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5 Things We Learned From Southern Sojourn

Words: ACFC Media

Monday 14 November 2016

Picture: Phototek

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - We look back on yesterday's 1-0 away win at Southern United and assess some of the key learnings from a victory that keeps the Navy Blues at the top of the Stirling Sports Premiership for another week.

1. The Navy Blues can rely on Fabrizio Tavano for attacking inspiration

The Mexican-born Kiwi-schooled midfielder provided the winning touch for the Navy Blues just in the nick of time after his team created - and squandered - a raft of good scoring opportunities in Invercargill.

Southern United‘s solid shape meant the Navy Blues had to carefully unpick the home side's defence and thankfully Tavano kept his nerve to provide a much needed finish.

Encouragingly, the Navy Blues produced plenty of goal attempts against yet another deep lying opponent – but cool headed Tavano came up with the one that mattered most.

2. Southern United look better equipped than in previous seasons

Paul O'Reilly’s tightly-knit squad have plenty to prove after seasons of the club finishing in the bottom reaches of the competition.

Although sitting in tenth place, they managed to snuff out the Navy Blues with a stuffy rearguard action.

In Tennesses Kinghorn and a raft of new signings identified via O'Reilly's football connections in Ireland, Southern United have got character and commitment that will make them a difficult opponent.

And boss O'Reilly is showing the type of tactical nous and squad-uniting ability that might just make the difference.

3. Navy Blues defence is in safe hands - literally

The Navy Blues have now gone an amazing 447 minutes without conceding a goal. The last goal shipped was the 3rd minute near post header from a corner scored by Waitakere United in the opening day defeat at Kiwitea Street.

The defence has now tightened to the extent that teams are relying heavily on set-pieces to nick something off the Navy Blues but with Enaut Zubikarai and Angela Berlanga leading the way, Auckland City FC are looking tough to breakdown.

Zubikarai looks every inch a quality goalkeeper and he backs that up with a fearlessness that sees him throw himself into harms way, especially in one-on-one scenarios or from defensive set-pieces where he is a rock and inspiration.

Berlanga, now 29, looks as sound a leader as the great Ivan Vicelich ever did and could become one of the best ever players to pull on the Navy Blue colours in his position.

4. Auckland City FC prove the Stirling Sports Premiership is a squad game

Reid Drake, Marko Dordevic. Alfie Rogers and Micah Lea'alafa returned to first team action and delivered solid performances.

Rogers is starting to become a regular feature at left back, Reid Drake is accumulating vital experience in the Navy Blues engine room and Dordevic remains a fan favourite for his 100 per cent commitment to the cause each time he pulls on the jersey.

Lea'alafa, away for the FIFA Futsal World Cup and the OFC Nations Cup, has missed the last two FIFA World Cup qualifiers with the Solomon Islands and has some catching up to do but there's no doubt about his qualities once he's up and running.

Take into account the absence of Clayton Lewis, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi and Mario Bilen, and the introduction of another All Whites cap in Harshae Raniga, and you start to see the strength packed by the Navy Blues this season.

With the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 not far away, this is good news as the competition for places in the starting eleven - and the squad itself - starts to heat up.

5. The Stirling Sports Premiership will be closely contested.

With Eastern Suburbs AFC picking up a 1-0 East-West derby win over Waitakere United, Canterbury United extending their unbeaten run to four matches with a 4-1 win over the Wee Nix and Hawke's Bay United's 3-1 triumph at Tasman United, its clear to see we're in for a competitive season of domestic football.

Hamilton Wanderers, too, have thrown down the gauntlet with that stunning home win over the Lilywhites last week and Southern United, despite their lowly position at the moment, look better organised and more competitive than in recent seasons.

Our erstwhile Super City derby rivals need no further flattering, least of all by us, but Chris Milicich looks like he's taken a grip of his team and moulding them into a reflection of his own competitive personality.

All this adds up to a Stirling Sports Premiership competition that can only get better and better.

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