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Auckland 3, Northern 2
Keith Hay Park, Auckland, November 26 2017

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Ouch! That’s the second year in a row that Northern have missed out on the play-offs due to a cruel late comeback. It’s hard to feel too sorry for them though. After all, that federation has made four of the past six finals and lifted the trophy three times while they were at it. And even though it’s much more fun when WaiBOP inflicts the damage, this game was still fantastic for my neutral self regardless!

The difference for Northern this year as opposed to last is they didn’t come into their last pool game as red hot favourites and they didn’t utterly dominate the first half.

With lots of players away on Ferns duty across the league this week, both these top sides were missing key personnel so it was a tough one to pick.

When I bumped into Phototek photographer Shane Wenzlick in the carpark before the match he asked me who I thought would win. I responded that I thought it would be close but Northern would edge it. After the game he told me he’s never listening to me again. You are only just working that out now Shane? Never come to me for predictions. I’m hopeless.

One thing was absolutely certain though – both of these sides really wanted to keep their season alive. All the realistic scenarios said that a win or a draw for Northern would see them qualify at Auckland’s expense, while only a win for the JAFAs would do for them. AND IT’S A LOCAL DERBY! So it was all to play for.

And as often seems to be the case in big local derbies (it’s easy to be wise after the fact) the team that’s lower on the table performed the best. Particularly in the first half when Northern just couldn’t get going and Auckland capitalised with goals to ex-Northern player Tayla O’Brien and Megan Robertson in the 24th and 40th minutes respectively.

Auckland’s 2-0 lead at the break was halved in the 69th minute when Arabella Maynard bludgeoned home a goal that dragged her side right back into the contest. But as the 90 minutes ticked over it was looking like it wouldn’t be enough.

That was until the fourth official held up a board with a 6 on it… Then with four of those six minutes elapsed the visitors struck again via the deadly markswomanship of Liz Savage and all of a sudden Northern were in and Auckland were out!

But then, in a moment Hollywood couldn’t have scripted any better, Jacqui Hand broke through the defence, found herself one-on-one with Northern Keeper Emily Couchman, and slotted – propelling her team into the play-offs for the first time in five years as Puccini’s Nessun Dorma played in the background (not really but it should have).

It was so exciting that if you look closely you can even make out one of the Northern players’ dads (who shall remain nameless) in the background of one of the celebration shots with a big smile on his face! I’ll be kind to him and call it a wry smile! 😉

I’m smiling too, because thanks to Capital beating Southern, we mercifully get a pre-final in Auckland next week as opposed to everything from now on being in the South Island. Mainland, who consigned Central to the wooden Spoon yesterday, will host the final at English park on December 10.

And better still my pre-season predictions…

…are actually not that far off if you swap WaiBOP for Southern (and who saw that coming!)

So it turns out I’m not that crap at predictions after all.

But the best part of all is we get to see Southern, this year’s massive surprise package and the only team I haven’t seen in 2017, in the flesh North of Lake Taupo next week. Always a sucker for a good underdog, I’ll be cheering for them big time!

Categories: NZ Women's National League

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Enzo Giordani

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: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

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