Dragons close to playoffs after ‘million dollar goal’

(c) CanterburySportShotz
By Tony Smith & Andrew Voerman – The Press

Canterbury United coach Willy Gerdsen was marvelling at defender Brock Messenger’s “million dollar goal” after the Dragons took a giant step towards clinching a national league playoffs berth.

Messenger’s injury time strike gave Canterbury a 3-2 win over playoff rivals WaiBop United in Hamilton on Sunday after the home side had fought back to 2-2 from a two-goal deficit.

Gerdsen, speaking from Waikato Hospital where goalkeeper Coey Turipa was having a head injury checked out, said he was “delighted for the players and the [Canterbury United] organisation” after the Dragons moved back into second place on the ASB Premiership ladder.

“We have put ourselves in a good position,” he said. “We’re not there yet and we’re taking nothing for granted. We’ve had a good win, but footballing wise we still have a lot of room for improvement.”

Canterbury led 2-0 at halftime after striker Angus Kilkolly scored a superb fourth minute opener with an acrobatic overhead bicycle kick after WaiBop keeper Zac Speedy could not clear a freekick following skipper Aaron Clapham’s mazy run.

The Dragons settled better after a long first half injury break for Turipa to get treatment for a head wound. The burly keeper played on with a skull cap bandage and, almost immediately after the restart, Clapham and Juan Chang combined to set Andre de Jong up for a tap-in to make it 2-0.

But WaiBop fought back in the second spell to level the scores at 2-2 before Messenger delivered his fatal late blow with a long range strike in the 93rd minute.

“It was a world class goal… the boys are calling it a million dollar goal,” Gerdsen said.

The Dragons’ coach thought his charges should have been awarded the winner earlier after a shot struck the underside of the cross bar. “I will have to look at the replay, but the boys thought it was a goal,” he said.

As was to be expected, being 2-0 down, WaiBop dominated possession in the second half.

Federico Marquez had a long-range shot tipped wide by Turipa in the 50th minute, while Scott Hilliar forced a fine save after getting on the end of a cross from Jones in the 60th minute.

That save led to Turipa going down injured again, and he was duly replaced by Reuben Parker-Hanks, who immediately conceded to Mario Ilich from a corner, giving WaiBop a lifeline.

“You can’t blame Reuben [for the goal], he came in totally cold,” claimed Gerdsen, who said Turipa was taken off as a precaution.

Just minutes later, Jones had a golden opportunity to draw the scores level, but his shot, taken in acres of space at the top of the box, curled wide to the left.

WaiBop were denied a penalty when substitute Wade Molony appeared to be pushed over inside the box in the 77th minute, but the referee just shook his head and waved play on.

Then came substitute Sanni Issa’s headed goal and a frantic final few minutes, during which Canterbury first hit the crossbar, then, through Messenger, the target.

WaiBop must now pick themselves up for a trip to Hawke’s Bay United next Sunday, where their slim, mathematical chance of making the playoffs will require nothing less than a win.

With Canterbury almost certain to make it, they now have the luxury of turning their attention to the hunt for a home semifinal, a quest that begins against Auckland City the same afternoon.

WaiBop United 2 (Ilich, Issa) lost to Canterbury United 3 (Kilkolly, De Jong, Messenger) HT: 0-2.

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