The 2016 Lotto NRFL Premier League comes down to an 8pm kickoff on a Wednesday night in late September. That’s not a typo. The only reason why Western Springs found themselves in need of three points and anxious folk in Hamilton refreshed their Twitter feed was because of the registration saga, covered in detail on this blog, involving Thomas Konusi and Three Kings United.
Their opponents were Birkenhead, playing their catch-up games on the floodlight astro a hoofed clearance away from where they won the Chatham Cup a few weeks ago. A crowd of just under 200 stood under umbrellas and in the lee of the changing rooms. The weather, predictably, was bloody awful.
Nothing less than a win was needed for Springs. So Birko scoring within two minutes, Alex Grieve getting on the end of a low cross into box, really stuffed things up for them. The Springs supporter next to me said ‘We shouldn’t have to be here’, listing the points thrown away and the youth of the squad as reasons why. Jack Salter doubling the score 20 minutes later only made their task harder.
And yet, it was still game on. Springs were shellshocked by the opening goal, but worked their way back into the game. They had two decent penalty shouts turned down, and eventually Birko’s David Parkinson was carded for one strong challenge too many. A clatter, innocuous with the ball running away, between the keeper and a Springs striker led to a penalty which Rory Turner dispatched.
Half Time – Birkenhead United 2 – 1 Western Springs
Hobson’s half-time decision to make use of all of his substitutions added yet another layer of interest to the game. The rain, which had increased throughout the first half, had finally stopped. Western Springs needed to win the half 2 – 0.
They poured forwards, but the staunch defence of Birkenhead refused to yield. The best Springs chance was foiled by obstruction by their own player. But the drama was about to notch up.
Birko’s Liam Hobson dallied on the ball and Lucas Imrie challenged, winning the ball and doing enough to make it dribble across the line. As Imrie ran to retrieve the ball ahead of Hobson, the keeper shove/kicked the Springs striker. Initially recieving a yellow card, the referee consulted with his linesman and upgraded it to a red. Having made all three subs, it was defender Christian Grey’s luck to find himself between the sticks.`
Chance after chance was created by Western Springs, but while they pushed their men up in a line against the Birkenhead defence, they lacked the final finish. Birkenhead responded by dropping two men deep to shield the defence and angling balls out to the wings on the counterattack.
Brian Shelley strode forward on the attack, compressing the game. But Springs just couldn’t find the final pass, sending shots over or into the arms of the makeshift keeper. The sight of Grey’s opposite number, Adam McDonald, striding into the midfield with the ball at his feet only emphasised how much they needed to score, and for it to be the final goal.
It wasn’t. With minutes to go, one of the Birkenhead counterattacks finally paid off. Sean Skeens putting the ball beyond McDonald and putting an escape from relegation beyond Western Springs.
Full Time – Birkenhead United 3 – 2 Western Springs
Joy in Hamilton, a clean sheet bonus for Christian Grey and despair on the damp astroturf at North Harbour. Western Springs head down to Division One. That’ll hurt, but a season the division down didn’t hurt Waitakere City too much – here’s hoping they are in the mix come the business end of the 2017 season. Thank heavens, at least, that the 2015 season is finally over. And farewell to the 2016 season, which has been wonderful.
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier
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.