Eastern Suburbs 3, Hamilton Wanderers 1
Bill McKinlay Park, Auckland, January 22 2017
Looking back, it’s clear to me that the turning point came way back on January the 23rd, 2017. That was the day when Hamilton Wanderers visited fellow National League newcomers Eastern Suburbs on the back of a run of mixed results…
Up until that point they had beaten Suburbs 4-0 at Porritt and they had also managed impressive wins over Canterbury United and Hawkes Bay. But consistency was their number one problem. They had also failed to come away with any points whatsoever six times, including a shock away loss to last year’s wooden spooners Southern United.
Bill McKinlay Park was high noon. Do or die time.
They went into the break with the scores level at one apiece thanks to a 42nd minute Wanderers free kick nodded home by Corey Mitchell and an injury time Suburbs penalty converted by Armin Pasagic.
The key moment came with 20 minutes left in the game. A Tim Payne push on Wanderers striker Raymond Gunemba inside the penalty area saw the referee point to the spot.*
The spot kick was converted and Wanderers were able to close out the game with a solid defensive effort. We all knew, on that blustery summer’s afternoon, that the win was necessary to keep the team in the hunt. But we had no idea just how significant it would turn out to be.
It propelled the Hamiltonians to within two points of the top four with seven games remaining and they only grew in confidence from that point onwards.
After a stunning upset victory over Team Wellington the following week, they managed to capitalise on Auckland City’s packed schedule by earning a hard fought home draw against a tired navy blues side. They also picked up deserved wins over fellow semi-final rivals Hawkes Bay United, Canterbury United as well as the ‘Weenix’ to book their place in the final four.
Into the semi-finals they charged with momentum to burn! They easily swept aside the auld enemy, Waitakere United, by an impressive 3-0 scoreline. What a special day that was for me… Not only did the result propel my favourite team into the final but, in even more spectacular news, I finally won that dang coffee machine!
The final was tense and tight, as you always expect from such occasions. Wanderers battled hard against clearly superior opposition. Likewise, the JAFAs threw as much as they could at their country cousins. But the stark reality is that Auckland City simply haven’t quite been their usual clinical selves all season.
After a 120 minute white knuckle ride for all concerned, the title would be decided from twelve yards.
And who would step up to strike the winning blow? Who else, but the man who won the penalty that made it all possible!
Gunemba fired himself and his team into the history books and the Blue Army was sent into rapture.
2017 will live on forever as the greatest year that Waikato football has ever and will ever experience. Nothing will ever top the glorious moment when Aaron Scott lifted the Stirling Sports Premiership trophy in front of his jubilant comrades and loyal supporters – finally consigning the region’s perennial also-ran tag to obsolescence for the rest of time.
*This didn’t really happen. The penalty shout was waved away, much to the incredulity of the Wanderers faithful. They went on to lose 3-1 when, chasing the game, they left their defences open and succumbed to goals from Moses Dyer and Osita Henry Chikere in the last ten minutes of the match. Instead of remaining in the semi-final hunt they now sit eight points adrift of fourth and, realistically, their chances of making the playoffs are nil.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.