The All Whites’ heroic exploits against Mexico in the FIFA Confederations Cup have captured the headlines in recent days but the focus of many football followers will return to the domestic game tomorrow as the third round of the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup gets underway.
With only 32 teams now left in the running, the prestigious competition is rapidly approaching its business end and, by Saturday evening, the majority of those progressing to round four will be known.
Only two matches are scheduled for Sunday afternoon and both fixtures are well worth waiting for with a repeat of the 2011 final between Napier City Rovers and Wairarapa United set to take place in Hawke’s Bay while evenly-matched Mainland Premier League sides Nelson Suburbs and Coastal Spirit do battle in the South Island.
Napier will be out for revenge at Bluewater Stadium after being pipped to the trophy by Wairarapa six years ago and have further painful cup memories to banish after also being on the losing end in the 2015 final, that time to Auckland’s Eastern Suburbs. But they have a proud heritage to draw upon – having lifted the cup in 1985, 1993, 2000 and 2002 – and possess the Central League’s most in-form striker, Angus Kilkolly.
Remarkably, Kilkolly has scored nearly two thirds of Napier’s 33 league goals so far this season and it is not likely to be a scoreless stalemate on Sunday as Wairarapa can also call on the services of two of the league’s most lethal marksmen in Paul Ifill and Sam Mason-Smith.
Like Napier, Coastal Spirit will have a score to settle after suffering a 3-1 league loss at the hands of Nelson Suburbs last weekend. That match was most notable for the return to action of Nelson’s Ryan Stewart, who made his first appearance at top-flight level since overcoming a battle with testicular cancer.
Worryingly for Spirit, Suburbs were able to stick three goals past them despite being without four key players – Kristian Gibson, James Deehan, Robbie Pearson and Sam Ayers – and are expected to be back at full strength this weekend.
In a similar situation are south Auckland outfit Franklin United, who have reason to approach their short trip to Hamilton on Saturday to face Melville United with trepidation. The pair met in Division One of the Lotto NRFL just a fortnight ago and it was a humbling experience for Franklin, who returned north with their tails between their legs after a 10-0 battering.
Melville have made a habit of earning high-scoring victories and have already found the net an amazing 62 times in just 14 league matches – comfortably more than any other team in the entire NRFL system. Much of that rampant scoring has been down to the splendid form of Welsh striker Marc ‘Hitman’ Evans, who has 26 league goals to his name and is well within reach of Mark Cossey’s club record of 35, set by the former All White in 1996.
Elsewhere in the northern region on Saturday, Matamata Swifts will look to continue their giant-killing ways by claiming one of the biggest scalps in the competition, that of six-time winners North Shore United. The plucky Swifts are now the only non-NRFL team left in the north but are not currently enjoying life in the Loaded WaiBOP Premiership, having fallen to three successive defeats.
As shown by a 6-0 thumping of Onehunga Mangere United in round one though, they clearly save their best for taking on the big boys and Shore – one of the oldest clubs in the country – certainly fall into that category. But, despite such an illustrious past, Shore have not won the Chatham Cup since 1986 and coach Tom Speers is looking for some fresh memories of success to go with the sepia-toned images that adorn the walls of the club’s Devonport headquarters.
Two other teams from Auckland’s North Shore are involved in arguably the most eye-catching clash in that part of the country with holders Birkenhead United needing to withstand the challenge of fellow NRFL Premier League side East Coast Bays, coached by former All White David Mulligan. Birkenhead have been handed a tough start to their maiden cup defence after also having to get past top-flight opposition in the previous round, which they made light of by dispatching local rivals Glenfield Rovers 4-0.
In the capital on Saturday, Central League mainstays Miramar Rangers were delighted to finally receive a home game in the cup – their first since 2014 – and will be confident of progressing in coming up against lower league opposition, mid-table Capital Premier side Tawa. The other two fixtures in that region tomorrow are also a case of Capital Premier teams looking to get one over Central League heavyweights with Petone hosting table-topping Western Suburbs and North Wellington travelling to the Hutt to take on Stop Out.
Down in Christchurch, Nomads United share the same division as Cashmere Technical but will very much be underdogs nonetheless as they are battling away in sixth place of the Mainland Premier League while Technical are title favourites after being beaten just twice.
Further south, both ties are tough to pick with Southern Premier League leaders Caversham meeting closest challengers Green Island while the two sides below the leading pair, third-placed Queenstown Rovers and fourth-placed Dunedin Technical, are also coming up against each other.
ISPS Handa Chatham Cup Round 3
(all games Saturday 24 June unless otherwise stated)
Takapuna vs Central United, 2pm, Taharoto Park
Three Kings United vs Ngongotaha, 2pm, Keith Hay Park
Melville United vs Franklin United, 2pm, Gower Park
Hibiscus Coast vs Onehunga Sports, 2pm, Stanmore Bay Park
Hamilton Wanderers vs Bay Olympic, 2pm, Porritt Stadium
East Coast Bays vs Birkenhead United, 2pm, Bay City Park
Waitakere City vs Western Springs, 2pm, Fred Taylor Park
Matamata Swifts vs North Shore United, 2pm, Matamata Domain
Miramar Rangers vs Tawa, 2pm, David Farrington Park
Stop Out vs North Wellington, 2pm, Hutt Park
Petone vs Western Suburbs, 3pm, Memorial Park
Napier City Rovers vs Wairarapa United, 2pm, Sunday 25 June, Bluewater Stadium
Cashmere Technical vs Nomads United, 2pm, Garrick Park
Dunedin Technical vs Queenstown Rovers, 2pm, Tahuna Park
Caversham vs Green Island, 2pm, Tonga Park
Nelson Suburbs vs Coastal Spirit, 1pm, Sunday 25 June, Saxton Field