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December December Super Special

Wanderers v Auckland City/ Phoenix Reserves. 2nd and 9th Dec 2018 

This report is actually for not one, but two matches in the ISPS Handa Premiership. A real bargain some might say. It’s like a 70’s double album, (let’s say…Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti) complete with gate-fold cover, clever artwork, great songs but a bit of filler. And the real truth is that I was going to pen a report on the Wanderers – Auckland City game last week, but was so grumpy after our late capitulation that I sulked for a week.

But having been a little remiss this summer season I thought I better get cracking and give you an update from the ‘tron, where football is rocking… like Led Zep in their heyday.  We are optimistic at Porritt these days. We have some good players, see. But as Led Zep’s Jimmy Page told me. “You need players at the top of their games, but also need to play like a team, then you can beat anyone”

And while Enzo focuses on the rise and rise of the women’s game, regular ITBOTN readers might think bloke’s footie has gone away, or been sent to Coventry (youngsters may not understand this particularly English expression, so see below*). But it hasn’t and I’m here to redress the balance.

{*To send someone to Coventry is an English idiom meaning to deliberately ostracise someone. Typically, this is done by not talking to them, avoiding their company, and acting as if they no longer exist.}

No New Zealand men’s team has achieved what the ladies have on the FIFA stage but the local competition is alive and well and judging what I’ve seen, there is some decent quality out there

The first game of my double was last weekend’s televised match against league leaders, the Auckland City behemoth and this weekend we were ‘versing’ (as teenagers are wont to say) bottom placed Phoenix Reserves. A national league sandwich, as it were. Predictions? Surely we would get thumped by the Auckland team and thwack the Wellington one? That’s how the bookies would have it.

As it turned out, roughly the results would have concurred with the bookies. But we certainly weren’t smashed by Auckland and we certainly didn’t thwack The ‘Nix.

On Sunday Dec 2 there was a biblical downpour, as if God had flushed the dunny, about two hours before the match and if it had been a 2 o’clock kick off the game surely would’ve been delayed. I’m not exaggerating. 10 houses in the city were flooded and roads were blocked. However this was a telly game which meant a 4.35pm kick-off luckily. And the rain stopped as quickly as it started and with a bit of wind, sun and the miraculous recovery attributes of the Porritt surface, we ensured a dry start. Thanks FIFA, for that lovely pitch you bequeathed us.

Wanderers began the game brightly despite fielding a team that was somewhat weakened after suspensions and injury. Having only seen one other game, I had to pore over the programme to figure out a few faces. The defence looked as makeshift as one of my work sick-leave excuses and I wondered whether I’d have to use the words “opening”. and “floodgates” when writing up this game. I needn’t have been so glass-empty, as we competed on a equal footing for much of the first half and then Dylan Manickum, arguably Auckland ‘s best player, was sent off for a crude tackle and it seems that an upset could be well on the cards.

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Pic Grant Stantiall. Bueno on the ball

Particularly as Tommy Semmy, the PNG superstar, was lurking like a shark, all muscle and menace. Nobby, on the Wanderers P.A, should play the “Jaws” music when he hunts down the ball, it would be perfect.  He was ably assisted by the impressive Stafford Dowling, my man of the match. His constant movement and intelligent football was a standout. Surely he is the best thing to come out of Melville since the Gallagher Electric Fence company. The other striker, Martin Bueno, seems to have quality but also a propensity to spend half a match on the floor claiming free kicks. But his South American passion certainly energizes the team.

It was great to see the veteran David Samson appear as a substitute. When he strolled on, my comment was will he be sent off or score a miracle winner? Such is his Mercurial nature. However neither happened. And it was to be a unhappy end, despite a brave showing from our depleted team.  Things certainly had looked promising for the Blues to claim first ever points against the Aucklanders. However mid-second-half the challenge of the home side faded and at times we looked like the team with only 10 men. Semmy seems to play deeper in second half of games and his threat lessens. But

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Pic Grant Stantiall. Dylan sees red.

Semmy and Dowling both did well to set themselves up for decent attempts, both only slightly off target. Then, as league leaders often do,  jammy Auckland, after some panic in our  penalty box managed to knock home a winner in the 87th minute.

