Words: ACFC Media
Sunday 1 August 2021
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Two goals by USA-bound Matt Ellis helped guide Auckland City FC U-23s to a 2-1 away win over Western Springs U-23 on Saturday.
The victory saw the U-23s leapfrog Birkenhead United back into top spot after Paul Hobson's youngsters were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Eastern Suburbs U-23s.
Ellis, who made his first team debut this season, was in top form as the Navy Blues U-23s made a bright start with the midfielder opening the scoring on just eight minutes.
The match seemed to be taken away from the home side as a contest when Ellis doubled the lead six minutes later to establish a 2-0 lead.
NEWS - Auckland City FC join forces with Striv3 Elite Sports Management— Auckland City FC (@AucklandCity_FC) February 5, 2020
Auckland City FC and Striv3 Elite Sports Management have joined forces to help open up pathways from the club's ACademy set-up to the US
Ellis is among a clutch of up and coming Auckland City FC players to have taken up a relationship with Striv3.
Striv3 is an Elite Sports Management consultancy run by directors, Thomas Spragg and Stuart McEwen.
Spragg is a former New Zealand age-group international and had a playing career with Auckland City FC, while McEwen played basketball in Australia and the US College system.
With a number of players like Jeremiah Ruawhare and Brooklyn Heath each demonstrating top performances, opportunities to train and play with the first team are opening up regularly.
Ruawhare, in particular, had a fine game and could provoke some thoughts around first team selection.
But Springs dogged response was to set up a tense finish with Kris Bright making a triple substitution just after the hour mark.
Former Junior Navy Blues and now Springs player Finn Cochran threw the Maurie Wasie-coached side a late lifeline when he halved the deficit with 14 minutes left to play.
Matters worsened for Bright's team when Ilham Hameedi was sent off for a second bookable offence with ten minutes to go.
Bright gave his thoughts on the victory.
"The first half was one of our most complete performances of the season. It was 2-0 at the break but the way we played and pressed combined with our overall team work gave us one of the best performances of the year.
"Matt Ellis' goals were very good and helped us settle into the game," he said.
An injury pre-match to Finn McCracken had forced Bright into a reshuffle and there was praise for several outstanding performances.
"We had to change things around and put on Rhys Davies, who did very well.
"Louie Danielson and Brooklyn Heath were again standouts against their former club which was great to see," he said.
One new face in the group was all-time club leading scorer Emiliano Tade. Tade's season ended early due to injury and the Argentine forward has made himself available to assist Bright and Paul Drake with the U-23s.
"Emiliano Tade stepped in and helped me out and has been regularly at training to help with the pathway between the U-23s to the first team.
"Emi has been able to convey to our players exactly what it is José Figueira is looking for from players who want to make the step up to the first team.
"He's been a great help last night and making his influence felt," Bright said.
On a difficult night with just ten players, Bright was effusive with his praise for the character and quality on show.
"We held on to the win with a couple of injuries and Ilham's sending off didn't help but credit where its due, the team worked hard and thoroughly deserved the three points.
"The work rate of all the players was on point last night and they showed exactly what they're capable of when they apply themselves," he said.
Auckland City FC U-23s lead the title race by just one point from Birkenhead United U-23 whom they face on Saturday 14 August 2021 in Birkdale.
A full list of remaining fixtures for the U-23s is listed below.
Lotto NRFL U-23 Premier Division
Saturday 31 July 2021
Western Springs 1 (Finn COCHRAN 74')
Auckland City FC 2 (Matt ELLIS 8', 14')
Ilham HAMEEDI (AC) sent off on 82 minutes.
AC: 1. Finn DOCKERTY (GK), 2. Riley SEXTON, 4. Louie DANIELSON, 6. Wilson FISHER, 7. Brooklyn HEATH, 8. Alex SMITH (3. Jesse GAGE 62'), 10. Kristoff MULLER (14. Dempsey THOMAS 62'), 11. Jeremiah RUAWHARE, 12. Rhys DAVIES (19. Anthony DUNCAN 62'), 19. Ilham HAMEEDI, 20. Matthew ELLIS.
SUBS NOT USED: 9. Finn McCRACKEN, 21. Tainui ADAMS.
COACH: Kris BRIGHT.
ASSISTANT: Paul DRAKE.
TECHNICAL: Emiliano TADE.
MATCHES REMAINING - AUCKLAND CITY FC U-23
Saturday 7 August 2021
v. North Shore United (H)
Saturday 14 August 2021
v. Birkenhead United (A)
Saturday 21 August 2021
v. Melville United (H)
Saturday 28 August 2021
v. Eastern Suburbs (H)
Saturday 4 September 2021
v. Auckland United (A)
Saturday 31 July 2021
Hamilton Wanderers U-23 1-1 Bay Olympic U-23
Northern Rovers U-23 0-2 Manukau United U-23
West Coast Rangers U-23 3-2 Auckland United U-23
Birkenhead United U-23 1-1 Eastern Suburbs U-23
Western Springs U-23 1-2 Auckland City FC U-23
v Wellington Olympic, 11 March 2023, KO: TBC