Birkenhead United coach Paul Hobson has fond memories of his team’s home ground being full of hundreds of local fans last year on their way to lifting the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup and is hoping for a similar atmosphere this weekend at Shepherd’s Park.
The defending champions, who defeated Waitakere City 3-2 last year in a thrilling final at QBE Stadium for their first-ever win, will host Onehunga Sports on Auckland’s North Shore on Sunday at 2pm.
It shapes as one of the matches of the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup quarterfinal weekend.
“Our fans’ support was amazing last year and it is a great atmosphere for our team to play in. We are hoping for the same this weekend,” said Hobson. “It will be fantastic, it will a fun day out for all ages. I doubt any team in New Zealand will get the backing that we get at Shepherds Park.”
They will need the support of the Red and White Army as Onehunga Sports come into the quarterfinals in great form in both the NRFL Premier League and ISPS Handa Chatham Cup.
The Hiroshi Miyazawa coached side are top of the NRFL Premier League with only two losses and a draw from 18 games this season to be 11 points clear, and they have been impressive in the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup. They defeated Tauranga City United (6-1), Hibiscus Coast (5-1) and most recently Melville United 1-0 to reach the final eight.
“They have had a great season,” said Hobson, whose team sits second behind Onehunga Sports in the NRFL ladder. “Our season has been a bit up and down. I feel as though we could have done better… I guess we just have to be at the top of our game this weekend.”
Meanwhile, Birkenhead United have had no easy games with wins over Glenfield Rovers (4-0), East Coast Bays (3-1) and then came from behind to defeat Three Kings United (2-1) in the last round.
“We’ve had premier teams so far and all away so been a good test,” said Hobson. “The game against Three Kings United was the toughest game by a long way and we won a bit ugly in that one so to win like that is always good for belief not playing well and winning. Godwin Darkwa has been outstanding for us this season.”
Hobson said it was too early to be thinking about defending their ISPS Handa Chatham Cup title.
“It would be a dream but there’s such a long way to go yet and really every team has a genuine chance of winning it.”
Meanwhile, also in Auckland five-time winners Central United will look to stay on track for their first in five years when they host Wairarapa United.
In the capital, 2006 winners Western Suburbs host 2010 runners-up Bay Olympic, while in the South Island Nelson Suburbs will look to upset Cashmere Technical, who have already beaten them four times in 2017.
The ISPS Handa Chatham Cup is an open knockout competition throughout New Zealand. It is one of the oldest sporting trophies in the country dating back to 1923.
The most successful teams in the history of the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup are Mount Wellington (seven wins, two of them since amalgamation with University), Christchurch United and North Shore United (six wins each).
ISPS Handa Chatham Cup Quarter-Finals
5/8/17 2pm, Western Suburbs v Bay Olympic, Endeavour Park
6/8/17 2pm, Birkenhead United v Onehunga Sports, Shepherds Park
6/8/17 2pm, Central United v Wairarapa United, Kiwitea Street
6/8/17 1pm, Nelson Suburbs v Cashmere Technical, Saxton Field