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Cup thriller decided by penalty shootout

Sunday Blazers – 4 , North Wellington – 4 (Sunday Blazers win 5-3 on penalties)
Wellington College, September 16 2018

Sunday Blazers has won the Wellington Sunday Football League Cup, beating defending champions North Wellington on penalties in a thrilling matchup that came down to the wire.

The match looked anything but close in the first half, with North Wellington breaking away to a 2-0 lead within the first 10 minutes through goals from Brendan Howell and Alex Jones.

Both goals came from fast breakaways, with Howell and teammate Jason McLean beating the Blazers defence back to the 18-yard box following a free kick and overwhelming keeper Cathal O’Mahony for the first goal. The second was scored by right wing-back Jones, who fired the ball into the goal from the edge of the box after being set up by a near-perfect turn from striker Taban Makoii.

North Wellington seemed unstoppable in the first half, swarming the Blazers goal and finding space on the wings. In contrast, Blazers struggled to retain the ball on offence. This early inability to string together passes led to isolated players striking from long distance.

Blazers’ best chance of the first half came from a direct free kick awarded when Alain Brunner was pulled down a metre outside the penalty area. However, the resulting shot followed many other Blazers’ efforts, sailing over the crossbar.

In contrast, North Wellington played with freedom. Makoii threaded his way through groups of defenders and North Wellington’s defence was well marshalled by Hayden King and captain Michael Chin. Luke Townsend had returned to bolster the midfield and his footwork drew in defenders, allowing space for a through ball for Makoii, who finished well to score North Wellington’s third goal of the match.

Townsend put his mark on the game again at the start of the second half, shooting so powerfully from the edge of the penalty area that even a diving stop from O’Mahony couldn’t stop the ball as it blasted its way to the back of the net.

At this point North Wellington’s players appeared to ease off, thinking the match was all but won. They soon paid the price as Sunday Blazers supporters began to arrive in droves, to music from the team’s band Cumbia Blazera.

Blazers’ midfielder Michael Date shot from 40 metres out, lifting the ball over North Wellington goalkeeper David Ravine to put Blazers on the scoreboard.

Blazers finally found rhythm with the wind at their backs, and the goal was followed by a series of range-finding shots, including a direct free kick that sailed just over the crossbar. Shaw Reh troubled the defenders with penetrating attacks on the left wing, while Mirko May would have scored if he hadn’t lost his footing when shooting.

An underwhelming goal kick from Ravine landed at the feet of Blazers’ Jack Furnish, who looped a curving shot just inside the right-hand upright to bring the score to 4-2. A sharp run from Reh came just minutes later, beating two defenders and giving Furnish another chance to score. Furnish did not disappoint, shooting low and left from the edge of the penalty area to bring Blazers within a goal of North Wellington.

With just minutes left on the clock and the score at 4-3, North Wellington drew back to defend the slim lead. Blazers continued on all-out attack, and premature celebrations began when an indirect free kick was brilliantly headed into the goal by an offside player.

This was followed by two intense corner kicks. The first saw North Wellington players knocked to the ground, but the attack was defused by Chin. The second was headed into the top right corner of the goal by Mirko May at the near post, bringing the full-time score to 4-4.

The keepers shook hands, and the penalty shootout began. Cristian Leman of Blazers was the first to shoot, taking his chance low and left. Howell followed with an unsaveable shot to the top right corner. Ravine got a fingertip to Juan Silva’s shot but couldn’t save it, while Townsend took his shot just inside the right-hand upright.

Brunner scored next for Blazers. Makoii faked out O’Mahony, drawing a dive but shooting with control. But O’Mahony was next to score, mirroring Makoii’s shot to roll one past Ravine and claim a rare goalkeepers’ goal from the penalty spot.

Matt Ryan took the mark next, shooting forcefully and just inside the right hand upright. But O’Mahony was fired up, diving at full length to punch the ball wide of the goal and give Blazers a chance to seal the win. Captain Mataio Daniela stepped up to the mark to seal the game with a shot that skidded to Ravine’s right.

Celebrations ensued. The Wellington Sunday Football League Cup had found its champions, with Sunday Blazers winning the Cup for the third time in the team’s history. A member of the original starting team 16 seasons ago, Daniela said while the team had belief in its abilities, the comeback from 4-0 down had been a surprise to everyone.

“The wind was a big factor, as we always thought it would be. We went into damage control in the first half and focussed on defending, but we were resilient enough to come back in the second half. Big ups to North Wellington though, they have some brilliant players.”

Silva agreed saying the players had come to life in the second half with the wind at their backs, as well as cheering and music from their supporters. The Cup will now return to heritage site The Moorings, home of the Sunday Blazers.

HHH United overcame Fireraiders to claim the Plate earlier in the day, winning 2-0. The first goal was scored by Anthony Eastman on the 15-minute mark and the second by Adam Garrett after 20 minutes. Both goals were assisted by Danny Clarke.

Expected Toulouse continued its march up the league tables, winning promotion to Division Two with a win over Inter Galactic FC and completing a journey that saw them promoted twice in one league season without losing a single league match.

Prizes and medals were awarded to the champions of each division – Division Four champions SVH, which will be promoted to Division Three, Division Three champions Ball Tamperers, which will be promoted to Division Two, and Division Two champions Valley FC Trust, which will be promoted to Division One.

Although Division One Champions Sudakas FC had been knocked out of the Cup in Blazers’ previous match, the team were still elated at winning the league title after successful promotions in each of its three previous seasons.

Thirty-seven teams competed across four divisions in this year’s Wellington Sunday Football League, a community based 11-a-side league that was founded over 40 years ago and is growing year-on-year. A full table of results and fixtures can be found at https://tinyurl.com/WSFL2018.

Watch: Cumbia Blazera bring rhythm to the game

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Categories: Wellington Sunday Football League

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Fraser May

I alternate between club, indoor and street football. I'm keen on the social game and have been known to bother urban Wellington by playing street football at night. I usually play keeper or wing back, and I'm enough of a geek to enjoy football manager games.

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