The Auckland City juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down as the Navy Blues put on a typically clinical performance at Kiwitea Street this afternoon, sweeping Eastern Suburbs aside 4-0 to become the first team to progress to this season’s ISPS Handa Premiership final.
In doing so, they extended their remarkable defensive record to over 1,090 minutes without conceding a goal and also maintained a proud record of appearing in the showpiece occasion of the men’s domestic game, reaching the national league final for the sixth consecutive time.
With the stocks of Eastern Suburbs heavily depleted going into the contest – they were without three of their campaign’s key performers in Andre de Jong, Tim Payne and Moses Dyer – and the club never having taken a point off Auckland City, the hosts were expected to dominate.
But a youthful Suburbs line-up gave a good account of themselves in the opening period, Auckland City enjoying most of the ball but finding clear-cut chances hard to come by. Golden boot winner Emiliano Tade nearly broke through the visitors’ stubborn resistance on the half-hour mark when goalkeeper Louie Caunter was forced to tip away his free kick while Suburbs best chance also came from a set piece, Tristan Prattley drawing a superb save from Enaut Zubikarai.
It was always going to be difficult for Suburbs to keep the competition’s top scorers out for the entire match though and it took just over ten minutes of the second half for City to break the deadlock. Disappointingly for Suburbs, it was a lapse in concentration that led to the opener, stand-in skipper Jordan Vale clipping Dan Morgan to concede a penalty that was duly converted by Tade.
The identity of the scorer was no surprise and that was also the case when the second goal arrived with 20 minutes left on the clock. Tade and youngster Callum McCowatt have been City’s main goal threats all season and it was the latter who all but wrapped up the game for the Navy Blues, blasting home past Caunter to seemingly put the Lilywhites out of contention.
They held onto some hope until the dying stages though, Tade bundling in his second in the 87th minute before substitute Dalton Wilkins kept up his record of scoring off the bench by adding a fourth deep into stoppage time.
“It was a very difficult game today until we broke the deadlock,” Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx admitted.“Eastern Suburbs sat a lot deeper than the last time we played them and they man-marked our front players and through the middle. That made our life a lot harder and we struggled to understand how to break through that set-up in the first half. We talked about that at half time and tried to play in behind them in the second half,” he added.
"We were much better once we scored the first goal and we changed things again and it became very hard for them. We scored more goals and I’m very happy with our performance.”
Suburbs captain Vale felt his side were made to pay for their individual errors.
“In the first half, we locked them in and worked super hard,” he said.
“I felt the energy was still there in the second half but there were just a couple of individual mistakes, mine for the penalty, and a couple of other boys will be a bit disappointed on one or two other individual things.”
Auckland City will now face the winner of the other semi-final, which takes place between Team Wellington and Canterbury United at David Farrington Park in the capital on Sunday from 2pm. The final will be staged at QBE Stadium in Auckland on April 1.
ISPS Handa Premiership Semi-FinalAuckland City 4 (Emiliano Tade pen 57’, 87’, Callum McCowatt 71’, Dalton Wilkins 90’ + 1')Eastern Suburbs 0HT: 0-0
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