The four semi-finalists for the ISPS Handa Premiership in the 2017-18 season are all but confirmed after an entertaining round was completed around New Zealand in wet conditions.
Auckland City, Team Wellington and Eastern Suburbs all confirmed their places in the playoffs with wins, while the Canterbury United Dragons are on the cusp of making the final four.
Top-of-the-table Auckland City had a potentially tough assignment away to perennial semi-final contenders Hawke’s Bay United. Brett Angell’s side, who have not been at their best this season, would have liked nothing more than to upset the frontrunners in Napier, but the six-time champions were too strong prevailing 3-0.
Alfie Rogers opened the scoring for the Navy Blues in the 23rd minute when a Callum McCowatt strike rebounded off the left post and Rogers was on hand to finish from close range. The visitors doubled their lead six minutes later when Takuya Iwata delivered a well-weighted cross into the box for Micah Lea’alafa to head home.
McCowatt, who has been a standout for Ramon Tribulietx’s side this season through the departure of some key players, finished a well-worked move in the second half to secure the three points and their place at the top of the table.
“We are pleased with a 3-0 win, especially with the way we played as we dominated from start to finish,” said Tribulietx after the game. “It is another game where we have finished with another clean sheet which is great because we are not giving the opposition opportunities to score.”
Further south, the fourth-placed Canterbury United Dragons delivered a fine comeback in the second half to overcome a spirited Wellington Phoenix Reserves at David Farrington Park.
The Willy Gerdsen coached side, who went into the sheds 2-1 down after a couple of quick goals from the Wellington Phoenix from Logan Rogerson and William Ebbinge, rallied in the second half.
It was 3-3 heading into in the final 10 minutes before centre-half Tom Schwarz grabbed the lead and midfelder Gary Ogilvie finished the job in injury time. It was a hugely important win for the Dragons which further consolidates their position in fourth place with Tasman United and Hawke’s Bay United losing and Waitakere United not in action.
“The Phoenix started very well,” said Gerdsen. “We had a slow start but we responded well and with the way we played in the second half I felt we deserved to win the game. It has been a very long day for us [with the travel delay] but we are happy with the three points and we move onto next week.”
In Dunedin, Team Wellington also showed their class in second-half to overcome Southern United at Sunnyvale Park. The two-time ISPS Handa Premiership defending champions went ahead in the 18th minute when Roy Kayara climbed high from Mario Barcia’s corner kick to head home. The lead was short-lived as Garbhan Coughlan had the home side back on level terms three minutes later when he headed home a well-worked team move.
Jose Figueira’s side showed the quality in the final 45 minutes that has made them the team to beat in recent time. Jack Henry-Sinclair and Ross Allen found the back of the net to keep pace with their main rivals Auckland City in the race for the minor premiership title.
“It was a really hard fought game,” said Figueira after the game. “We were really pleased with how we started the game. They came back into the game when they eqaulised and played with a lot of energy. In the second half we got back into our stride and showed what we are all about.”
Up in Auckland, Eastern Suburbs were under pressure at half time when Tasman United held them to 0-0 in the hard driving rain. Tasman United, who were looking to make up ground on the Canterbury United Dragons in fourth place, felt hard done by with the way they conceded the first goal from Michael Built. The midfielder hit a powerful shot which hammered against the crossbar and deflected down. Assistant Referee Stephen Merriman judged that the ball had crossed the line and the goal was awarded.
There was nothing fortuitous about the second goal when Tristan Prattley curled in a low shot from a free kick to beat the wall and the keeper. Max Mata came off the bench and finished the job with a tap in finish in the closing stages. The only downside to the Lily Whites’ win was Moses Dyer earning a red card deep in injury time.
There are only three rounds remaining in the ISPS Handa Premiership and the four semi-finalists are all but confirmed.
ISPS Handa Premiership Round 15 Results;
Hawke’s Bay United 0 Auckland City 3 (Alfie Rogers 23’, Micah Lea'alafa 29’, Callum McCowatt 52’ 0-2)
Wellington Phoenix Reserves 3 (Logan Rogerson 1’, William Ebbinge 10’, 48’) Canterbury United Dragons 5 (George King 41’, Gary Ogilvie 50’, 90’ +2’, Stephen Hoyle 59’, Tom Schwarz 82’) HT 2-1
Southern United 1 (Garbhan Coughlan 21’) Team Wellington 3 (Roy Kayara 18’, Jack Henry-Sinclair 58’, Ross Allen 68’) HT 1-1
Eastern Suburbs 3 (Michael Built 48’, Tristan Prattley 74’, Max Mata 87’) Tasman United 0 HT 0-0
ISPS Handa Premiership Leaderboard (Games Played)
31 Auckland City FC (15), 30 Team Wellington (15), 29 Eastern Suburbs (15), 26 Canterbury United Dragons (14), 20 Tasman United (15), 16 Waitakere United (14), 16 Hawke’s Bay United (15), 15 Southern United (15), 12 Wellington Phoenix Reserves 14, 6 Hamilton Wanderers (14)