Defending champions Team Wellington have joined Auckland City and Waitakere United in the Stirling Sports Premiership play-offs while the Wellington Phoenix U-20s have ended their campaign on a high after a rain-soaked and goal-laden afternoon of action.
There was drama before a ball had even been kicked in the capital as torrential rain left David Farrington Park water-logged ahead of Team Wellington’s clash with Tasman United. After a referee’s inspection an hour before kick-off, the surface was deemed unplayable and the match was therefore delayed and moved across town to the artificial turf at Memorial Park in Petone.
The hosts clearly adapted better to the late switch than Tasman – who were looking to string three victories together for the first time this season – as they raced into a three-goal lead by half-time. The opener arrived on 26 minutes when Ben Harris caught Daniel Allan in possession before going one-on-one with goalkeeper Coey Turipa and slotting an effort into the bottom left corner.
It was a ninth goal of the season for Harris but he is some way behind team-mate Tom Jackson, who went on to show why he is at the top of the league’s goalscoring charts with a hat-trick. Jackson, who now has an impressive 16 strikes to his name from as many matches, notched his first of the afternoon just eight minutes after his side had gone ahead, sliding the ball under Turipa from a Josh Margetts pass.
He was then presented with a golden opportunity from the spot just before the break and banished memories of his previous penalty struggles – he missed three in one match just a few rounds ago – by making no mistake on this occasion, smashing hard and low to Turipa’s left.
At 3-0 down, Tasman were never likely to pull off a remarkable comeback against a side that had underlined its credentials earlier in the month by qualifying for the OFC Champions League semi-finals with a successful sojourn to New Caledonia. And the task was made even tougher for the visitors just after the hour as Luca Perico received his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
But they showed plenty of character to keep out the highest-scoring team in the league until late on, when a flurry of goals blew the score out. Firstly, Jackson completed his hat-trick by rounding Turipa on 83 minutes and Tasman then finally earned a consolation in stoppage time from a Dylan Burns strike that snuck inside James McPeake’s near post. There was still time for another goal in the added period as an Andy Bevin cross found Justin Gulley at the far post to make it 5-1.
The impressive result means Wellington have now locked in a semi-final against Waitakere and can earn home advantage by avoiding defeat on their trip to Canterbury United next weekend.
Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira
Tasman United coach Davor Tavich
The day’s other match was also heavily affected by the weather as Hamilton Wanderers headed to Mount Maunganui to host a match at Links Avenue for the first time this season. The beachside town failed to turn on its trademark sunny conditions and incisive play was made difficult on the soggy surface but the Wellington Phoenix U-20s will not have cared after signing off on their campaign with a 3-1 win.
In a match most notable for a late contender for goal of the season from Sarpreet Singh, Wanderers were chasing their first win of 2017 but made that hard for themselves as half-time drew near when a sharp one-two between Singh and Matt Ridenton resulted in the unlucky Liam Williams turning the ball into his own net.
Singh, who recently made his debut in the A-League for the Phoenix, was in the action again soon after the restart and further highlighted his potential in some style. A looping loose ball had broken to the youngster at an angle on the edge of the area and he took a sumptuous first touch before rifling an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
With their play-off prospects having ended long ago, Wanderers fielded a youthful line-up themselves and, to their credit, the hosts refused to roll over and eventually grabbed a foothold in the game in the 68th minute. Jerahl Hughes – who was playing in familiar surroundings due to his status as a Tauranga City United player in the winter – had proved a handful all afternoon and helped Hamilton get on the scoresheet when his shot was saved but fell into the path of Stafford Dowling to hammer home from close range.
Wanderers then enjoyed one of their best spells of the game as they lifted the intensity in search of an equaliser but, when the net did bulge again, it was down the other end as the home side was caught on the break after piling men forward. There was only four minutes on the clock as Logan Rogerson flicked a cross into the path of James McGarry to control before prodding home and make the points safe for the ‘WeeNix’.
“Obviously, the conditions were tough but we managed to get a bit of good football in and score a couple of goals – I think we did the job we needed to do to get the win,” said Phoenix midfielder and three-cap All White Ridenton, who joined Hamish Watson and Ryan Lowry in stepping down from first-team duties.
“I think the younger players in the team are improving all the time and every game they play they get better. Sarpreet is getting involved with the first team now and hopefully a few others can step up.”
Hughes felt Wanderers were unfortunate not to take something from the game and is confident of ending the season with a strong performance against play-off chasing Hawke’s Bay United next weekend.
“It was a hard game today but I felt we were always in it. We’re gutted about the result but that’s the way it goes,” he said. “I thought we were a bit unlucky but we’ll go into training next week and I don’t see why we can’t finish with a win.”
Stirling Sports Premiership Round 17
Team Wellington 5 (Ben Harris 26’, Tom Jackson 34’, pen 43’, 83’, Justin Gulley 90’ + 2’)
Tasman United 1 (Dylan Burns 90’ + 1’)
Hamilton Wanderers 1 (Stafford Dowling 68’)
Wellington Phoenix U-20 3 (Own goal 41’, Sarpreet Singh 54’, James McGarry 86’)