Eastern Suburbs have won the ISPS Handa Premiership title for the first time after delivering an impressive performance to defeat two-time champions Team Wellington 3-0 this at QBE Stadium in Auckland.
The Danny Hay-coached team went into the final as the younger and less experienced of the two sides but showed little sign of nerves as they made history by claiming their first national league title since 1971.
Golden boot winner Callum McCowatt once again underlined his huge potential on New Zealand’s biggest stage with two goals of the highest quality to secure the win and take his season tally to 20.
McCowatt was in the middle of most of the Lily Whites’ best attacking play as he, Elijah Just and Andre de Jong caused Team Wellington’s back three plenty of problems throughout the 90 minutes.
The win sees Eastern Suburbs not only claim the ISPS Handa Premiership for the first time – their previous title triumph was in the old national league – but also secures a historic place in the OFC Champions League for next season alongside minor premiers Auckland City.
The Lily Whites got off the perfect start in the seventh minute when they deservedly took the lead. Inside Team Wellington’s 18-yard box, Dalton Wilkins produced a clever lob to find McCowatt and the 19-year-old hit a sweetly-struck volley into the far corner via a heavy deflection.
Unfortunately for McCowatt, the strike was initially off target so will go down as an own goal, robbing him of a hat-trick.
There was more to come from Suburbs with Just, de Jong and Owen Parker-Price all having efforts on goal in a dominant opening half hour.
If there was any doubt as to who scored the opener, there was none whatsoever for Suburbs’ second. In the 36th minute, McCowatt curled a superb effort from the edge of the area which found the top right corner and gave Team Wellington goalkeeper Scott Basalaj no chance.
Wellington grew in the game as the half wore on but could not create any clear-cut chances and the Lily Whites went into half-time well in control.
The first team to score after half-time was going to be decisive and Suburbs picked up from where they left off.
On another long-ranging counter-attack, McCowatt found himself in space once again. He summed up his options before hammering home a quality left-foot strike that found the net, again via a hefty deflection but this time the goal was McCowatt’s.
It was a body blow to Team Wellington’s title chances and one from which they never recovered.
Just before the goal, Wellington midfielder and former All White Aaron Clapham was forced off after a sickening head knock but there was a pleasing update as he soon regained consciousness and was taken to hospital to receive treatment.
The loss of Clapham was another setback for Jose Figueira’s team and, whatever they threw at Suburbs, the Lily Whites handled with composure and were seldom troubled by their more experienced opponents. Youth prevailed on this occasion as Eastern Suburbs welcomed in an exciting new era for the club by claiming some long-awaited silverware.
The day was made even more memorable for McCowatt when he received the Steve Sumner Trophy as player of the final. It’s the second consecutive season in which he has claimed the honour after also doing likewise when scoring the winner in Auckland City colours against Team Wellington last season.
The winning coach Danny Hay couldn’t hide his delight after the match.
“Obviously really pleased, but I think more than that I think it’s a good day for the game in this country.
“Not necessarily that Eastern Suburbs won but the fact that we have so many young Kiwi players showing what they are capable of on a big stage so in terms of youth development it’s a good day for us”, Hay said.
“We pride ourselves on our defensive record, that’s what lot of the good stuff going forward is built on the back of that.
“But people put a lot of emphasis on defending and attacking but really it’s fluid it’s one thing, they very much interlinked when we try to boss possession and not give opposition teams that many opportunities.
“In general I thought it was a thorough performance for the entire time we played, so I’m really pleased for the players, they deserve it because the way they have gone about trying to improve,” The Eastern Suburbs coach explained.