Cambridge 3, Waikato Unicol 2
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge, July 15 2017
Waikato Unicol – now there’s a name that’s laced with nostalgia. And one that, until this year, I hadn’t heard spoken in many serious football conversations for a very long time.
I had never seen the Waikato University (I think the name comes from the old teachers’ college) club play until yesterday, but as a young football fan I always used to look for them on the points tables in the newspaper, to see how ‘the other Waikato’ (aside from United) were getting on. They had an unbroken stint in the NRFL from 1975 until 2003, mostly kicking about the lower reaches with their best ever finish coming in 1985 when they came third in Division 2. But since then – tumbleweeds… Until 2017!
This year they have been well and truly back on the radar. Unexpected pace setters in the WaiBOP Premiership, they have been leaving their more fancied opponents such as Cambridge, Taupo and West Hamilton in their wake as they surge towards a playoff that could yet see them back in the big-time.
They have been faltering a bit lately though. Losses to Tauranga outfits Otumoetai and Old Blues in the last two weeks have seen their lead over the chasing pack slashed. For my very good friends at Cambridge, who were out of title contention a few weeks ago eleven points behind the league leaders, this means that all of a sudden they have found themselves in a position where a win today would see them move to within two points with a game in hand.
Ever since WaiBOP United’s epic season at John Kerkhof Park, I have loved going there. I am seldom happier than when I’m zig-zagging left right left through the Waikato pastures between Gordonton and Cambridge. Just when you think you’ve made the last turn at a compulsory stop, or weaved through the last misaligned chicane crossroads, there are six more.
The Chatham Cup was on yesterday… But I couldn’t resist blowing that off for my favourite football road trip to watch what turned out to be right up there with the most exciting games I’ve seen all season! A thriller that rivalled some of those classic matches from that golden WaiBOP United summer.
The fun started right from the very beginning with Unicol storming into the Cambridge penalty area, ricocheting a shot off the post and into the path of an attacking player who blazed over when it would have been easier to score! They didn’t have long to wait for redemption though. It was just the third minute of the match when Unicol grabbed the advantage with Simon Gibson taking advantage of more disorganisation at the back from the candy canes.
I remarked to the people I was standing with that I may have shunned a closely fought Chatham Cup tie in favour of a one-sided drubbing! But I was reassured by Cambridge’s official club photographer Louis Roberts that “we’ll come right. We’re just slow starters”. And he was quite correct. In this game, as it has been in the league overall.
The home side’s fightback started in the 26th minute when they were awarded a penalty. It was nicely saved but the rebound fell to Jordan Silvester who buried it in the back of the net and parity was restored. Then Mathew Wheeler struck two minutes before the break to give us a half time score of 2-1 in favour of Cambridge.
Unicol started the second half exactly as they started the first – with a hiss, a roar, and a goal in the third minute of play – this time via Van Ewert.
The rest of the second half unfolded as a real arm wrestle. Unicol did much of the attacking with their keeper James Field shouting to his players at one stage “watch the long ball, it’s all they’ve got!!” And he seemed to have a bit of a point.
A point is exactly what wasn’t good enough for Cambridge though! They had to get three of them to keep their title and promotion hopes alive and perhaps, when all was said and done, they simply wanted it more. They kept bludgeoning away with every opportunity that came their way until at last their persistence paid off! Josh Clarkin was the man on the end of a free kick. He nodded home and sent the home fans into rapture with just seven minutes of regulation time left to play.
The locals were particularly nervous about how much time added on there would be in light of a considerable period having been spent securing some loose netting on the northern goal at one stage during the second half. They need not have fretted though. Unicol hammered the final nail into their own coffin when Thomas Wright was shown a straight red in the 90th minute, apparently for enquiring with the ref “do you play for Cambridge?” His coach followed soon after, sent from the dugout for what looked from where I was standing like a continual running commentary directed at the officials.
And that was Unicol’s day done.
So Cambridge now find themselves in pole position for the promotion playoffs! Good news as far as I’m concerned! More zig-zagging through the Waikato would suit me just fine. As much as I’d love to see Unicol’s name once again when I scan those points tables…
Categories: Other NZ Federation Leagues
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.