Well, that didn’t go as planned.
It had been two years, eight months and fourteen days since Waitakere had last beaten Auckland City. For a local derby game, that sort of eliminates the fun part. Like when Manchester United were good and Manchester City were rubbish and the derbies were mostly processions for Ferguson’s gum-chewing.
Auckland City didn’t win the league last year, as the savvy social media types down at Team Wellington keep reminding us. We did win the Oceania Champions League, but this season was meant to be the reclamation of the ungainly prize of the NZFC.
And then Waitakere United scored, four minutes in. Harrison Nash powered in a header past debutant Enaut Zubikarai. The Westies had pressed and harried from the off and even a goal up continued to, even as they dropped to a back five with full backs occasionally supporting the midfield on the counter.
Catenaccio isn’t exactly a well used tactic in New Zealand, but Chris Milicich’s team managed to do it – they were comfortable dropping deep, knowing that they could rely on their collective efforts to push Alfie Rogers and Darren White wide on the wings and give the interchanging Tade, Moreira and De Vries as little space to work in as possible. In midfield, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Albert Riera tried to cover at least three players worth of work, often leading to them filling in behind the advanced full backs. Tavano played a more attacking role, but struggled to find space in the congested midfield.
And we couldn’t score. We had chances, but looked for one pass too many. Moreira drew frustrating groans from the crowd when, in acres of space, he stopped dead instead of advancing further and played the wrong ball. Tade tried. De Vries shimmied. But nothing doing.
Half Time – Auckland City 0 – 1 Waitakere United
The final score was 0 – 1 and I can pick out perhaps one chance that Waitakere created in the second half. At the same time, the best chance for City were clawed away by Austria stopper Strasser in goal for United – a Moreira header that was tipped onto the bar and, from our distant position, looked like it went across the line. We’re probably wrong.
On came Nicolai Berry for Fabrizio Tavano.
Credit to Waitakere and Coach Milicich. They executed their game plan well, defended in numbers and were immensely organised and disciplined. They also recognised that nullifying the full backs for City close off a significant proportion of our attacking intent – plenty of red shirts rose to snuff out the balls over the top to Rogers and White.
It’s good to see them back, and maybe we’ll see them in the playoffs this year. That is, if both of us make it.
Full Time – Auckland City 0 – 1 Waitakere United
Personally, we look undercooked as a team. The return of Mario Bilen, Angel Berlanga, Micah Lea’alafa, Takuya Iwata and perhaps Clayton Lewis will add more quality to our midfield – but that’s still pretty much the team that we had last year.
That might be a bit of an issue. One thing you can say about Waitakere, Suburbs and many other sides is that they have upgraded their teams over the winter. Even Southern. The return of Riera is welcome, but he’s not the same player who left us a few years back. Years matter, and for many of the heroes of 2014’s Club World Cup, it’s now two years later. Has the ACFC squad gotten better since the final against Team Wellington?
Doom and gloom, early days in the season, concerns about our ability to compete – ah, it’s good to be back.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
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.