It’s been an intriguing start to the new ISPS Handa Premiership campaign with the top three sides from last season all failing to win in the first round proper while a pair of sides that finished outside the play-offs both secured three points.
Having started with a victory against Auckland City in last week’s Charity Cup, Team Wellington were looking for back-to-back wins at home to Eastern Suburbs but the defending champions were left empty-handed after suffering a 3-1 setback. Auckland are expected to be the most serious challengers to Wellington’s bid for a three-peat of titles but likewise find themselves with plenty of work to do after being held to a 2-2 draw by Southern United in Dunedin. That leaves the glamour side of the competition with only one point from their opening two games and with a real need to collect all three in the next round, a huge televised game against local rivals Waitakere United.
Waitakere will also be seeking their first win after picking up a point on the road against Canterbury United with a 1-1 draw while Tasman United will be delighted with their afternoon’s work after a 4-1 win over a fellow side in just their second ISPS Handa Premiership season, Hamilton Wanderers. In the only game to take place on Labour Monday, Hawke’s Bay United and the Wellington Phoenix reserves shared the spoils after both drawing a blank.
But it’s Eastern Suburbs that will hog the headlines after putting in an outstanding display to upset the defending champions on their own patch, new signing Andre de Jong making a striking first impression with a hat-trick. With their new coaching duo of Danny Hay and Chris Zorocich missing most of pre-season due to being away at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Suburbs had been picked by some to start the season slowly but there was no sign of that at David Farrington Park as they charged out of the blocks.
De Jong, who has moved back to his home town of Auckland after playing for Canterbury last season, did not take long to open his account and did so in some style, curling a free kick from the edge of the box inside the post of Scott Basalaj on the half hour. That gave the visitors a 1-0 lead at the break and they put themselves further in control soon into the second spell, de Jong getting a slight headed touch to a Derek Tieku cross.
Andy Bevin gave Wellington hope with a headed goal of his own in the 70th minute but they could not trouble the scorers further in the absence of Tom Jackson, last season’s golden boot winner. De Jong secured the points and completed his hat-trick late on, converting a penalty he had won after being felled by Scott Hilliar.
“I thought the boys showed a fantastic mentality and great attitude,” Hay said. “We looked really dangerous going forward at times and were generally pretty solid defensively. Team Wellington are going to be there or thereabouts at the end of the year so to pick up the three points is a great way to start.”
Wellington coach Jose Figueira felt his side improved in the second half after a change of shape and is far from hitting the panic button.
“I think there were a lot of positives to take from that and move forward for next week. The boys have enough experience and quality to take that on the chin and get back to work on Tuesday.”
Joining Suburbs in celebrating a big first-up win were Tasman, who beat Hamilton twice last season and repeated the trick with an accomplished display at Porritt Stadium. The South Islanders likewise had a new signing largely to thank for their success, Abdulla Al-Kalisy hitting a double on debut.
Daniel Allan headed Tasman in front early on but soon went from hero to villain, bringing down Sam O’Regan in the box for Marc Evans to equalise from the spot. Al-Kalisy, who was previously on the books of both Auckland City and Waitakere United, then worked his magic with a quick-fire brace to make it 3-1 at the break before a Paul Ifill chip midway through the second half put the icing on the cake.
“You put in a lot of hard work in the pre-season and to get some reward from it in the first game is a confidence booster for the boys,” Tasman coach Davor Tavich said. “It gives you a morale boost to see the hard work we put in didn’t go to waste.”
There was also an early goal at Forsyth Barr Stadium, where Ryan de Vries put Auckland City in front before Danny Furlong headed in an equaliser for Southern on 25 minutes. Argentine striker Emiliano Tade appeared to have scored a dramatic winner for City with a low shot in the closing minutes but Southern refused to take nothing from the game and earned a point through a world-class volley from Tom Connor with one of the last kicks of the game.
“We rode our luck at times and they bombarded us for long spells but I thought we had a threat on the counter attack all day,” Southern coach Paul O’Reilly said. “We scored two good goals and Liam Little in goal had an unbelievable performance to keep them to two. It’s a huge point for us and hopefully it’s a platform to build on.”
Like a week ago in the capital, Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx believed his side had the better of the game but were made to pay for their inability to kill it off.
“We’ve played two games now and I think both games have been very similar,” he said. “We dominated and created lots of chances but this is the way it goes in football sometimes. We need to stay positive and I think our football was pretty good today at times. We were maybe a little impatient in the front third and we need to make sure we switch on to those crosses and set pieces that have been costing us.”
In the day’s televised match at English Park in Christchurch, there was another early contender for goal of the season as Canterbury and Waitakere shared the spoils, the hosts ending with 10 men after the dismissal of debutant George King with around quarter of an hour remaining.
The Dragons took the lead in stunning fashion as a loose ball dropped through the air to Stephen Hoyle and the English striker pulled off a textbook piece of technique to execute a perfect bicycle kick just before half time. In an even and entertaining encounter, Waitakere finally got back on level terms with a sweetly-struck Keegan Linderboom volley in the 73rd minute and then appeared the most likely side to win it when King, once part of the Manchester City academy, received his marching orders for a high challenge.
But they could not find the decisive goal in the remaining minutes as Canterbury hung on for a point in front of a sizeable and boisterous crowd.
On Monday, there was no lack of exciting action in an entertaining encounter but neither Hawke’s Bay United nor the Wellington Phoenix second string could find the net at Bluewater Stadium in Napier.
The home side came closest to breaking the deadlock in the 35th minute when presented with a golden opportunity from the penalty spot after the Phoenix were adjudged to have committed a hand ball in the box. Adam Thurston stepped up for the Bay in the hope of opening both his own and the team’s accounts for the season but was denied by a brilliant piece of goalkeeping from Lewis Italiano.
The Australian custodian showed just why he is on the books of the country’s only professional outfit by firstly saving Thurston’s attempt and then springing back to his feet to block another shot on the follow up. That was the nearest either side came to getting on the board as they settled for a point each with a scoreless stalemate.
“There’s a sense of frustration,” admitted Hawke’s Bay coach Brett Angell.
“We weren’t quite where I wanted us to be in the first half, physically we were a yard off. But, slowly but surely, we started to get a bit more of a foothold in the game. Then it just comes down to being in the right place at the right time and, unfortunately, there were three or four occasions when the ball went right across the face of goal and we couldn’t get a touch on it.”
Phoenix coach Chris Greenacre appeared happier with the point than his counterpart.
“We had a relatively young team out this week and Brett’s put a really impressive side together,” he said. “In the second half, I think they probably created more opportunities than we did but we were disciplined in what we were trying to do.”
ISPS Handa Premiership Round One Results
Hamilton Wanderers 1 (Marc Evans pen)
Tasman United 4 (Daniel Allan, Abdulla Al-Kalisy 2, Paul Ifill)
Southern United 2 (Danny Furlong 25’, Tom Connor 87’)
Auckland City 2 (Ryan De Vries 12’, Emiliano Tade 86’)
Team Wellington 1 (Andy Bevin 70’)
Eastern Suburbs 3 (Andre de Jong 30’, 49’, 84’ pen)
Canterbury United Dragons 1 (Stephen Hoyle 43’)
Waitakere United 1 (Keegan Linderboom 73’)
Hawke’s Bay United 0
Wellington Phoenix Reserves 0