Lotto NRFL Division 2
Saturday, 3rd September, 2016
Centennial Park, NgaruawahiaThis is how the season ended. Captain Hone Fowler and I having a chat about the upcoming National League season, stood outside the changing rooms at Ngaruawahia’s Centennial Park, him in his MCAFC Champions t-shirt.
“You should go in and get a drink”
“I’m just, I’m just taking it all in” he said, having lifted the Colin Pascoe Shield less than an hour earlier as his Manukau City AFC side confirmed their status as NRFL Division Two champions. Called over by his coach Kevin Fallon, a man he’d worked hard to bring to Manukau and worked hard for all season, I took my leave off across the fields, out through the fence and headed back to Auckland. Behind me there were jubilant players and families, with celebrations under way.
The statistics tell you some of the story. Only Waitakere City, in their unbeaten season, have conceded fewer in the Northern Leagues. And, as of today, no team have scored as many – although Central United may do so as they wrap up the Premier League in a fortnight.
Today’s game wasn’t a procession though. Ngaruawahia were one of only four sides to take points away from a game with City this season. The previous weekend they’d gone toe-to-toe with Waitemata, whose 3 – 0 victory was embossed with a couple of penalties. The Green Machine were looking to end their season on a high note.Tense. That’s how I would describe the first half. With Leo Berlim sidelined with an ankle injury, although his presence on the sideline was both supportive and hilarious, City lacked height up front. When you’ve got diminutive strikers like Iwa Shaker and Uba Nunez up front against tall, powerful defenders – attempts to play balls into them at height saw Ngarua regain possession and pour back down the pitch.
The usually live-wire Ishak Nazeem also had a frustrating first half. Up against Ngarua’s Hughwyn Habib, he was denied space and time – and often an outlet – for his work up and down the right wing.
The men in green took advantage, Christensen and Magi pinging a couple of long range shots over the bar. Meanwhile City’s passing game was snuffed out time and time again, thanks to a very well organised Ngaruawahia defence. Their ability to intercept passes, or Manukau’s inability to get the ball where they wanted it, meant they did not dominate – but nor were they dominated. Credit to Ngaruawahia’s keeper, Issac Tetteh, who could be heard marshalling his defence throughout the game – he wasn’t afraid to get up, out and collect the ball either.Last week at Papatoetoe I saw a couple of unbelievable saves from their rangy keeper. This week I saw another two, the first down low from a close range thunderbolt from Shaker – the second tipping Nazeem’s effort over the bar. They were the best chances of the half.
— Lotto NRFL (@LottoNRFL) September 3, 2016
A draw was enough, but a win was what was needed. Too bloody tight as the whistle blew.
Half Time: Ngaruawahia United 0 – 0 Manukau City AFCThose leaning on the scaffold rail around the pitch were certain Coach Fallon would have words with his team about maintaining possession, possibly quite strong words.
They paid off. It was always going to take something special to beat Tetteh and that something special was the head of 5″3 Iwa Shaker (Thanks for that copy, Siobahn). Nazeem had gassed down the right wing, the cross cleared. It broke to Money, who charged into space, cut back against the defender and put in a beautiful dipping cross. Evading the head of a Ngaruawahia defender, it fell for Shaker to nod across the keeper into the far corner. Mayhem erupted on the sidelines.With it looking more like the much needed at-least-a point would be gained, things didn’t relax. Instead the pace quickened as Ngaruawahia committed more men forward, while City attempted to break on the counter. The home sides quest for an equaliser made it seem more like a cup fixture, as if they could extend their season for just one more match with a replay. However, despite introducing willowy speedster Abdulrahman Suleiman, they failed to create that one clear chance they needed.
The game was delayed as City keeper Rodrigo Vasquez went down after coming out for a corner. From the sidelines it looked almost a carbon copy of Iona Lupona’s elbow shattering drop from the first match of the season. Fortunately Vasquez, after treatment, was able to continue.
City tried to extend their lead through Uba Nunez and Iwa Shaker, although it looked at times as though there was just one pass too many in their buildup – often leading to Tetteh claiming the ball. Andre Estay rattled the bar with a thudding free kick and Thabiso Tieane’s low drive skidded wide of the post.Ngaruawahia had the final say. A header from a corner sailed over the bar. The referee put the whistle in his mouth, paused and motioned for the Vasquez to take the kick, and blew for full time.
Full Time – Ngaruawahia United 0 – 1 Manukau City AFC
Ishak Nazeem fell to his knees, then lay staring up at the sky Ricky Espinoza tore onto the pitch. Hone Fowler shook hands with Ngaruawahia’s players and waved across to his family Leo Berlim, who’d had his match shirt on under his jacket, limped across to the celebrating players.Coach Fallon, as he so often has this season, spoke first to the opposition bench and his physio, and then looked on proudly at his celebrating team.
Back in March when I interviewed him, he spoke of seeking regularity in his team to get them out of the division. With the Colin Pascoe Shield in hand today, mission accomplished Mr Fallon. Best of luck in Division One next season.[Photos by Enzo]
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2
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.