It is anyone’s guess who will claim the top four places in the ISPS Handa Premiership after round 13 delivered unpredictable results in sweltering conditions around New Zealand.
Eastern Suburbs, who went into the round in a share of second place, were upset 2-0 away from home by seventh-placed Hawke’s Bay United in Palmerston North, and Southern United kept their faint playoff hopes alive when the defeated five-time champions Waitakere United 1-0 in Dunedin.
Meanwhile, Auckland City and Team Wellington continued their winning ways against Hamilton Wanderers and Tasman United respectively to confirm their favouritism for the minor premiership.
The Navy Blues defeated Wanderers 1-0 when a Micah Lea’alafa goal on the back of a defensive error in the 23rd minute was the difference in a hard-fought contest at Links Ave in Tauranga.
Ricki Herbert’s side were in the contest for the duration of the match, but the six-time champions were good enough to deny them and keep a clean sheet.
Auckland City Skipper Angel Berlanga was proud of the character his team has shown in a demanding week in hot conditions.
“I’m proud of everyone including the players who didn’t play because we've worked hard to get this win,” he said. “This is a big pitch and we tried to make it bigger for Wanderers but sometimes your legs don’t respond to the demands.”
The win was Ramon Tribulietx’s side third in eight days, following victories over Canterbury United and Eastern Suburbs (mid-week), and sees them climb to 27 points and edge one point clear of the defending champions Team Wellington who won 4-1 at Saxton Fields on Saturday.
Jose Figueira, who was named as the New Zealand U-17 Head Coach and the new Assistant Coach for the All Whites on Friday, watched his side get off to the ideal start in Nelson as they led 2-0 at the break.
New Zealand age group rep Jack Henry-Sinclair bagged an important brace as Team Wellington claimed the Premiership lead only for Auckland City to respond the following day.
Southern United went into the weekend in eighth place and with a win-at-all-costs attitude. They delivered an important win when they edged Waitakere United 1-0 thanks to a Danny Furlong penalty in the 88th minute.
“That was a classic example of winning ugly to be honest,” said Paul O’Reilly, the Southern United coach. “Our passion and work rate on defence was phenomenal again. We are so happy with the result and Danny with his work rate deserved to nick one late on.”
Also keeping pace with the race for the playoffs, Canterbury United responded to last week’s loss to Auckland City with a 3-2 win over the Wellington Phoenix Reserves in an entertaining match at English Park.
The Dragons, who were looking to recapture the magic of their midseason turnaround in form, scored twice in the final 20 minutes to overcome the Wee Nix in hot conditions on the turf.
Wellington Phoenix playmaker Sarpreet Singh gave his side a 2-1 lead shortly after half-time when he netted his second before a stirring comeback from the home side. Goals from centre-backs Tom Schwarz and Dan Terris from set-piece got the Dragons home.
With both Waitakere United and Tasman United losing, the win was a great boost for Canterbury United chances of making the playoffs in March. They also have a game in hand.
“It was a funny game,” said Head Coach Willy Gerdsen. “Overall, we are happy with the three points, we are happy with the performance in patches, but there is room for improvement and we need to be better for next Sunday.”
Hawke’s Bay United will need an all-but perfect run home if they are to make the semi-finals and with their backs against the wall Tinashe Marowa and Hayato Wakino were on the score sheet to deal Danny Hay’s side a blow.
The Lily Whites are in third place on 23 points, four back from the leaders Auckland City, while Brett Angell’s side are seventh on 16 points, only four back from the fourth-placed Canterbury United.
Hawke’s Bay United skipper Bill Robertson said it was great to secure the three points after a frustrating run.
“We feel like we have competed well but not got the results and today we defended resolutely and got the result,” he said. “We showed today the side that we can be. We have been really inconsistent throughout the season but today was more like it.”
There are five rounds left in the ISPS Handa Premiership and everything to play for.
ISPS Handa Premiership – Round 13 Results
Tasman United 1 (Ben Wright 88') Team Wellington 4 (Jack-Henry Sinclair 12’, 60’, Ross Allen 40’, Daniel Mulholland 87’) HT 0-2
Hawke’s Bay United 2 (Tinashe Marowa 52’, Hayato Wakino 75’) Eastern Suburbs AFC 0 HT 0-0
Southern United FC 1 (Danny Furlong – pen 88’) Waitakere United 0 HT 0-0
Canterbury United Dragons 3 (Futa Nakamura 13’, Tom Schwarz 73’, Dan Terris 80’) Wellington Phoenix Reserves 2 (Sarpreet Singh 30’, 49’) HT 1-1
Hamilton Wanderers 0 Auckland City FC 1 (Micah Lea’alafa 23’) HT 0-1
ISPS Handa Premiership Table after Round 13 – Points, (games played)
27 (13) Auckland City, 26 (13) Team Wellington, 23 (13) Eastern Suburbs, 20 (12) Canterbury United, 17 (13) Tasman United, 16 (13) Waitakere United, 16 (13) Hawke’s Bay United, 15 (13) Southern United, Wellington Phoenix Reserves 12 (12), Hamilton Wanderers 3 (13)