Lacking intensity and disjointed on attack, Canterbury United were their own worst enemy in a 2-1 loss to Hamilton Wanderers on Sunday.
The Dragons slumped to their first loss of the Stirling Sports Premiership season, turning in a sloppy performance at English Park.
Canterbury coach Willy Gerdsen wasn’t amused with the consistency of the refereeing, but agreed his players were well below their best.
“Overall, we weren’t sharp enough. It’s one of those games where we weren’t sharp and lacking a little bit of a cutting edge in the final third.”
It could prove to be a costly home loss for Canterbury with a difficult run of games leading into Christmas against Waitakere [away], Eastern Suburbs [home] and Team Wellington [away].
The previously unbeaten Dragons would have circled Hamilton, who have been inconsistent to start the season, as a game they should claim three points from, but lacked spark and creativity.
A 53rd minute penalty from Hamilton’s Bailey Webster proved the difference after Brock Messenger had pushed Jack Salter in the area.
Canterbury finished strongly with Andre de Jong hitting the right post late in the game, but Hamilton held on doggedly for a deserved win.
Captain Aaron Clapham conceded his side were still battling for cohesiveness on attack, which hurt them in the loss.
“It’s not really quite clicking in the attacking third and that connection between the midfield and the front three.
“It’s not to put the blame on anyone, but it’s going to take a little while. We would have liked to have been in a position now five, six games in, where things are going pretty smooth.”
Papua New Guinea international Nigel Dabinyaba made his Dragons’ debut on the left wing, but was largely kept quiet in his 80 minutes on the field until being replaced.
Gerdsen said he might switch around the formation with Dabinyaba’s addition and play two strikers.
“We have a lot of combinations. We can play two up front or one up front.
“He is dynamic and quick. For the first time [in the league], I was very happy with him.”
Canterbury were again slow to start at home and Hamilton made them pay with their first real chance of the first half.
Goalkeeper Danny Knight committed a blunder, failing to hold onto the initial shot in the box with PNG striker Raymond Gunemba pouncing to score from the fumble.
Canterbury slowly began to get into the match with striker Stephen Hoyle looking their most lively threat.
They were on level terms 10 minutes out from halftime when Hoyle capitalised from a Clapham corner.
Hoyle headed the ball goalward with Hamilton goalkeeper Matt Oliver unable to hold onto the ball, which fell right to Hoyle’s feet.
The Englishman was quick to react, netting his fourth goal in three games since switching from a right wing role to striker.
Meanwhile, the Canterbury United Pride will host the national women’s final after WaiBop did them a favour by beating Northern 3-2.
The Pride managed a 1-1 draw with Central in their last round match at English Park on Sunday, which had them destined to finish second.
Aimee Phillips opened the scoring for Canterbury in the 26th minute, but the lead was short lived with TJ Lyne-Lewis netting the equaliser for Central 10 minutes later.
With WaiBop’s win, the Pride finished first on a countback and will have the week off.
WaiBop and Capital will meet in the semi-final to determine who plays the Pride in the final, which will be played the weekend of December 10-11
Points after six rounds: Auckland City 13 (7), Eastern Suburbs 13 (6), Team Wellington 10 (6), Waitakere United 10 (7), Phoenix Reserves 10 (6), Canterbury United 9 (6), Hamilton Wanderers 9 (6), Hawke’s Bay 7 (6), Tasman United 5 (6), Southern United 1 (6)