The painful memories of falling at the final OFC Champions League hurdle still drive Team Wellington’s Tom Jackson as his side push for another appearance in the semi-finals.
Wellington face Ba in the first match of the final day of Group B and, in what has become a group decider, must avoid defeat to claim a place in the semi-finals.
Jackson is one of the few Team Wellington players – along with captain Bill Robertson and defender Justin Gulley – present in both of Wellington’s previous champions league runs which, in each instance, were ended at the hands of Auckland City in the final.
The 2015 final, a heated affair that Auckland eventually claimed in nail-biting penalty shootout, stings the most.
“It still lingers in my mind,” admits the Team Wellington striker.
Whenever someone mentions the OFC Champions League it’s probably not too far away from me than flashing back to both losses especially the penalty shootout loss that was incredibly close.
“But I guess it gives us drive and determination. There’s still a few of us from last year – there’s me, Gulley and Robbo from the first year so obviously it drives us on we don’t want to keep losing we don’t want to be known forever as the runners up.”
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Jackson is enjoying a purple patch of form in front of goal, and with 13 goals in as many games for the defending New Zealand champions in the Stirling Sports Premiership. He is currently leading the race for the golden boot – a title he won with Southern United two seasons ago before shifting north to Wellington in time for their Champions League debut in Fiji.
“I guess I just have the mind-set of wanting to score goals,” Jackson says of his current form.
“I’m always thinking where do I think the ball is going to be at this given time, I read what have the defenders have given me, play off how we’re playing and just try to get in the right places at the right time.”
“Obviously the main goal is for the team to win the whole thing but If I can win the personal accolade of the golden boot that’s obviously a huge positive for myself as well as the team because the team with the golden boot usually is up there and doing well. We’ve got me and Ben Harris scoring goals so we’ve been lucky in that regard.”
After missing the first game in Koné through work commitments, Jackson’s reading of the game was instrumental in Wellington’s opener against host club Hienghène Sport.
Rocky Nyikeine was drawn out of his box to intercept a ball meant for Joel Stevens but the goalkeeper’s clearance found Jackson, who from close to halfway, lobbed it back towards the empty net.
“I was egging Joel on to touch it past to score himself but always mindful the keeper might tackle him and when that happened I realised there was no keeper in goal so it’s worth a punt and gave it a good one so I was happy with that.
“I watched the angle and I saw it wasn’t going wide, I was just hoping that it had the legs.
“I didn’t know how far away the defenders were away from the ball so I was just hoping it would beat them to the goal and luckily it did.”
Wellington went on to win 3-1 with two late goals to keep their nose ahead of the pack and now just need a point from their final showdown against Ba to seal a third straight run into the champions league playoffs.
And while dreams of Champions League glory are in the back of Jackson’s mind he says the side have a big task in front of them to get past Ba, a side he’s met before during the 2015 Champions League.
“I think they will be physical and aggressive with a fast counterattacking style of football. Its how a lot of their teams in the past have played and we imagine it to be similar.
“We know that we’ll have to be solid defensively because if we have lapses of concentration they’re probably going to look to try and break and catch us off guard. But we know if we can stay organised, play well, pass the ball around and hopefully get a goal between me and Ben we can do a good job.”
The match kicks off at 5pm local time on Saturday evening.