Aucklanders lead the way as champions struggle

The Wellington Phoenix U-20 players celebrate their winning goal against Team Wellington. Photo: Marty Melville /

Defending champions Team Wellington are still winless while Eastern Suburbs have continued a victorious return to the big time after the conclusion of round two of the Stirling Sports Premiership this afternoon.

Wellington suffered their second humbling experience in as many weeks, falling 4-0 to Auckland City in the previous round before succumbing to a pair of late goals from the Wellington Phoenix U-20s today. That leaves the capital men propping up the table with Southern United but the outlook is currently much more promising for Suburbs, who are rubbing shoulders with local rivals Auckland City and Waitakere United at the summit after a 1-0 win over Hawke’s Bay United.

Elsewhere, Waitakere got their campaign back on track with a 2-0 defeat of Hamilton Wanderers while Aaron Clapham scored a hat-trick in his 100th game for Canterbury United as they outclassed Southern 3-1 in the second local derby of the afternoon.

It is Wellington’s underwhelming start to their title defence that will claim the headlines though and new coach Jose Figueira will be disappointed not to have claimed the points after taking a 1-0 lead into the final stages. On a sunny afternoon at David Farrington Park, the home side gained a 19th-minute advantage via the forehead of Ben Harris and looked likely to bounce back from last week’s disappointment as the clock ticked down.

But the promising Max Mata was having none of it and notched a last-gasp double through goals in the 76th minute and stoppage time to earn a memorable win for the Phoenix youngsters.


Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira

“Obviously, it’s not the start we were all expecting,” Figueira admitted.

“Today was a bit of a shame on our part because I felt we threw the game away. We were in a really good position, were looking dangerous and were creating lots of chances but just seemed to lose a bit of focus and got rattled by a few things that didn’t go our way. The players need to understand that things happen but you need to concentrate on the task. We’ll be addressing that but it’s still very early days.”

Given the gulf in experience between the sides, it was an impressive effort from the Phoenix, although coach Andy Hedge feels there is still even more to come from his talented charges.

“I’m really proud of the performance overall but I can still find faults because I’m a bit of a pessimist,” he said. “But we performed from the first minute right to the last, fought hard and deserved it in the end.”


Wellington Phoenix coach Andy Hedge

There was no such late drama at Bill McKinlay Park but plenty of excitement nonetheless as Eastern Suburbs played their first home match in the national league since the club’s halcyon days nearly four decades ago.

The encounter kicked off amid a party atmosphere and it didn’t take long for the fans to have something further to celebrate as the speedy Derek Tieku smashed home a loose ball from a corner in just the 15th minute. Suburbs had dominated the early exchanges but Hawke’s Bay grew into their work as the game progressed and pushed hard for an equaliser in the second half.

Sam Mason-Smith saw a pair of headers saved by Suburbs goalkeeper Silvio Rodic before Saul Halpin also went close on two occasions.


Eastern Suburbs coach Malcolm McPherson

“I thought we started the game really well and were well worth the lead going into half time,” Suburbs coach Malcolm McPherson said. “But credit to Hawke’s Bay, they’ve got some good players and had a really good spell for about 20 minutes of the second half. Silvio has made some good saves and there were some really important blocks.”

Hawke’s Bay counterpart Brett Angell was disappointed with the outcome but, aside from a sluggish start, was pleased with his team’s display.

“In the first 20 minutes, we weren’t really on it but, once we got into the game I couldn’t fault our performance. Other than an end product, I thought we did everything we could to get back into the game.”


Hawke’s Bay United coach Brett Angell

Down the motorway in Hamilton, Wanderers were looking to join Suburbs in making it two from two in their debut season but were denied by a Waitakere outfit trying to prove their shock opening day win over Auckland City was no fluke. Many may have come to that conclusion after the west Aucklanders failed to back up the City success in losing to Hawke’s Bay a week later but will now be tucking into a slice of humble pie after second-half goals from Dan Morgan and Jake Butler earned a 2-0 win.

“We needed to have a response from last week and I thought we thoroughly deserved the win,” Waitakere coach Chris Milicich said. “Apart from 20 minutes at the beginning of the second half, we were the dominant side – our possession and movement were good.”


Waitakere United coach Chris Milicich

Hamilton coach Mark Cossey agreed that Wanderers lifted their game in the second spell and felt they could’ve pocketed a point.

“We didn’t play particularly well in the first half but we were still in the game and I thought we did take it to them in the second half,” he said. “We could’ve pinched a goal but didn’t and we always knew they were quite quick on the counter. At 1-0 we were pushing for the goal but we didn’t track, Butler snuck in and scored a great goal – credit to them for that and the win.”


Hamilton Wanderers coach Mark Cossey

In the day’s televised match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, former All White Aaron Clapham showed his class as he struck all the goals in skippering Canterbury to a 3-1 triumph. The first arrived from the spot in just the third minute and the second came on the half hour as Clapham neatly tucked home after a slick passing move.


Canterbury United captain Aaron Clapham

Eric Molloy finally replied for the hosts in stoppage time to give Southern a glimmer of hope and there was indeed time for one more goal but it went to Canterbury again, Clapham coolly converting another penalty to bring up his century of games – which has included over 50 goals – in real style.

The Stirling Sports Premiership returns next weekend with another full schedule in Round Three, to view the fixtures and standings please click here


Southern United coach Paul O’Reilly

Stirling Sports Premiership Round Two

Auckland City 4 (Emiliano Tade 6’, Ryan De Vries 23’, Darren White 59’, Joao Moreira 72’)
Tasman United 0
HT: 2-0

Team Wellington 1 (Ben Harris 19’)
Wellington Phoenix U-20 2 (Max Mata 76’, 92’)
HT: 1-0

Eastern Suburbs 1 (Derek Tieku 15’)
Hawke’s Bay United 0
HT: 1-0

Hamilton Wanderers 0
Waitakere United 2 (Dan Morgan 63’, Jake Butler 90’)
HT: 0-0

Southern United 1 (Eric Molloy 90’ + 4’)
Canterbury United 3 (Aaron Clapham 3’ pen, 30’, 90’ + 6’)
HT: 0-2

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