The race for the minor title has been blown wide open while Canterbury United must wait another season for a shot at glory after a hugely dramatic day in the latest bout of Stirling Sports Premiership action.
With only two matches taking place this afternoon in a truncated Round 17, Canterbury bowed out due to a 2-1 loss at Eastern Suburbs before Waitakere United joined fellow Aucklanders Suburbs in securing a vital three points with a 4-1 win over eight-man Auckland City – their largest ever winning margin in a Super City derby.
Knowing so much was on the line at William Green Domain, Suburbs coach Malcolm McPherson would have been delighted to see his team take an early when All Whites midfielder Moses Dyer bundled home from the six yard box in the 18th minute. It was a massive moment in the context of the season with Suburbs now on course to take a big step towards the play-offs and Canterbury’s own hopes hanging by a thread. The second goal was likely to prove crucial and, fatally for the Cantabrians, it again went to the hosts.
Dyer turned provider this time, curling a cross in to the far post from the right wing for Fabien Kurimata to place powerfully past Canterbury goalkeeper Danny Knight in the 79th minute. The visitors now had only ten minutes to salvage their season and did manage to give themselves a late lifeline when Matthew Weisenfarth slotted past Silvio Rodic, who had earlier pulled off some outstanding saves to maintain the lead, just as the fourth official was signalling for additional time.
But it was a case of too little, too late for Canterbury, who now have only pride to play for in their remaining fixture against Team Wellington. Despite seeing their season fizzle out, coach Willy Gerdsen was proud of his team’s efforts and felt they deserved to take a point out of the game.
Canterbury United coach Willy Gerdsen
“Suburbs were the better team in the first 20 minutes but I thought we dominated the second half – I think a draw would have been a fair result,” he said. “But I was very proud of what we delivered at 2-0 down, we came back and nearly snatched a draw so I was very proud of our character and work rate.”
Suburbs counterpart Malcolm McPherson was pleased to witness his charges deliver the goods in such an important match but also had plenty of praise for the Dragons.
“We’re delighted with the result, I thought we played well in the first half, created some good opportunities and scored a good goal. Canterbury came out in the second half, matched us up in terms of the shape and had the better of it there for 15 or 20 minutes,” he said.
“Credit to Canterbury – they’re a good side, are well organised, work really hard for each other and have been unfortunate this season. With a bit more of the rub of the green, they could have been sitting on a few more points.”
Eastern Suburbs coach Malcolm McPherson
The action was even more dramatic across town at Trusts Arena, where Waitakere threw the race for the minor premiership wide open by putting four goals past favourites Auckland City in a feisty Super City derby.
The Navy Blues looked on track to continue their march towards silverware when Emiliano Tade headed in a measured free kick from Alfie Rogers on 13 minutes but the match turned on its head after half an hour, Waitakere’s Keegan Linderboom taking a quick free kick that crashed in off the underside of the cross bar.
What was already shaping up as a unique afternoon got even more unusual in a crazy few moments just before the break. Firstly, Waitakere took the lead in bizarre circumstances as Enaut Zubikarai lost a looping Stefan Thelen delivery in the sun and allowed the ball to drop inside his near post. Then, Auckland received the first of their three dismissals when Fabrizio Tavano saw red after an altercation with Ryan Cain had sparked an all-in melee.
The Navy Blues clearly needed to regain their composure to find a way back into the contest but instead imploded, Albert Riera and Darren White both joining Tavano in the sheds after being sent off in the early stages of the second half.
With such a numerical disadvantage, salvaging anything from the game would take a herculean effort and any hopes Auckland had of pulling off the impossible were stamped out by further goals to Julyan Collett and Scott Hilliar. As well as being their biggest ever win over City, the 4-1 triumph earned a rare double for Waitakere after a 1-0 away victory on the opening day.
Waitakere United coach Chris Milicich
Waitakere coach Chris Milicich was surprised at the lack of composure shown by City and felt it was out of character.
“They’re not like that so it was a bit of an aberration,” he said. “They’re still a quality football team but today hasn’t quite gone their way. From our perspective, it’s just another three points and we’re trying desperately to get into the four – that’s all we care about.”
Auckland assistant coach Ivan Vicelich agreed that a failure to keep calm cost City the game.
“I thought we dominated that first period, got in front and played really well,” he said. “It fell apart for us when we reacted to a few decisions that went against us. We didn’t react in the correct way and that’s obviously had a big effect on the game because when you go down to eight players it becomes very difficult.”
Auckland City assistant coach Ivan Vicelich
With Auckland the only side assured of a play-off spot and Canterbury out of contention, there is now a four-way battle for the remaining three places between Waitakere, Wellington, Suburbs and Hawke’s Bay United.
Stirling Sports Premiership Round 17
Eastern Suburbs 2 (Moses Dyer 18’, Fabien Kurimata 79’)
Canterbury United 1 (Matthew Weisenfarth 90’)
Waitakere United 4 (Keegan Linderboom 30’, Stefan Thelen 43’, Julyan Collett 72’, Scott Hilliar 87’)
Auckland City 1 (Emiliano Tade 13’)