Words: ACFC Media
Monday 7 October 2019
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC were held to a goalless draw by Eastern Suburbs AFC in their first pre-season friendly on 2019-20 season.
The Figueira-era started with only four players from the Navy Blues side that were dumped out of the OFC Champions League last April by AS Magenta with Maro Bonsu-Maro, Enaut Zubikarai, Jordan Vale and Cam Howieson the only players from that starting eleven returning.
Others, like Alfie Rogers, Brian Kaltak and Yousif Ali, largely peripheral figures during the Ramon Tribulietx-era, were also handed starts.
Also of note were the presence of an entire bench of players from Kris Bright's National Youth League team that trounced Eastern Suburbs AFC the day previous.
Missing from selection due to the OFC Men's Olympic Football Tournament qualifiers were Logan Rogerson, Myer Bevan, Conor Tracey and Cameron, while Albert Riera, Angel Berlanga, David Browne, Mario Bilen and Dylan Manickum were also not used.
The match itself provided typical pre-season fare with both sides looking far from their sharpest but it was the home side that went closest to scoring first.
There was an early shout for a penalty turned down when Adam Mitchell appeared to bundle over a Suburbs new signing Martin Bueno but appeals for the spot kick were waved away.
AUDIO - "We got stronger as the game went on" - Jose Figueira
In a physical first half, Bueno was at the centre of the game's best moment up to that point when his attempted scissor kick volley flew wide of Enaut Zubikarai's framework just before the halftime break.
Auckland City FC seized control of the second half from the off when first Kaltak tried to test Danyon Drake from distance and then Howieson had a goalbound toepoke from close range saved by the busy Lilywhites keeper.
VIDEO - Cam Howieson's free-kick hits the base of the post
Suburbs best chance came when Ilich gave away a loose pass that allowed Stephen Hoyle to nip in and tee up a shot for Bueno who scuffed his effort wide near the hour mark.
The Navy Blues played with a higher tempo and when Thomas Drillien, Bradley Wilson and Nathan Lobo came on, the match was injected with more pace including one moment when a superb cross by Wilson nearly found the head of Drillien.
Nick Milicich and Matt Ellis were also thrown in towards the end for their first team non-competitive debuts.
The Lilywhites seemed content to play on the break and nearly found the game's first goal when Reid Drake forced Zubikarai low to his right then followed through for a second go off the rebound only to miss the ball completely.
Howieson also came close to ending the deadlock when his left footed free-kick grazed Drake's left hand upright meaning a 0-0 draw for both teams.
Coach Jose Figueira was generally pleased with his first piece of pre-season action.
"A really good hit out. I thought it ticked all the boxes today. It was a really good test and challenge. We managed to rotate through our squad and we had an opportunity to see that bit more of a personality in our playing concepts come out.
"For me the most pleasing thing was actually us getting stronger as the game went on and that's a very encouraging sign albeit very early on in our preparations.
"Today we have to be cleaner and more incisive in the final third, positionally understand when, where and how we need to be in certain moments, but those things are going to be apparent early on in the preparations.
"They've been with us since day dot in pre-season. We had the core of the youth league team and they had a great start yesterday and they came on today and maintained our quality and dominance in the second half so there are really really encouraging signs for the future.
Auckland City FC move on to their next pre-season friendly match on Friday 11 October when they host Hamilton Wanderers at Auckland Grammar School's Normanby Road surfaces. The game kicks off at 7pm NZST.
Sunday 6 October 2019
Eastern Suburbs AFC 0
Auckland City FC 0
AC: 1. Enaut ZUBIKARAI (GK), 2. Mario ILICH (15. Nick MILICICH 85'), 6. Brian KALTAK (10. Matt ELLIS 85'), 7. Cam HOWIESON [c], 11. Keegan LINDERBOOM (9. Thomas DRILLIEN 63'), 14. Jordan VALE (8. Bradley WILSON 70'), 16. Yousif ALI, 17. Andrew BLAKE (12. Nathan LOBO 70'), 21. Maro BONSU-MARO, 20. Adam MITCHELL, 23. Alfie ROGERS.
SUBS NOT USED: 18. Luca TAYLOR (GK), 15. Dereane VOLLEHOVEN.
COACH: Jose FIGUEIRA.