AUCKLAND – Waikato FC top the festive football table after a solid 2-0 New Zealand Football Championship win over Team Wellington in Ngaruawahia on Sunday.
After a drama-field pre-season where lack of funds saw the club edge perilously close to extinction, Waikato’s fourth win on the bounce moves them top of the pile with 12 points as the league takes a three-week mid-season break.
Reigning champions Waitakere United wasted no time in storming back into title contention after O-League and FIFA Club World Cup duty. A 3-0 win over YoungHeart Manawatu that moves it to second place with 10 points and two games in hand.
Auckland City missed the chance to lead the table, after losing 1-2 away to Canterbury United and now edge third place ahead of Hawke’s Bay – who came from behind to beat 10-man Otago 3-1 in Dunedin – and YoungHeart Manawatu. All three teams are on nine points.
Within striking distance of the top four on eight points are Canterbury – now unbeaten in four games – and Wellington while Otago find themselves four points adrift at the bottom.
Waikato took advantage of a flat Wellington and took the lead through Shaun van Rooyen just before the break and doubled it midway through the second period through in-form teenager Marco Rojas.
The home fans thought top spot would be Waikato’s only until Auckland’s game finished in Christchurch but Canterbury United came from behind to deny Auckland top spot over the break, with a late show ensuring they keep up their unbeaten run as well as recording their first home victory of the campaign.
Auckland went ahead through Keryn Jordan in the 17th minute but despite looking likely to be table toppers come 90 minutes, Canterbury didn’t read the script and scored in the 74th and 79th minutes through Tom Lancaster and Gareth Turnbull respectively.
The result means the South Islanders leapfrog Wellington on goal difference and – with their form against the top sides of late – cannot be discounted as a playoff chance when the league resumes in the New Year.
In Henderson, Waitakere United made it three wins from four in the NZFC after they defeated YoungHeart Manawatu by 3-0 at home.
Daniel Koprivcic latched on to Roy Krishna’s cross to open the scoring five minutes before halftime and then returned the favour for Krishna in the 68th minute to complete the scoring after Paul Seaman had extended the lead seven minutes after halftime.
Meanwhile, Hawke’s Bay moved into playoff contention after a 3-1 away win over Otago in Dunedin.
Despite going in one down at the interval after Stu Kelly’s opener, Hawke’s Bay turned the tables in the second forty five. Three goals in five minutes around the hour mark were enough to move Hawke’s Bay into a semi final spot and leave Otago firmly rooted to the bottom over the festive break.
Former All White Che Bunce got the ball rolling with a goal in the 59th minute, before two Graham Fyfe penalties sealed the victory for the Bay. Otago’s misery was compounded when forward John Chisholm was given his marching orders for the foul which led to the second penalty.
Around the league, players wore black armbands to mark the passing of Team Wellington General Manager David Farrington and observed a minute’s silence before kick-off. Farrington died from cancer on Wednesday morning, aged 60.
The NZFC breaks for the holiday season but all eight sides return to a full round of action on the weekend of January 10 and 11.
Otago United 1 (Stu Kelly 25)
Hawke’s Bay United 3 ( Che Bunce 59, Graham Fyfe 62-pen, 64 pen)
Waikato FC 2 (Shaun van Rooyen 44, Marco Rojas 67)
Team Wellington 0
Canterbury United 2 (Tom Lancaster 74, Gareth Turnbull 79)
Auckland City 1 (Keryn Jordan 17)
Waitakere United 3 (Daniel Koprivcic 40, Paul Seaman 52, Roy Krishna 68)
YoungHeart Manawatu 0
New Zealand Football Championship (NZFC)
Story and image courtesy of www.nzfootball.co.nz