Midway through the second half a conversation started to my left.
“See this is the Charity Cup, the league starts next week”
“Oh, so it goes to extra time and penalties?”
“It says ISPS Handa Premiership on the programme”
“Uh, maybe they’ve combined the two”
A healthy crowd and healthy sunshine filled Kiwitea Street this afternoon as last season’s OFC Champions League winners met last season’s Premiership winners and for once Auckland City had only domestic honours to show for their 2017/18 season.
For City, it was a debut for their new look attack. Only Micah Lea’alafa returned from last season, down the right wing, with David Browne on the left and new Spanish import Lopez spearheading. He’s a big lad is Lopez, and has cannons in his boots as some early thunder-hits demonstrated. That said Lea’alafa and Browne are 90 minutes of misery for Handy Prem full backs. Watch out.
But it was Wellington who got off the mark quicker, Mario Barcia with a turn and outside-of-the-boot strike into the top corner (which drew swearwords from this writer, so gorgeously struck) swiftly followed by a Hamish Watson header. Suddenly City were two down, and we were still in the first 20 minutes of the game.
At this point Wellington could have tried to shut up shop, but they continued to press forwards – which allowed Cam Howieson to neatly evade a couple of challenges and score, before a brilliant Micah Lea’alafa cross was met with Lopez’s beautiful diving-but-falling header. All square at half time.
The second half opened with City taking the lead for the first time, Dan Morgan following up from the left hand side after the industrious Howieson had another shot saved. And it’s probably about now I should mention, if Mark Rudan needs a couple of extra midfielders then Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Cam Howieson would absolutely improve the current Phoenix squad.
The game remained open and it was good to see David Browne galloping into space down the wings, at one point turning the Wellington defence inside out with his movement – it’s a shame Europe didn’t work out for him, he’s far, FAR too good for this league.
Micah Lea’alafa extended the lead after City poured forward through Browne, with a snapped shot that slammed into the roof of the net. Game over? Yeah right mate. Patrick Barnes enthusiast Hamish Watson scored another header, and was a nuisance all game before Justin Gulley tested the durability of the cross-bar with a thunderous strike.
It ended 4 – 3, a perfectly excitable score for a game which showed that these two sides will be in the mix once again at the end of the new season.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
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.