Hamilton Wanderers 3, Northland 3
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, May 28 2017
Going into this weekend there were two NRFL women’s Premier teams left that I still hadn’t seen in action this season, and as luck would have it they were playing a super important game against each other. I couldn’t pass that opportunity up, even if I wanted to and even though it did mean a road trip to the Waikato for no other reason than one game of football.
What other reason does one need anyway??
This was probably always going to be a good old fashioned relegation six pointer, but an extra edge was added to it the other week when the league manager e-mailed clubs asking them for feedback on a plan to reduce Women’s Premier to eight teams for 2018.
The rules, as everyone understood them at the start of the season, were that the last placed team would drop out of the NRFL and be replaced by either a WaiBOP side or the Conference winner. Meanwhile coming second to last would guarantee you safety. But the proposal is to now make the eighth placed team in this year’s nine team league enter into a three way play-off for survival with the WaiBOP and Conference champions – assuming they both want up.
The biggest problem I can see with this is that it moves the proverbial goalposts half way through the season. But in addition, it’s hard to imagine the bottom three submitting in favour of this – turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. So if the plan is confirmed, the decision will almost certainly be made by a ‘tyranny of the majority’ where by clubs that are safe regardless have a decisive influence over a process that won’t directly affect them.
How is that fair?
Every cloud has a silver lining though. Because one thing that the above proposal made certain of was that both Northland (9th) and Wanderers (8th) would be desperate for points yesterday. And the result of that was an absolute cracker of a football game. Although things did get off to a slightly comical start…
Minutes before kick-off the referee was on the phone madly trying to reach one of his assistants – who apparently thought the game kicked off at 1pm instead of the unusually early advertised time of 11:30am. Once it became clear that he wasn’t anywhere close to arriving, volunteers were sought and we ended up with an ‘AR2’ who appeared to have a dicky knee and was wearing a bright orange t-shirt with ‘WANDERERS’ emblazoned on the back. This is New Zealand football at its finest!
The main theme of the first half was Northland giving away an awful lot of cheap possession and Wanderers pouring into their penalty area in wave after wave of attack. The home side seized the lead in just the fifth minute when Chelsea Elliott steamed in from the left like a locomotive and assuredly struck home what felt at the time like it would be the first of many in a Wanderers cricket score.
But Northland had other ideas! Their most recognisable player, Nicole Stratford, restored parity ten minutes after Elliott’s opener as a result of the visitors’ first perceptibly meaningful attack of the match. Not to be deterred at that point at least, the team in Tory blue hit the lead again in the 22nd minute when the Cambridge blues’ excellent keeper Leah Botica managed a great save 1v1 with Kim Maguire, but was only able to parry it into the path of wonder kid Britney Cunningham Lee who stabbed home into an empty net. But again the Wanderers lead barely lasted ten minutes thanks to Colleen Winstanley, who netted at the culmination of Northland’s second meaningful chance of the game! Frustratingly for Wanderers, 2-2 was the score at half time.
The second half was a thrill a minute as Wanderers continued to dominate the match but just couldn’t find the net. Their formidable looking attacking trident of Elliott, Cunningham Lee and Maguire just kept on either missing the goal or getting thwarted by Botica. Maguire was replaced by the equally menacing figure of Leanna Ryan three minutes before the hour mark but the misery continued unabated regardless.
Just as we were approaching that nervous last ten minutes when already frustrated teams get uber desperate, troubles really began to compound for Wanderers when Northland were awarded a free kick some distance out on the left. Winstanley sent a speculative ball in towards the goal and Wanderers keeper Sophie Daly looked as though she struggled a bit to gather it in. This must have given Winstanley some encouragement because when another free kick was awarded at a similar distance on the right a minute or two later, she had another crack – and this time it looped in over Daly’s head and whaddaya know it – the Northlanders were looking good to make their first points of the season a mark in the win column!
To Wanderers’ credit, they didn’t let their heads drop any further and three minutes after their setback they set out on the road to redemption thanks to Elliott, who was taken down in the box, then dusted herself off and slotted the subsequent penalty.
A solitary point wasn’t really a whole lot of use to either team but, after further furious attempts by Wanderers to grab the lead proved fruitless, that was what they both ended up with and truth be told it was probably what they both deserved as well – particularly Northland, for their plucky never say die performance.
As for Wanderers, in football you can dominate as much as you want but it counts for nothing if you can’t get that little round bouncy thing in the big square netty thing. That is the aim of football, afterall! And if you can’t do that, you’re in some trouble regardless of what the relegation rules are…
Categories: NZ Northern Women's Premier
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/