Ten man Auckland City FC have completed the ASB Premiership regular season undefeated after a 4-1 win over WaiBOP United at Kiwitea Street on Sunday.
In an evenly balanced first 20 minutes WaiBOP United carved out a number of half-chances but lacked cutting edge in front of goal.
Sean Morris, himself a former Navy Blues player, came closest when he fired in a low free-kick that was comfortably saved by Diego Rivas.
But that bluntness cost the visitors dearly when Solomon Islands international Micah Lea’alafa scored on 24 minutes.
Lea’alafa, fresh from helping his country qualify for the FIFA Futsal World Cup, was in dazzling form and with a sizzling shot from a tight angle drew a good save from Zac Speedy.
The match looked to swing WaiBOP United’s way in the second half when Stephen Hoyle pounced on a defensive mistake to equalise six minutes after the restart.
Matters got worse for the home side when Dae Wook Kim – booked in the first half – received a second caution minutes after WaiBOP United’s equaliser to leave the Navy Blues with 10 men.
Despite the numerical disadvantage the Navy Blues kept the pressure up with Speedy pulling off a sensational one-handed save from a deflected Lea’alafa long range shot near the hour mark.
— Auckland City FC (@AucklandCity_FC) February 28, 2016
Then came the first of De Vries’ two goals and remarkable burst from ten-man Auckland.
Dribbling across the face of a packed WaiBOP United defence, De Vries let rip with a powerful right foot shot that Speedy couldn’t stop in the 61st minute.
Auckland City FC changed gear again when De Vries laid off a ball for Joao Moreira to pick out Lea’alafa who slammed home the Navy Blues third at the far post three minutes later.
The goal glut continued when De Vries grabbed his second with another piece of sublime skill beating three defenders then finishing past Speedy from close range.
AUDIO – Ramon Tribulietx post-match interview (via Auckland City FC)
AUDIO – Ryan De Vries post-match interivew (via Auckland City FC)
AUDIO – Peter Smith post-match interview
Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx said Sunday’s effort showed his side once again proved their mettle when the heat went on with De Vries standing tall once more.
“We’re a resilient team, we’ve proved that in the past a lot of times,” Tribulietx said. “This team has always proved that character and personality.
“We had great goals from Ryan from individual skill. He can go around two or three players and score a brilliant goal.
Tribulietx said losing Kim for the semi-final is a blow but the side are well placed to cover for his absence with a number of players capable of stepping in.
“Unfortunately we’ve lost Kim, he’s been very good this year. He’s not going to be with us next weekend but we’ve got a lot of options. The team has proved that in some respects it doesn’t really matter sometimes who plays. The team spirit is great and the team still plays the same way.”
— ASB Premiership (@ASBPremiership) February 28, 2016
The result was notable on a number of fronts with Auckland City FC’s 27th consecutive match without defeat now an undisputed national league record that belongs entirely to them.
It was also only the second time in ASB Premiership history that a team has finished the regular season undefeated.
The match also served as WaiBOP United’s final match as a football entity with Hamilton Wanderers taking their place in the ASB Premiership next season.
The Navy Blues next match is a winner-take-all semi-final with Canterbury United at Kiwitea Street next Saturday.
ASB Premiership 2015-16 – Round 14
Sunday 28 February
Auckland City FC 4-1 WaiBOP United (half: 1-0)
AC: Micah Lea’alafa 24’, 64’, Ryan De Vries 61’, 71’
WB: Stephen Hoyle 51’
Red card: Daewook Kim (second caution) 55’
Match report via Auckland City FC