Lotto NRFL Division 1
Manukau City AFC v Melville United
Words: John Palethorpe. Photos: Roz Palethorpe.
Back in April I noted that Palethorpe Jnr had been to two Manukau City games and had not yet seen them lose. As August fades into September, he still hasn’t, despite being pitchside for at least nine of their fixtures at Walter Massey Park this winter. Nobody else who follows the team has seen them lose either, their one reverse coming against a free-scoring Western Springs right at the beginning of the season.
Today they were facing Melville United in a do-or-die grand final, with promotion the prize. Whoever won, went up. Or, if there was a draw, Manukau could win their final game of the season and go up. But that wasn’t on the minds of those standing on the grass bank today.
City’s successful womens side was in attendance, suitably attired to cheer their male counterparts on.
One thing you can say about Melville, they score goals. 80 of them, across 20 games. Another thing you can say about Melville, they don’t concede many. 16 in 20 games.
The reverse fixture down at Gower Park had been a 3 – 2 headbutt of a contest between the two sides, with City coming out on top. With Western Springs top on goal difference, Melville needed to grab second spot from Manukau.
Tense didn’t describe it. Melville’s usual passing game seemed to take a breather for this game, and Jama Boss and Marc Evans spent a lot of the first half dropping deep or curving their runs to meet balls over the top. Evans, top scorer in the division with 33 goals, always looked menacing even if he appeared to have to do a lot of the work alone.
There was a shout for handball, more ball to hand, midway through the half and questions over exactly how a Jeremias Perez shot was deflected wide later on. Nothing doing from the ref.
City too had their chances, the industrious Leo Berlim being supported by Andre Estay, with Imran Shah’s midfield work causing a lot of trouble for the Waikato team. Unfortunately Shah’s efforts were rewarded with two incidents where he came off worse, the second leading to his half time substitution as both teams went into the sheds having drawn a blank.
HT Manukau City 0 – 0 Melville United
A cold one up in the clubhouse at half time, and City started the brighter. Paul Day came on for Imran Shah, taking his midfield position. Early on Andre Estay flicked the ball over a defender but his shot went straight at the keeper. That was the tale, with City looking likely from set pieces but Melville being pretty sharp on the counter attack.
Both teams did a good job of stifling their opponents, which began to boil over into some minor on the ball aggro as the game entered its final quarter.
Then, the breakthrough. It wasn’t a pretty goal, in fact the referee had to go and check with his assistant about the legitimacy, and later ensure he had the correct goalscorer. A free kick in from the left attracted bodies in red, black and white striped shirts – the goalkeeper too – and at the end the ball nestled into the net and City were celebrating.
There were still nine minutes plus stoppages remaining, and with Melville pressing hard and City attempting to defend on the line between tough and foul, there were a fair few free kicks given away in dangerous areas. One caused absolute havoc before being hooked away. Coach Fallon spent the last ten minutes out of his chair, a sure sign things were stressful for the South Auckland side.
I’m not going to pretend impartiality. I was at Ngaruawahia last season when City won the Pascoe Shield, and as a club near to my house they’re my first port of call for a game at the weekend. I found myself getting closer to the boundary tape as the minutes ticket by. City kept hoofing the ball downfield but Melville would regroup and strike back. Their keeper even came up for a free-kick in the last minutes, always a good sight for the casual punter.
Then the whistle blew. City were up. Two promotions in a row, and the league title still possible going into the final game of the season. For Melville, another season in Division One – remarkable given their goalscoring is the second best in the division and their defence has been the tightest.
Manukau City 1 – 0 Melville United
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.