Auckland City FC recovered from a shock first half deficit to beat Solomon Warriors FC 3-1 in the opening match of the OFC Champions League 2023 in Vanuatu.
A red card five minutes into the second half for Solomon Warriors goalkeeper Timothy Maearasia for a foul in the box on Auckland City striker Angus Kilkolly changed the game.
Kilkolly duly converted from the penalty spot shooting to the left of replacement goalkeeper Joseph Komu in the 55th minute. From there a second appeared inevitable with the Solomon Warriors down to ten men.
The Solomon Warriors defence held firm until the 77th minute when a half chance inside the box was pounced on by Spanish import Gerrard Garriga who rifled the ball into the left-hand corner. Garriga was named player of the match.
Substitute Ryan De Vries sealed the three points for the defending champions five minutes later with a header, unmarked from the six-yard line.
Earlier the Solomon Warriors had started the match full of purpose and took the lead in the 9th minute with a powerful strike from Molea Tigi that took a deflection and left Conor Tracey in the Auckland City goal with no chance.
The 5,000 strong crowd were passionate in their support for both teams but were especially vocal whenever the Solomon Warriors had the ball.
Auckland City dominated possession with the Solomon Warriors content to sit back and try to catch them on the counter.
Auckland City captain Cam Howieson squandered a golden opportunity to level the scores in the 19th minute when he opted not to shoot when free inside the box, instead squaring the ball to striker Kilkolly who slipped, and the chance went begging. Minutes later Kilkolly volleyed over the crossbar from a corner.
The Solomon Warriors then created a terrific opportunity to extend their lead with a sweeping attack resulting in Harrison Mala sprinting clear down the left-hand touchline, but his cross was dealt with by Tracey in the Auckland City goal.
The 10-time champions should have been on level terms five minutes before the break as the rain pelted down, but Maearasia in the Solomon Warriors goal pulled off a tremendous save to deny Kilkolly whose thunderous left foot effort was tipped over the crossbar.
AUCKLAND CITY FC: 3 ( Angus KILKOLLY 55′, Gerrard GARRIGA 77′, Ryan DE VRIES 82′)
SOLOMON WARRIORS FC: 1 (Molea TIGI 9′)