Auckland City are the ISPS Handa Premiership champions for a record-breaking seventh time after earning a 1-0 win over Team Wellington in the final at QBE Stadium in Auckland this evening.
The Navy Blues, who secured their ninth minor premiership in the regular season, won the title for the first time in three years when they outlasted defending champions Team Wellington in a hard-fought final in fine conditions.
Callum McCowatt, one of the players of the ISPS Handa Premiership season, came up with the decisive strike in the 83rd minute to get Auckland City’s fanatical fans on their feet.
The youngster gathered the ball from a well-weighted Cam Howieson pass and then slotted home a fine finish across Scott Basalaj’s goal. From there, they never looked back and secured a long-awaited seventh title.
The victory for Auckland City makes history for the proud club – they earned a record-breaking seventh national league title, taking them past Mt. Wellington and Christchurch United on the all-time list.
Both sides knew each other well and there was nothing separating them for most of the match with clear-cut scoring chances hard to come by.
Team Wellington began brightly and hustled in the first 20 minutes to create some half chances. Andy Bevin, the club’s joint top scorer this season alongside Jack-Henry Sinclair, found some space on the right of Auckland City’s box in the 17th minute but dragged his shot wide.
The Navy Blues finished the stronger of the two sides and had the better opportunities to open the scoring. They enjoyed a good period of possession and territory in the final 15 minutes of the half with Emiliano Tade and Darren White becoming prominent.
The best chance of the half fell to Tade in the 32nd minute when he gathered the ball inside the box and cut onto his right foot but his powerful shot was blocked at close range.
Three minutes later, the six-time champions were on the attack again when Howieson found space down the left wing. The recently called up All Whites midfielder delivered a great cross to the head of Kris Bright but the big forward could not get his effort down on target.
The sizable presence of Bright caused Team Wellington problems in the 39th minute when he found Tade in the box and the Golden Boot winner produced a turn and shot but his effort was just off target.
After the break, the evenly-fought nature of the game continued with chances at either end.
Team Wellington had their best opportunity of the match when Andy Bevin created an intercept in the middle of the park. He found Jack-Henry Sinclair but the youngster took a tad too much time before shooting and his effort was blocked.
Auckland City came straight back and could have taken the lead when a corner found Tade at the back post. He connected with a good header but Basalaj was on hand to clear from the line.
With 20 minutes to play, Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx made a double change with Fabrizio Tavano and Kris Bright being replaced by Mario Bilen and Micah Lea’alafa respectively.
The introduction of Lea’alafa made a particular impact, the Solomon Islands international wasting little time getting in on the action. He picked out Tade with a dinked ball in the Team Wellington box but the striker’s touch was too heavy and Basalaj had it under control.
Ten minutes later, Team Wellington turned the ball over in a dangerous area and Lea’alafa did not hesitate to pull the trigger on the turn. He tested Basalaj again but the ‘keeper managed a scrambled save.
It looked like the ISPS Handa Premiership final was heading to extra time before McCowatt won the game for Auckland City and finished a breakthrough season for the Navy Blues in style.
The Navy Blues had another couple of great chances to put the result to bed in the final stages which they could not convert but closed the game out anyway to write a piece of history for themselves.
Match-winner McCowatt capped off a hugely memorable evening on a personal level when he was awarded the inaugural Steve Sumner Trophy as player of the final while Tade collected his Golden Boot gong.
ISPS Handa Premiership Final
Auckland City 1 (Callum McCowatt 83’)Team Wellington 0HT: 0-0
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