Lethal Wood leading the way

There is every reason for Fiji to fret heading into this month’s World Cup qualifying games against New Zealand with a number of All Whites in great form for their respective clubs on foreign shores. Striker Chris Wood continues to lead the way and is now the top scorer in the English second tier while many of his team mates are also making their mark across Europe and elsewhere.

Wood is currently battling it out with Newcastle United’s Dwight Gale for the Championship’s golden boot and edged two goals ahead of his rival after returning to haunt former loan club Birmingham City with a double in a 3-1 win for Leeds United. The 25-year-old, who had a prolific half-season on loan at City from West Bromwich Albion in the 2011-12 campaign, has 25 goals this season in all competitions, including 22 in the league.

Additionally, he has found the net in 22 separate games, which is the most out of any player in England’s top four divisions. His latest strikes showed off the range of his finishing ability with the first a well-placed lob over former Manchester United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak and the second a calm tap home from close range. Wood had an extra reason to celebrate when his exploits earned him a place in the Championship Team of the Week and he will be in action again overnight (NZT) as Leeds look to continue their promotion push with a trip to Fulham.

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Wood’s international captain, defender Winston Reid, would have been in a far less cheery mood after coming off injured in the second half as West Ham United were beaten 2-1 by title-chasing Chelsea in the Premier League this morning. Reid will hope to shake off his injury in time to be included in the All Whites squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Fellow centre back Tommy Smith has made another step towards featuring in those Fiji games after again taking a place on the Ipswich Town bench for a 1-1 draw against Brentford as he continues his comeback from injury. Like Wood, Smith’s side have an overnight game in store as the Tractor Boys play host to Wolverhampton Wanderers – a club former All Whites coaches Ricki Herbert and Neil Emblen have both played for, along with New Zealand U-20 boss Darren Bazeley.

Also aiming to be involved against Fiji is Monty Patterson, who continues to have a big impact during his loan spell with Braintree Town. The young Ipswich Town attacker scored one goal and created another as the Iron thumped Bromley 5-0 in the fifth-tier National League. The 20-year-old put in a great cross for Reece Hall-Johnson to score at the end of the first half and found the net himself with a brilliant individual effort in the second spell, jinking his way past several challenges before rifling a shot into the bottom corner.

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Another young All White was meanwhile taking on one of the biggest clubs in world football as defender Sam Brotherton played the full 90 minutes at U-23 level for Sunderland in a 3-1 defeat at home to Manchester United. Brotherton has not taken long to work his way into the starting line-up after only signing for the Tyneside giants last month.

Across the border in Wales, one-cap All White Greg Draper was toasting success after claiming the Dafabet Welsh Premier League title with the New Saints. A 4-0 win over Bangor City secured a sixth successive title for Draper’s side, who hit the headlines earlier this year when they broke the world record for consecutive victories.

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Over on mainland Europe, Ryan Thomas again took full part for PEC Zwolle as they earned a 3-1 win over SBV Vitesse in the Dutch Eredivisie. Given that Vitesse are five spots ahead, it was somewhat of an upset for 13th-placed Zwolle, who have now won two home matches in a row as they continue to pull away from the relegation zone.

In South Africa, Michael Boxall and Jeremy Brockie were both involved as SuperSport United squandered a chance to move back to the top of the Absa Premiership as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Ajax Cape Town. Boxall took the field for the whole match while Brockie also started but was replaced just after the hour. The pair will take a trip to Soweto overnight as SuperSport meet Orlando Pirates in a crucial match, a win in which would return the visitors to the summit.

Just beginning their hunt for glory are the United States-based Kiwis, who were in action for the first time over the weekend as the Major League Soccer season kicked off. Goalkeeper Jake Gleeson was between the sticks as Portland Timbers started in style in front of over 21,000 fans with a 5-1 triumph against Minnesota United – the team’s largest victory on the opening day during their MLS era.

Kip Colvey was not in the match day squad as his San Jose Earthquakes side also began with a win – 1-0 over the Montreal Impact – while fellow fullback Deklan Wynne was very much at the forefront as Whitecaps FC 2 earned a 2-0 victory over UBC in the side’s first pre-season clash. The 21-year-old opened the scoring on 20 minutes when he weaved through a crowd in the box before firing a perfect shot inside the far post. Countryman Francis De Vries also took part in the entirety of the game after being picked up by the Vancouver Whitecaps in the second round of the MLS annual Super Draft in January.

Down under, it was a disappointing night on Friday for Marco Rojas and the Melbourne Victory, who fell to a 1-0 loss to Sydney in the latest instalment of the A-League’s ‘Big Blue’ rivalry. The ‘Kiwi Messi’ created a pair of good chances for the Victory but both were spurned, by Jai Ingham and Besart Berisha respectively.

There was also frustration for the Kiwi contingent at the Wellington Phoenix, who lost their grip on a 3-1 lead to draw three-all against Perth Glory at Auckland’s QBE Stadium. Glen Moss, Andrew Durante, Matthew Ridenton, Shane Smeltz and Kosta Barbarouses all started while Hamish Watson and Thomas Doyle were named on the bench. Smeltz teed up the Phoenix’s second goal for Roy Krishna while the third was notched by Barbarouses, who curled home an inch-perfect strike just after half-time.

In the female game, there were no Football Ferns in action for their respective clubs due to the national team’s involvement in the Cyprus Cup this month.

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