Words: ACFC Media
Saturday 14 August 2021
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - A bit of class by Jeremiah Ruawhare took Auckland City FC U-23 one step closer to a maiden Lotto NRFL U-23 Premier Divsion title after they overpowered Birkenhead United 3-1 at Shepherd's Park today.
A single point seperated the two sides before kick-off and Birkenhead United started like a team highly motivated to turn that over.
Birkenhead United piled on copious pressure and could've had a two goal lead within the first 15 minutes.
But the home side wasted a plethora of chances to take the lead until Levi Wilson who finally got the breakthrough when he surged past the City defence to finish expertly past Finn Dockerty on the half hour.
Goalkeeper Dockerty was in superb form and had denied United with a top class save on 20 minutes before saving bravely at the feet of Wilson to keep the Navy Blues within touching distance.
The match was flipped on its head in the space of two crazy minutes by two moments of sheer quality from Jeremiah Ruawhare.
Ruawhare, who had an otherwise quiet first half, came to prominence when he outstripped the United defence before lifting a brilliant volley into the top left of Harrison Nixon's goal on 44 minutes.
It was a goal of top quality and left United stunned, so much so that when Kristoff Muller found space in their box a minute later and was felled, referee Daniel Neville didn't hesitate to award the penalty.
Ruawhare made short, sharp, work of the penalty kick to give Kris Bright's team a 2-1 lead they perhaps didn't deserve but would no doubt have been grateful for.
The impact of that moment on United reverberated in the second half when 11 minutes in Finn McCracken scored the Navy Blues third after great work by Jesse Gage and Kristoff Muller.
The home side then missed a gilt-edged chance to pull one back when they wasted a free header at a free-kick with Dockerty stranded on his line.
Ruawhare was denied a hat-trick twice in the last ten minutes, first by a desperate goal line clearance the second a top save by Harrison Nixon. United were denied a second goal with nine minutes to go when Marcel Stoddard blocked a dangerous cross at the near post that begged to be swept home.
The victory for Bright's side opens up a four point gap between City and United with just three games left.
Bright, though, was keen to point out the title isn't won yet.
"In the first half we started slowly and Birkenhead United had a few first teamers there that gave them a bit of a boost but we had the quality and the character to come through.
"Emiliano Tade said to me on the bench that he felt if all the players worked ten percent harder we would win the game.
"Jeremiah deserved praise today because he worked very very hard. When his attitude is right then Jeremiah is one of the best players in the league.
"But players like Jesse Gage and Dempsey Thomas also deserve a mention today because they were standouts for us and gave us a rock solid defence.
"The league title is far from won yet. In two games, we can have two great halves, one ok one and one horrific. Its going to depend on what we make of the next six halves coming up in the final three games," he said.
The U-23s host Melville United next week and Bright believes they bring quality to the table.
"We had Alfie Rogers and Reid Drake in our ranks the last time we played them which helped a lot. Melville United U-23 are one of the best sides we've played this season and I expect a tough game from them next week," he said.
Lotto NRFL U-23 Premier Division
Saturday 14 August 2021
Birkenhead United U-23 1 (Levi WILSON 30')
Auckland City FC U-23 3 (Jeremi RUAWHARE 44', 45'-pen, Finn McCRACKEN 60')
AC: 1. Finn DOCKERTY (GK), 2. Riley SEXTON, 3. Jesse GAGE, 4. Louie DANIELSON, 6. Wilson FISHER, 7. Brooklyn HEATH, 8. Alex SMITH, 9. Finn McCRACKEN, 10. Kristoff MULLER, 11. Jeremiah RUAWHARE, 14. Dempsey THOMAS.
SUBS NOT USED: 12. Rhys DAVIES, 15. Marcel STODDARD, 19. Anthony DUNCAN, 20. Sam CLEGG, 21. Thomas HOLMES.
COACH: Kris BRIGHT
ASSISTANT: Paul DRAKE
TECHNICAL: Emiliano TADE
v Wellington Olympic, 11 March 2023, KO: TBC