Penalties are without doubt the cruelest decider in football and Central United will be rueing their early dominance in this years Chatham Cup final and their inability to pull away from Onehunga while the possession stats were clearly on their side.
At half time the game seemed done. Onehunga Sports had been barely present in the first 45 minutes, the efforts of Sean Lovemore appearing to be their only outlet in a game where Central pressed, harried, controlled and through Nicolas Zambrano, scored.
But this was an Onehunga team with the Northern League trophy in their cabinet and they were not to be underestimated. However it’s telling that the only point that they could be said to have a hand, single or otherwise, on the 2017 Chatham Cup was after Calvin Opperman’s penalty crossed the line, with a touch from Danyon Drake on the way.
Rewind though, because Nic Zambrano’s opener on 20 minutes was a goal borne from a Central side drilled in the Kiwitea style of passing football. The Team Wellington bound striker was lively and had failed to take a chance a few minutes earlier. This time, after Ignacio Machuca had hurtled down the right wing, his finish was precise.
HT Onehunga Sports 0 – 1 Central United
The two league fixtures between these sides had seen Central win the Kiwitea game 2 – 0 but a Wednesday night reschedule between the two, fielding effective reserve sides, end as a stalemate.
Onehunga started the second half the brighter, with a slight change in tactics pushing Andrew Milne, familiar to all the Sandringham supporters, forward to support Lovemore up front.
It worked. Lovemore found himself with space in front of him and the ball at his feet on the left hand side of the penalty area. Danyon Drake, no stranger to leaving his line (or penalty area, or even half come to think of it…) came out but his attempt to smother the chipped finish ended with the ball travelling his body line and looping into the net, despite the best efforts of despairing Central defenders.
A couple of minutes before that equaliser the architect of Zambrano’s opener, Ignacio Machuca, had been withdrawn for Seamus Ryder provoking some questions from Central supporters. A couple of minutes after the equaliser, Dean Lausev was withdrawn for Albert Riera, to much fewer questions. Both would have influence on the game, Ryder within minutes and Riera over time, and at the end.
Regont Murati’s forays down the wing, more suited to the number 9 on his back than his right back position, ended up with a neat cutback to Ryder who could not miss from 12 yards out with 71 minutes on the clock.
The lead lasted just two minutes. Andrew Milne, appealing, went down in the penalty area after an innocuous challenge and almost all Onehunga and Central players turned to Mr Waugh. Almost all. Tom Boss picked up the ball as it headed towards the touchline and scooped a shot into the net from an acute angle, causing mayhem as Onehunga players celebrated and Central players protested.
Now, Central’s protest was that the ball had gone out of play before Boss got to it. The assistant referee on the far side was unsighted, Mr Waugh had a foliage of bodies ahead of him and the TV replays I caught on the monitor fail to show if the ball left play. However, playing to the whistle – Central stopped, Boss didn’t. All square once again.
Five minutes later and Ryder answered the questions about his introduction to the match with his second goal of the afternoon. Emiliano Tade absolutely refused to let any defender get near the ball or pass the ball until he was good and ready too, his eventual cross being met by Ryder’s forehead at the back post with Louie Caunter unable to bat it away.
Respite? Yeah right. Boss and Onehunga came back once more, their counterattacking gaining influence as Central tired, finishing smartly minutes later.
Both teams had their chances, as the pendulum swung between the two sides. But when the whistle blew on 93 minutes, they couldn’t be separated.
Full Time – Onehunga Sports 3 – 3 Central United
It was bloody cold and bloody wet at North Harbour, and the prospect of a half hour more was probably only appealing to the players because they’d keep warm haring around after the ball and each other.
In the first half of extra time, Central dominated. Albert Riera had begun to control the game from the midfield, while Maro Bonsu-Maro’s introduction for Nic Zambrano injected pace into a tiring attack.
Onehunga rang the changes too, Max Mata coming on for Jake Porter just before the final whistle and Tom Boss taken off for Charlie Hoyle in the opening stages of extra time. Milne could have made the best of a 3 on 2 attack but failed to spot Lovemore in all the space a striker could want.
Half Time In Extra Time – Onehunga Sports 3 – 3 Central United
As much as Central dominated the first half, Onehunga dominated the second. Much like the main game, they seemed to be able to hold Central deep in their own half and break out quickly by capitalising on a misplaced pass. Boon Ozawa was introduced and the diminutive midfielder certainly demonstrated a turn of pace amongst tired legs, and the ability to pick a pass – Lovemore unable to extract a finish from a beautiful raking ball.
Nothing doing for either side. Penalties.
As an English football supporter, penalties are the bloody worst. So to see both sides first five takers dispatch their penalties coolly, albeit with committed goalkeepers doing their level best, was heartening.
Of course, that meant the onus was on those outside of the chosen handful. Sudden death. Calvin Opperman scored. Albert Riera, whose influence on the game had increased as time wore on, found himself deciding the match – albeit in favour of his opponents.
Joy for Onehunga as they completed a league and cup double, a second Chatham Cup in two years for Tom Boss. For Central regrets over an inability to convert dominance into goals, and the haunting sensation that only a lost penalty shootout can visit upon people.
[Photos by Enzo Giordani]
Categories: NZ Chatham Cup
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.