Pair chase silverware while Wood earns honours

A pair of Kiwis are on the verge of becoming champions of Australia while Chris Wood has pocketed two more prestigious personal accolades as New Zealand’s overseas-based players continue to make a significant impact across the globe.

Melbourne Victory duo Marco Rojas and Jai Ingham are just one game away from A-League glory after helping their team to a nail-biting 1-0 defeat of the Brisbane Roar in the semi-finals. As usual, Rojas started the match in front of over 20,000 passionate Victorians at AAMI Park and nearly had those fans on their feet early on when good work from the ‘Kiwi Messi’ down the right teed up Besart Berisha but the Albanian striker couldn’t poke home past Roar goalkeeper Jamie Young. Rojas himself came close to breaking the deadlock in stunning fashion on the hour mark, bringing a ball down over his shoulder with a brilliant touch before the strong right hand of Young denied him. But the Victory would not be kept out for much longer and Berisha finally booked a grand final meeting with Sydney FC by heading in a cross ten minutes later, thus ending any hopes Dane Ingham – who is on the books of the Roar but did not feature – may have had of lifting the silverware. His brother Jai came on for the Victory as an 88th-minute substitute.

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On the other side of the world, Wood’s hopes of returning to the English Premier League are over for now after a 3-3 draw with Norwich City all but stamped out Leeds United’s chances of promotion. The Whites found themselves three-nil down near the end of the first half before Wood sparked a comeback by prodding home his 26th goal of the Championship season just before the break. Leeds went on to draw level in the second spell but, despite having one match to go, they can now not climb any higher than seventh on the ladder. There was some personal consolation for Wood though when he was named as both Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year for Leeds, following in the footsteps of some true greats of the British game such as Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer, Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister, Nigel Martyn, Rio Ferdinand and Harry Kewell.

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Elsewhere in the Championship, Tommy Smith was not involved in Ipswich Town’s 1-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday – who claimed sixth place at the expense of Wood’s Leeds – as manager Mick McCarthy reverted back to the same line-up that defeated Burton Albion and Newcastle United over the Easter period. It was Ipswich’s final home match of the season and, having fought his way back into the first-team picture after serious injury, Smith will now be looking to use the English summer to get himself in peak physical condition and re-emerge as a key player for the club next term.

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In the top flight, Winston Reid continues to show no lingering effects from his groin injury after again playing a key role as West Ham United secured an away point with a scoreless draw at Stoke City. Reid took the captain’s arm band once more and was his usual commanding self – no other player has made more clearances or interceptions for the Hammers than the All Whites skipper this season. Another Kiwi player at a Premier League club will soon be joining the likes of Wood and Smith in the Championship after Sam Brotherton’s Sunderland was relegated from the big time by a 1-0 loss at home to Bournemouth. Young defender Brotherton shouldered no blame as he is yet to appear for the club’s first team and the relegation may in fact be a positive development for his prospects as many high-profile players are now likely to leave Wearside. There will be a sombre mood around training for the foreseeable future but Brotherton and his U-23 team mates have plenty to look forward to as they are set to take on European giants Porto in the final of the Premier League International Cup at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light on May 17.

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In the women’s game in England, Anna Green again featured for the full 90 minutes for Reading but suffered disappointment as the Royals were beaten 4-2 by table-toppers Liverpool, a former club of fellow Football Ferns Rosie White and Sarah Gregorius. Reading are now third on the FA WSL Spring Series ladder and face second-placed Chelsea on Wednesday. In the second tier of the Spring Series, there was a proud moment for Olivia Chance, who earned her first start for Everton after impressing recently in a series of cameos off the bench. It was an ideal match to be involved in as the Toffees romped to a 5-0 triumph over Brighton and Hove Albion to keep pace with leaders Durham. The result means Everton’s title hopes are still very much alive as they are just three points off the top and have a game in hand.

Over in mainland Europe, goalkeeper Tamati Williams kept a clean sheet as RKC Waalwijk edged closer to the Jupiler League play-offs in Holland with a 3-0 win over Fortuna Sittard. The All Whites squad member was called into action on a couple of occasions to make straightforward stops but saved his best until last, producing a double block late on to keep Sittard scoreless and help Waalwijk take another step towards the top-flight. Also on the verge of success in the Netherlands is Betsy Hassett, who came on for the last 20 minutes as Ajax edged out fellow Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven 1-0 in the Eredivisie play-offs. Ajax can now only be hauled back by FC Twente and would secure the title with a victory over the defending champions this weekend.

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Williams’ fellow All White goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic also posted a clean sheet as SpVgg Unterhaching continued their promotion push in the Regionalliga – the fourth tier of the German league system – with a 1-0 win over SV Wacker Burghausen while Amber Hearn was on the losing side as USV Jena fell 2-0 to Turbine Potsdam in the Frauen Bundesliga. The striker, who is the highest-scoring player in New Zealand’s international history, could not add to her club tally and was replaced with just over 20 minutes remaining. Elsewhere in Europe, Hannah Wilkinson came on just past the hour as Vittsjö GIK suffered a 2-0 defeat at Kopparbergs/Goteborg in the Swedish Damallsvenskan while Ria Percival took full part as FC Basel posted a scoreless draw against Staad in the Swiss Nationalliga. Meanwhile, Bill Tuiloma continues to line-up in the reserve side of French Ligue 1 outfit Olympique de Marseille and played at centre back in a nil-all encounter with Nice.

Across the Atlantic, the Portland Timbers were without their star Kiwi custodian as they took on FC Dallas in Major Soccer League (MLS) action with Jake Gleeson was sidelined through injury. The Timbers clearly missed his safe pair of hands and conceded two goals in a 2-2 draw that kept them on top of the Western Conference table. In the United Soccer League (USL), Deklan Wynne played the full match as Vancouver Whitecaps 2 battled to a scoreless stalemate against Sacramento Republic while Kip Colvey could be about to face one of the modern game’s greats this weekend with Reno 1868 set to take on Phoenix Rising, whose star player – and co-owner – is Chelsea legend Didier Drogba.

In the female game in America, Rosie White got one over a fellow Football Fern as the Boston Breakers swept aside Rebekah Stott’s Seattle Reign 3-0 for their second National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) win in a row. White again assumed a starting position in the Breakers midfield while Stott came off the bench just before the hour mark. White is set for another battle against a familiar foe this weekend with Boston hosting North Carolina Courage, who are captained by Abby Erceg, in a top-of-the-table clash. The former Ferns skipper has led the Courage through a winning start to the season and they are now three points clear of the Breakers in first place after a 3-1 win over Orlando Pride. There was a memorable moment for Erceg and her team mates prior to the Pride victory with the Courage players presented with rings to commemorate their 2016 NWSL championship win (they were then known as the Western New York Flash). The other Kiwi playing in the States’ premier women’s competition suffered disappointment as Katie Bowen’s FC Kansas City fell 1-0 to Sky Blue FC. The versatile Fern started the match in an advanced midfield role but was replaced shortly after the hour.

It was a busy week for the All Whites pair based in South Africa with both Michael Boxall and Jeremy Brockie playing two full Absa Premiership matches in the space of a few days, earning a 1-0 win over Bidvest Wits before a 2-2 draw against Kaizer Chiefs. Both players feature on the top-scorers’ list for SuperSport United with Brockie leading the way on six league goals and Boxall having notched two. In Indonesia, veteran All Whites striker Shane Smeltz was left frustrated as his Borneo FC side was beaten 2-1 by Persipura Jayapura.

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