The country has a new National Youth League champion after competition debutants Hamilton Wanderers wrapped up a memorable opening season by claiming the title at their first attempt.
Having been beaten just once all campaign, Wanderers held the advantage going into the final round and needed only a draw away to Hawke’s Bay United to finish the job. They showed few signs of nerves in going one better, recording their seventh win thanks to a Paul Clout strike mid-way through the first half.
In what proved to be a closely-contested league, Wanderers were deserving of all the plaudits after timing their run to perfection. They never dropped lower than third and had a stranglehold on first place after acquiring it for the second time at the end of round five.
Despite posting a three-point winning margin over closest challengers Waitakere United though, Wanderers interestingly did not finish top of the goal standings, scoring less than the rest of the top-five sides while only the Wellington Phoenix conceded more in the upper half of the table.
Coach Michael Built and his charges won’t care though after holding off the charge of Waitakere and Team Wellington, who both still harboured hopes of lifting the trophy as the season entered its ninth and final round over the weekend.
The only way the pair could stay in contention was by winning their respective matches and praying Wanderers slipped up – the latter of which being unlikely as Hawke’s Bay were bottom of the table and had posted only one previous win.
Waitakere held up their end of the bargain with a victory but Wellington could not do likewise in a couple of matches that both included sending offs.
Eventual runners-up Waitakere headed to the capital to take on the Phoenix and played their part in an action-packed spectacle. Despite having Tim Hunt dismissed just before the half hour, Waitakere were three up at the break after an own goal got them off the mark before George Debenham and Gilberto Souza both struck late on.
The Phoenix threatened to launch a stirring comeback against the ten men in the second half and earned a launching pad to do so through the game’s second own goal in the 55th minute but it took until time was nearly up for them to find the net again through Max Mata as Waitakere secured second spot.
Canterbury United likewise had disciplinary issues in their hosting of Wellington as Jacob Richards was sent off early in the second half and he was joined in the dying minutes by Jackson Brady.
Remarkably though, the reduction in numbers seemed to have little effect on the home side, as they well and truly stamped out Wellington’s slim title hopes with a 4-0 triumph. Simon Chretien, Lyle Matthysen and Callum Smith were all on target while the scoring was rounded out by an own goal.
In Nelson, one young man matched Canterbury’s four-goal exploits single-handedly in a sharp-shooting display that will live long in his memory. Tasman United striker Alex Connor-McClean hit a rapid-fire hat-trick within ten minutes in the middle of the first half against Southern United and added another strike from the penalty spot late on. Callan Elliot also got in on the fun as Southern could find no answer and succumbed by a 5-0 scoreline.
There was just the one goal up in Auckland as Frank Clarke’s early effort proved enough to get Eastern Suburbs home 1-0 over Auckland City in the first chapter of a new local rivalry.
For the final National Youth League standings, please click here
National Youth League – Round Nine
Tasman United 5 (Alex Connor-McClean 21’, 24’, 31’, pen 78’, Callan Elliot 39’)
Southern United 0
Canterbury United 4 (Simon Chretien 9’, Lyle Matthysen 11’, Callum Smith 72’, own goal 76’)
Team Wellington 0
Hawke’s Bay United 0
Hamilton Wanderers 1 (Paul Clout 26’)
Auckland City 0
Eastern Suburbs 1 (Frank Clarke 11’)
Wellington Phoenix 2 (Own goal 55’, Max Mata 88’)
Waitakere United 3 (Own goal 22’, George Debenham 40’, Gilberto Souza 44’)