Gloom. Another 1-0 loss, like last season. It was not for lack of trying by our fellas. Herbert has gone about his work well, improving the squad as he promised, however the ranks are still a little bit thin. And we don’t have the resources of the big clubs like Auckland. But the squad seems to have a new found belief and enthusiasm, which is great.

Hop forward a week and the game against Phoenix had no issues with rain. Hot sun and a baking game in store for our players. As the swealtering faithful arrived there were comments to the effect of, “we wouldn’t fancy being out on the pitch today without shade.”  And “looks like real summer has arrived.” Strewth, I even had to have a pre-match beer to cool down! The well organised Wanderers support team had put out gazebos to provide shelter for the older fan while others braved the uncovered ‘bleachers’.

The visiting Phoenix reserve side were bottom of the table, but certainly not expected to be cannon-fodder as they featured some classy young players, plus Mitch Nicholls a former Australian international. Before the game, the crowd were treated to the chance to meet with the three Wanderers girls who had featured in the successful New Zealand under 17 World Cup team. They proudly showed off their bronze medals.  It is a great accomplishment and astonishing, that our ladies, only 3 or 4 seasons ago were lingering in the bottom part of the Wai-BOP regional league but are now one of the best women’s teams in the country.

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Pic Grant Stantiall. The team meet the winning girls.

Like last week, Wanderers got off to a promising start and put pressure on at the Phoenix end. But this time a reward was soon reaped. Derek Tieku who had missed the last game, played a beautiful long cross from the right that found Semmy who wriggled free to fire a fierce shot across goal and off a defender into the net.

This seemed to galvanise the Phoenix side, they put pressure for the next 10 minutes on the Wanderers goal and despite some great work from Matt Oliver, custodian extraordinaire, an equaliser was found via the classy Nicholls. Halftime 1-1.

But sensing we might win this game in the second I cunningly positioned myself at the far end of the pitch under a convenient shady tree to prepare for the stampede of Wanderer’s attacks coming at me. Ok , no stampede, the ‘Nix were giving as good as they got but when the ball broke loose our boys looked increasingly dangerous.

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Pic Grant Stantiall. Tommy scores again!

I also had the benefit of a running commentary by young ball-boy Max Fletcher, who seems to have a better grasp of the team, tactics and  the football than many of the older spectators that attend these games.

Eventually a rampant Wanderers attack paid off. Once again Tieku provided the class, this time on the left, jinking inside and banging a shot towards the keeper that rebounded out to the lurking Tommy Semmy. Not a sight any defender wishes to see. Semmy the shark doesn’t miss those chances. (Ok, not too often). He duly pounded a net-buster to give Wanderers a precious lead. Then it was his turn to turn provider as he gave Bueno a gilt edged  opportunity that he contrived  to somehow fluff. However Bueno, to give him his due, made up for this shortly after with a well taken goal and this was to be the last of the match.

Phoenix, to their credit never gave up, but a further goal eluded them. Our lads held them out till the end. I must make mention of Adam Luque, formally of this parish, who has returned after a jaunt overseas. He came on and immediately looked quality.

So after two difficult seasons in the top-flight competition Wanderers certainly seem to have found their feet and we are currently in the nose-bleed position of fourth, not bad for a team that were predicted to be wooden-spooners again. There are players to return as well, so us  Blue Army diehards are hopeful of play-offs, that would be a good result, then who knows eh?

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Pic Grant Stantiall. Custodian extraordinaire, Matt Oliver

The combination of a hot day and a good win certainly made the post-match beer go down rather well. I even played a bit of Led Zep (volume level 11)  on the way home.

The thing about Led Zeppelin was that it was always four musicians at the top of their game, but they could play like a band.” – Jimmy Page

Categories: NZ Men's National League

Rod de Lisle

Waikato based follower of Leicester, Hamilton Wanderers, Allwhites and Phoenix, roughly in that order. Underdogs all. I pen stuff that I feel I'd like to read myself but there's no accounting for taste, eh? Some of my opinions occasionally may be factually correct, sorry about that.

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