Eastern Suburbs, Auckland City FC notch wins

On an emotion-charged afternoon in the Stirling Sports Premiership, Team Wellington pulled off one of the results of the season by sticking seven goals past a shell-shocked Waitakere United while Eastern Suburbs, Canterbury United and Auckland City all likewise kept their play-off pushes on track, albeit in less goal-laden fashion.

At the other end of the table, Tasman United also finally had something to celebrate in lifting themselves off bottom place by recording just their second win of the season and left the side they defeated, Hamilton Wanderers, still chasing their first victory in 2017 after six attempts.

The weekend’s action gave the players and followers of domestic football across the country the chance to pay tribute to one of New Zealand’s true sporting greats, former All Whites captain Steve Sumner, who sadly passed away earlier in the week after a long battle with prostate cancer. All players wore blue armbands to raise awareness for the disease that claimed Sumner’s life while a moment of applause was also held before every game to remember the career of a man who led New Zealand to its first ever appearance at the FIFA World Cup in 1982.

The impact of those tributes was most keenly felt at English Park in Christchurch, where Sumner would have been delighted to see his hometown side earn a crucial three points by coming from behind against Hawke’s Bay United. In front of the Steve Sumner Stand, named after one of the city’s favourite sporting sons last year, Canterbury went into the sheds a goal down after Ross Willox had tapped in from a corner to give the visitors a late first-half lead.

But the complexion of the game changed midway through the second period when Canterbury’s Juan Chang Urrea drove down the left before slotting home and Hawke’s Bay went down to 10 men soon after, captain Finn Milne receiving his marching orders for the second time this season after bringing Chang Urrea down as last man.

The depleted Bay just about held on for a point but Canterbury finally secured a hugely important win with just five minutes remaining when captain Aaron Clapham slid through the defence and perfectly placed a shot past outstanding goalkeeper Josh Hill, in the process paying tribute to Sumner – himself a goal-scoring midfielder – in the most fitting manner.

The majority of the day’s goalmouth action took place at David Farrington Park in the capital though, where Waitakere were on track for a regulation win at two-nil up before Wellington ran riot. A Keegan Linderboom volley and a Jake Butler strike from the edge of the area put the visitors in control just past 20 minutes but those goals appeared to only unleash Wellington’s attacking potential in stunning fashion.

Jose Figueira’s side pulled one back in the 26th minute with a world-class effort from Leonardo Villa that flew into the top corner from 25 yards and Ben Harris then turned the game upside down around the hour mark with a quick-fire hat-trick. The striker bundled home an equaliser before being presented with the chance to give his side the lead after former All White Joel Stevens had been brought down in the box by Ryan Cain.

Harris made no mistake from the spot and was celebrating his hat-trick just a few moments later after chipping German goalkeeper Pirmin Strasser from a tight angle. After relinquishing such a promising position, Waitakere must have been wondering what had hit them and it was to get even worse in the remaining minutes as Tom Jackson, Guillermo Moretti and Nicolas Zambrano remarkably made it seven unanswered goals for the defending champions.

Eastern Suburbs are sharing the top of the tree with Wellington after also recording a victory, although theirs was far more run-of-the-mill as Malcolm McPherson’s team saw off a determined challenge from Southern United at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Suburbs had to wait until just past the hour mark to take the lead but it was worth the delay as Jordan Vale showed impressive skill in dribbling past several tacklers before beating Liam Little for a wonderful individual goal.

While the result sent Suburbs joint top, it had the opposite effect on Southern who, despite their mid-season resurgence, now find themselves rooted to the bottom. Tasman will be relieved to have passed over that mantle after a 1-0 win of their own at Trafalgar Park in Nelson and will certainly know how their opponents feel after Hamilton fell to yet another defeat, the ninth of their debut campaign.

Fleet-footed forward Ermal Hajdari has been a stand out for Tasman all season and underlined his importance to the cause with a 32nd-minute strike that proved to be the winner, finishing off a lovely flowing move down the right wing. It was Tasman’s first win under the watch of stand-in coach Davor Tavich, who has stepped up to the hot seat while the club’s differences with incumbent Richard Anderson are resolved.

In the day’s televised game up at a muggy City of Sails, there was little drama as Auckland City cruised to a routine 2-0 win over the Wellington Phoenix U-20s at Kiwitea Street but the outcome was significant nonetheless as the home side were able to quieten any whispers suggesting they had taken their eye off the domestic ball after winning the Lunar New Year Cup in Hong Kong. Fabrizio Tavano added to the succession of outstanding goals scored across the afternoon with a sweetly-struck effort from the edge of the area that whistled past Oliver Sail before the young goalkeeper even had time to move in the ninth minute.

All Whites midfielder Clayton Lewis wrapped up the points for the hosts early in the second half with a cool finish from the penalty spot after Liam Wood had nudged over Joao Moreira as the Portuguese forward bore down on goal. Auckland have a golden opportunity to make up further ground on their title rivals on Wednesday when they head down the motorway to take on the struggling Hamilton Wanderers at FMG Stadium in a mid-week catch-up game.

Stirling Sports Premiership Round 15

Southern United 0
Eastern Suburbs 1 (Jordan Vale 62’)
HT: 0-0

Team Wellington 7 (Leonardo Villa 26’, Ben Harris 57’, pen 63’, 65’, Tom Jackson 70’, Guillermo Moretti 82’, Nicolas Zambrano 84’)
Waitakere United 2 (Keegan Linderboom 8’, Jake Butler 21’)
HT: 1-2

Canterbury United 2 (Juan Chang Urrea 63’, Aaron Clapham 85’)
Hawke’s Bay United 1 (Ross Willox 39’)
HT: 0-1

Tasman United 1 (Ermal Hajdari 32’)
Hamilton Wanderers 0
HT: 1-0

Auckland City 2 (Fabrizio Tavano 9’, Clayton Lewis 53’)
Wellington Phoenix U-20 0
HT: 1-0