The birth of my son has brought me more joy than I can possibly put into words, although it’s fair to say that joy has come at the cost of hours spent asleep. It’s also reduced my ability to jump in the car and rocket off to Western Springs, Hamilton, Te Atatu or even old Kiwitea Street this season.
Looking closer to home, within buggy pushing distance, is Manukau City AFC. And, on days when it’s necessary to log the kilometres so that Palethorpe Jnr goes to sleep – a brisk walk down to Walter Massey Park usually sends him straight off. Doing my parental duties and getting a game in? That suits me absolutely fine.
Rolling the buggy onto the grass bank and grabbing some plastic chairs from inside the clubhouse, the three of us took up position behind the green canvas dugout. Assistant Coach Ricky Espinoza asked me where the latest report was about his boys – I’d been at City’s win over Oratia the previous week but manning the pram by myself, hadn’t been able to get any pictures worth a report.
City had started the season with a 4 – 0 reverse at Western Springs, but had won both of their Easter weekend games to give them some much needed momentum.
Today’s opponents were Hibiscus Coast, who had scored a scarcely believable 14 goals in their 2 Easter weekend games, their first victories of the season.
Coast took the lead within three minutes. Despite pressure from City up the other end, Dan Cyra rose to meet a beautifully flighted corner. His header at the near post placed the ball into the side-netting of the far post.
Manukau poured forward but Hibiscus were staunch in defence, getting numbers behind the ball and breaking when the opportunity came. Of all the teams I’ve seen in the NRFL, I can’t recall many winning as many flick-on headers as the lads from the Coast.
There were chances. Lord, were there chances. At one point Abby Shaheed had rounded the Hibiscus ‘keeper, only to tamely roll the ball towards goal – dinking the post – before it was cleared. Andre Estay weaved his way into a shooting position but attempted a pass when he could have put his foot through it.
All this in ten minutes. Jeremiah Perez capitalised on a deflected clearance in the penalty area, hammering home an equaliser that rattled one post and ran across the back of the net.
Ten minutes later Coast retook the lead. This time a cross from the left, a pacey skimming ball, was met again by Cyra who placed it neatly in the back of the net. Grumbles from the home support were grudgingly appreciative, as City went in behind to two really good headers.
Half Time – Manukau City AFC 1 – 2 Hibiscus Coast
For a side that were a goal up, Hibiscus Coast seemed to struggle to retain the ball in the early stages of the second half. The break had come, perhaps, at the wrong time for them as their organisation from the first half seemed to have broken down somewhat during the interval.
They had chances, but often their breakouts lacked numbers as they feared the pace of Shaheed and the battering ram forward play of Leo Berlim. In fact it was Shaheed’s springing of the offside trap that pulled City level, his cross into the box eventually finding Andre Estay.
Two minutes later City were ahead, Leo Berlim nodding down a cross for his fifth goal in his last four games. It was also at this point that Palethorpe Jnr was handed to me, and I watched most of the rest of the game while attempting to explain the offside rule to an eleven week old baby – hey, he’s got to start somewhere.
A defensive lapse nearly allowed Hibiscus to equalise, but the men in green couldn’t quite line up the shot before the ball was hoofed downfield to provide some respite for City.
The offside trap was sprung again by the lively Shaheed, who this time took on the keeper under pressure from a harrying defender, slipping it under the custodian and extending Manukau’s lead.
Hibiscus attempted to get a hold on the match but with cries of ‘tighten up’ emanating from Kevin Fallon, seated pitchside, their attempts created the preludes to opportunities without providing any decent ones. It was down to Andre Estay to finish the game with an atypically cheeky finish.
Full Time – Manukau City AFC 5 – 2 Hibiscus Coast
For Palethorpe Jnr, an afternoon of being cuddled and cooed over by the wonderful ladies on the sideline at Manukau. I’m sure we’ll be back down to Walter Massey Park – he must be a lucky charm for them – after all, he’s not seen them lose a game yet!
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 1
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.