Having turfed holders Birkenhead United out of the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup, Auckland club Onehunga Sports now have their sights firmly set on creating history with a league-and-cup double.
Hiroshi Miyazawa’s side are entering a period that could be one of the most memorable in the club’s history with a title win in the NRFL Premier League on the verge of being secured and a cup semi-final to look forward to soon after.
With an 11-point lead over second-placed Birkenhead, Sports have looked odds on for the league title for some time but denied their nearest challengers in a different competition on Sunday by triumphing 3-0 in the Chatham Cup quarter-finals.
After an evenly-contested opening period at Birkenhead’s Shepherds Park, Sean Lovemore gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of half-time when he picked up a poor clearance and drove his shot into the net through a crowded box. That strike proved pivotal as Birkenhead had to chase the game in the second half and Sports did well to contain them and create chances on the counter-attack.
Andrew Milne made sure of the win in injury time when he struck from the penalty spot and Jordan Vale then capped off a satisfying afternoon for Onehunga when he scored with the final act of the game.
Miyazawa was delighted with the nature of the performance and felt the tactical discipline of his charges was key.
“The one thing we had to do was defend well as a team and not give them any time and space,” he says. “I think the execution of the game plan from our boys was superb.”
Onehunga require just a point from their match at East Coast Bays on Saturday to wrap up the Premier League title and Miyazawa is keen for the players not to get too far ahead of themselves.
“We have a big job to do this week to make sure we win the league and so I haven’t thought too much about the semi-final yet. The main focus for me is this weekend – we need to get the league out of the way and then we can concentrate on the cup,” he says.
Miyazawa – a former player with New Zealand’s first professional club, the Football Kingz – says Sports’ success this season is the result of years of hard work.
“We’ve been working on the same philosophy and concept for a number of years and I just feel like everything is coming together now,” he says.
“For me, the maturity and togetherness of the team is the reason we are now here. A lot of the boys have grown up together and I’ve been coaching some of them since they were 10-years-old. It’s good to see them doing so well now because they deserve it.”
Birkenhead coach Paul Hobson was disappointed at not being able to keep the cup in the club’s coffers but had no qualms about the result.
“I think the better team won, it’s as simple as that, although 3-0 was a bit harsh after conceding those two goals in injury time,” he says.
“Sometimes when you get beaten and you have something to blame then you can feel a bit bitter but we got beaten fair and square. But I said to the players afterwards that that’s our first loss in normal time in the cup for about three years and you can’t win them all.”
The semi-finals of the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup will take place on the weekend of August 26-27 with the official draw to be conducted by New Zealand Football on Tuesday.