Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

17-year old Stipe Ukich has given Auckland City FC a 1-0 lead over Wellington Olympic after the first leg in the OFC Men’s Champions League – National Playoff in New Zealand. 

Ukich popped up with the decisive moment off the bench in a hard-fought encounter in fine conditions at Kiwitea Street in Auckland.

It was a fast and furious start, with Auckland City having penalty appeals waved away after Regont Muratti went down inside the box just seconds into the contest. 

Both teams looked to play at pace and a high intensity, shutting down time and space in midfield, and making for a very open first twenty minutes as neither side was able to control possession for long periods.

Wellington Olympic gained the early momentum, as first Hamish Watson pulled a long-range shot inches wide of the bottom right corner on the counter-attack, before Oliver Colloty found Jack-Henry Sinclair unmarked down the right-hand side of the box, only for the latter to blast over the crossbar from close range. 

Henry-Sinclair missed another decent opening moments later, heading straight at Connor Tracey after latching onto a ball in behind the defence from Watson. 

City were showing some rust in their first competitive match of the season, but as they so often do, began to dictate possession more and more, settling into the match as the half wore on.

A cross into the box off the right flank from Liam Gillion fell for Michael Den Heijer near the penalty spot, but he failed to maintain his composure and powered his effort over the crossbar on the half-volley. 

Gillion then tested the keeper after a run down the left-hand side of the box, but couldn’t beat Scott Basalaj at his near post moments before the break. 

The contest continued to flow back and forth in the second half, with Kalian Gould scuffing a shot wide of the bottom right corner for Olympic, and Dylan Manickum slashing over the crossbar following an attack down the right-hand side.

The Navy Blues knuckled down and began to dictate assert more control, with Cam Howieson firing wide of the right-hand post from long range and Scott Basalaj forced to hurriedly clear away following a goal-line scramble from a City corner. 

Wellington Olympic sat back and looked to strike on the counter, coming close when Kaelin Nguyen couldn’t beat Tracey in a one-on-one situation inside the box. 

The pressure would eventually tell though, and it was 17-year old Stipe Ukich who provided the decisive moment for Auckland City off the bench. Nathan Lobo picked out the substitute with a pinpoint pass down the left-hand side of the box and Ukich was able to fire the hosts ahead with a cool finish from a tight angle. 

Ukich almost added a second late on, latching meeting a corner from the left, but his header was clawed away by Basalaj.

The tie now heads to a second leg at Martin Luckie Park in Wellington on the March 16th, where New Zealand’s OFC Men’s Champions League representative for 2024 will be decided.

Auckland City FC: 1 (Stipe UKICH 72’)
Wellington Olympic:

HT: 0-0