may be tragic again depending on how they go this season.]
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.