By Damon Threadgold
It’s been a joy to watch Waiheke United this season, from the goal sprees to their eye-catching passing via the vim and vigour of La Banda del Pipazo and sunny afternoons on The Hill nestled in a natural verdant bowl. But, all too quickly, the Lotto NRFL Division Two season draws to a close.
The penultimate game of Waiheke United’s season is also their final one at Onetangi Sports Park until they embark on an NRFL Division One season in 2018. Exciting times, once again, for the island side.
Promotion to Division One achieved, Waiheke stand second in the table with an unbeaten record good enough to win most leagues. But, incredibly, the league ladder shows that 16 wins, 5 draws and 0 defeats is not enough to sit at it’s head.
No, Fencibles’ phenomenal onslaught has been unrivalled, they’ve won two more games than Waiheke, drawn two fewer and have scored goals for fun while possessing a miserly defence. The chances of them slipping up in the final two games is even less likely than Waiheke surrendering their four year unbeaten home run, especially against the division’s bottom side.
But, well, who knows? Football, eh? Teams have finished second in a league with better records than Waiheke and teams in control of their own destiny have also bottled it. Let’s look at Brighton in England’s Championship last season. Top of the pile with three games to go and promotion secured. They then went on metaphorical (and metaphysical in the case of ‘keeper Stockdale) holiday and were overhauled at the top by Newcastle United. So, it’s not unprecedented, by any means, but, still, it would attract attention of the betting police if Fencibles let this slip now.
On paper at least Waiheke had the easier proposition today as they faced a Papatoetoe side with just three points all season – the fact that those three points were a win and not three draws still seems slightly baffling. Fencibles, on the other hand, were away at 4th placed Takapuna who could still finish third.
Game on. And who knows what the added pressure might do to Fencibles players? The answer to that, unfortunately for Waiheke, was gleaned from the second meeting between the two sides this season.
One sunny June day two months ago Fencibles were 2-1 down at Waiheke deep into stoppage time and found reserves of nerve and composure to equalise with the last kick of the game. No faint hearts there. Had they not done so the gap between the two sides today would be a solitary point. Nerve jangling. No single goal wins a league title but that one, even at the time, was the one that most commentators felt was indeed THE ONE.
And so it was. The short summary of Waiheke Utd 7-0 Papatoetoe is that Waiheke did their job. They destroyed a Papatoetoe side shorn of several players who didn’t fancy the trip. Don’t be too hard on them, after 19 defeats in 20 games would you still fancy a lengthy drive and ferry ride just to get thrashed again? But Fencibles did their job too, champions they are and deservedly.
So, this game could easily have fizzled out, Waiheke’s players knew Fencibles were 3-1 up. But it didn’t. The unabridged story of this fixture could amount to several thousand words, and many of those words would need to be florid, evocative and indeed varied in order to avoid repetition, given how many Waiheke attacks would need to described. A more talented wordsmith would try.
Emi Candia scored four goals and was always a willing runner, a target, a bounce-board and a general menace. He’d got two of his goals after just 14 minutes (one a slightly daft header from one yard after some shambolic goalkeeping/defending and another from a twice taken penalty) but it took him another 40 and several presentable chances to get his hatrick. After that, he wanted to score with every touch and had a smile on his face the size of a vineyard every time he ventured near the penalty area.
In fairness, the score-line could and perhaps should have been much worse for Papatoetoe. Among the avalanche of attacks the number five twice stopped Candia in his prime with perfectly timed last ditch covering tackles, a positive he will hopefully take out of a game he might otherwise want to dump in the mind’s recycle bin at the very soonest point.
At the other end, Aso, in Waiheke’s goal touched the ball once in the opening 35 minutes of the second half and, bar a rousing spell of pressure midway through the first half, it never looked like he would be troubled by as much as a Papatoetoe cross. He certainly wasn’t troubled by a shot in 90 minutes, the most urgent he had to move was a short rush out to an overhit long ball with about ten minutes left.
Xavi Planes was outstanding in the centre with Claudio Amad, the former scored twice and one or other or both were involved in the build up to all but one of the goals, even if not directly responsible for the assist.
The only two very slightly disappointing things about the game (and this is stretching a point beyond any reasonable metric) were a) an unnecessary but deserved sending off for Papatoetoe; and b) the lack of a stand-out worldy of a goal. Each goal was functional, most of them attractively created and very clinical but none were screamers, belters or thunder-bastards. One was headed in from a yard, one was a tap in and one was bundled in. Two more were dinked expertly beyond the keeper’s reach and one was placed.
The last five minutes was notable for being exclusively owned by substitute Matthias Britos. He came off the bench and was then told to get back on it for entering the pitch without the ref’s say-so and it was several minutes before he was allowed on properly. His movement then caused havoc in the Papatoetoe defence with every attack, he played a large part in the sixth goal with his persistence and then scored the seventh himself.
The take-out from this game won’t be much for either side, Waiheke did a pro job on a demoralised side and Papatoetoe were perhaps just dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on their post mortem of a season that never started.
The take-out from the spectator, however, would have been the dinks. That thing of football beauty, the deft little dig of the foot under the ball that sees it arc lazily over the obstacle. At least two of the goals would be deemed dinks, there were two dinked assists (or was it three?) and a late dink that grazed the bar. Today was DINK DAY.
And today was also LINO banter day, before the game started and just as the red wall were warming up the drums, the Lino ran over, looked up at La Banda and jovially put his fingers to his lips, “shhhh”! Cheeky. Add in FIVE dogs, an entrepreneurial garlic bread salesman, some warm sunshine, a backdrop of smokies, three or four orangey-red flares and you have a banzai final afternoon of entertainment at OSP for 2017.
It’s nearly goodbye to NRFL 2, it was a blast, everyone on Waiheke is just itching for NRFL 1 and 2018 to roll round.
Waiheke 7-0 Papatoetoe
Candia 9, 14, 55, 77
Planes 40, 88
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.