Hawke’s Bay United roared into the Stirling Sports Premiership play-offs while Team Wellington booked a home semi-final and Southern United could not avoid the wooden spoon as the regular season wrapped up over the weekend.
Needing just a point to pip Eastern Suburbs to the fourth and final play-off spot, Hawke’s Bay did far better than that in hosting Hamilton Wanderers after putting on a scintillating attacking display in the second half.
With only pride and the prospect of finishing on a high to play for, Wanderers – who had still to post a victory since the turn of the year in their debut campaign – threatened to spoil the party when they were awarded a penalty for hand ball just after the half-hour mark. Surprisingly, it was defender Sam O’Regan who took responsibility for the spot kick but he could not take advantage as Hawke’s Bay goalkeeper Josh Hill dived to his right to make the save.
Wanderers proved their own worst enemies again soon after as Angus Kilkolly put the ball into a dangerous area and an unfortunate defender turned it into the net for an own goal in the 41st minute. With so much riding on the outcome for them, the hosts were never likely to let that advantage slip and completed the job in style in the second spell.
Kilkolly again proved a thorn in the side for Wanderers by scoring just a few moments after the break and it wasn’t much longer before it was 3-0 when Sam Mason-Smith played in Cory Chettleburgh to finish in the 52nd minute. It looked like that’s the way it would stay as the clock ticked into the final moments but there was still time for a goal that proved popular with the home crowd as fans’ favourite Facundo Barbero struck to make it four.
The Bay will now take plenty of confidence with them into the play-offs and are likely to need it as they will be facing a trip to the big smoke to take on classy Auckland City in their own backyard.
Also with a semi-final to look forward to are Team Wellington, although they will enjoy home advantage in their clash with Waitakere United after securing second spot on the table with a professional performance away at Canterbury United.
The hosts had little to play for in the round’s televised game but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the opening exchanges as they were the better and more positive of the two sides early on. It appeared as if Wellington had set out to earn no more than the draw they required but the context of the game changed on 26 minutes when three-cap All White Joel Stevens showed why he has appeared at international level with a strike of rare quality.
Canterbury had failed to clear a delivery into the box effectively and the ball dropped to Stevens on the edge of the area, allowing him to connect sweetly with a volley that Danny Knight could do little to keep out as it nestled into the bottom corner.
That part of the goal was found again early in the second half as Ben Harris struck his 13th of the season for Wellington, finding space in the box before rifling home to all but confirm the capital men would be hosting Waitakere in a week’s time. They made sure of that late on though when Nico Kirwan picked out Nathanael Hailemariam to coolly finish inside the area.
But, fittingly, the final say went to Canterbury captain Aaron Clapham, who stroked in a last-gasp penalty to earn the Dragons a consolation and bring the former All White’s tally for the campaign to 12 – a hugely impressive return for a midfielder.
There was no play-off place on offer to either Tasman United or Southern United but there was still plenty to play for in the battle to avoid the wooden spoon. Despite showing plenty of signs of progress on previous years this season, it will again be Southern who claim that unwanted mantle after being on the receiving end as Paul Ifill rolled back the years with a vintage showing.
In a match in which three penalties were scored, former Wellington Phoenix star Ifill notched four goals after opening his account in the 14th minute. Ermal Hajdari got the move going with a fantastic run that gave Ifill the chance to smash into the roof of the net from close range and send another bumper crowd at Nelson’s Trafalgar Park into raptures.
They had even more to cheer on 28 minutes when Ifill won and converted his first spot kick of the afternoon but Southern got a foothold soon after as Danny Furlong headed in to make it 2-1. That’s the way it stayed until half-time but Ifill did not waste much time in restoring his side’s two-goal buffer, showing trademark skill in the box before slotting home to complete his hat-trick just after the restart.
Southern continued to refuse to lie down but there looked to be no way back when Tinashe Marowa finished smartly for 4-1 just after the hour. To the visitors’ credit, they kept pushing regardless and earned their reward when Eric Molloy was brought down in the box and Furlong stepped up to score his second of the afternoon.
Tasman would not be denied the chance to send their fans home happy for the last time this season though and completed the scoring when Ifill tucked in the game’s third penalty in the 75th minute after Hajdari had been felled in a goalmouth scramble. Aside from ending with a great result, Tasman will be pleased to have blooded several locally-based youngsters after their regular starting line-up was decimated by injuries, suspensions and other unavailabilities.
The Stirling Sports Premiership semi-finals take place this weekend with Auckland City hosting Hawke’s Bay United on Saturday before Waitakere United travel to Team Wellington on Sunday.
Hawke’s Bay United coach Brett Angell
Hamilton Wanderers captain Cory Mitchell
Canterbury United coach Willy Gerdsen
Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira
Stirling Sports Premiership Round 18
Tasman United 5 (Paul Ifill 14’, pen 28’, 48’, pen 75’, Tinashe Marowa 63’)
Southern United 2 (Danny Furlong 34’, pen 69’)
Hawke’s Bay United 4 (Own goal 41’, Angus Kilkolly 47’, Cory Chettleburgh 52’, Facundo Barbero 86’)
Hamilton Wanderers 0
Canterbury United 1 (Aaron Clapham 90’ + 5’)
Team Wellington 3 (Joel Stevens 26’, Ben Harris 46’, Nathanael Hailemariam 90’)