Words: Jacqueline Tran Van
Saturday 26 March 2022
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - It’s been a long wait between drinks but Auckland City FC finally made a return to competitive football this afternoon, posting a 2-1 victory over Melville United in their Northern League opener at the Croatian Cultural Centre.
It was a near perfect start for new coach Albert Riera who, despite being appointed back in 2021, was yet to lead his charges in a competitive fixture.
Riera said the first match of the season is always tough, and against a quality side like Melville United destined to be a challenge, however he remained grateful for the effort on the pitch, and three points in the pocket.
“Probably it was a typical first match of the season, you could see especially in the first half a bit of rustiness and we expected that. We knew it would be very hard against Melville and they proved that today.
“It’s been a very good eye opener for us and now we are very happy to get the three points, but it’s a long road and we have to get better every day.”
The Navy Blues came out looking to earn an early advantage in front of the home crowd with Angus Kilkolly, Dylan Manickum and Joe Lee putting pressure on a Melville backline led by New Zealand football stalwart Aaron Scott.
A couple of tentative chances tested Melville keeper Max Tommy, before a long ball over the defensive line delivered by the day’s captain, Mario Ilich, was brought down by Kilkolly.
With Manickum to his left, but plenty of time to make a decision, the striker opted to lash it neatly past Max Tommy for the first goal of the season just 11 minutes in.
The goal seemingly jump-started the Melville attack as they applied more and more pressure on a City backline which found itself slowly being separated from its midfield by a sea of red shirts.
The high press proved a favourable approach for Sam Wilkinson’s side as they found themselves an equaliser in the 25th minute.
Having conceded a corner, Auckland City FC found themselves having to defend a crowded box and despite the initial header from Scott hitting the woodwork, the follow up from Oliver Colloty brought Melville to level terms.
Kilkolly and Manickum collaborated well, creating several chances and applying sustained pressure before Auckland City were finally able to restore the lead in the 37th minute.
Ilich split the defence with a perfectly weighted pass putting through Manickum who took one touch before lifting the ball over an approaching Tommy. The shot hit the keeper’s body but it wasn’t enough to stop the ball from looping down into the back of the net.
Melville came out of the sheds firing as they once more sought to find level terms with their host, putting no amount of pressure on the Navy Blues and forcing some near fatal errors.
After an impressive debut in the senior squad, Joe Lee will be disappointed he couldn’t manage the full 90 after pulling up with a touch of cramp and forcing the first change of the afternoon, with Liam Gillion replacing him.
That was followed by a double substitution for the Navy Blues as Sam Brotherton and Ilham Hameedi made room for Angel Berlanga and Reid Drake to get their 2022 season underway.
Berlanga was quick to make his mark on the match conceding first a free kick near the halfway line, before giving away a free kick just outside the box and earning the first yellow card of the season at the same time.
A tidy free kick from Quinton Kipara was whipped into dangerous territory, but Auckland City FC were able to once again absorb the pressure and deny a clean shot on goal.
Youngster Gerard Garriga showed he’s a player to watch for the future as he made an impressive weaving run through the midfield before laying off the perfect ball for the overlapping runner, but the message wasn’t received by Liam Gillion and a prime opportunity went waning for the Navy Blues.
Both Riera and today’s captain Mario Ilich, making his 51st appearance for his childhood club, said the depth of the squad was definitely on display today.
“We have a lot of young players, a lot of players that are new, and I think they’ve done a fantastic job today,” the Spaniard said.
“Everyone is here because they’re good enough to be here, and they got the three points. We could have done better, but we can always do better. We are always pushing for excellence and I think those players gave everything and that’s what I want.”
FULL TIME | 2-1— Auckland City FC (@AucklandCity_FC) March 26, 2022
The #NavyBlues survive a late barrage of @MelvilleUnited attacks in blustery conditions to win 2-1 at the Croatian Club.
Phew. Time to let the heart palpitations subside!#ACvMU #NavyBlues #StrengthInUnity #NZNationalLeague pic.twitter.com/Xg3iqb8i70
Ilich reiterated that message, saying the depth is there and it’s now all about ensuring the squad continues to grow and improve together.
“The young boys stepped up well, and we have a big squad. That’s what the depth is for, if ever anyone is missing a game there’s someone to step in and fill their place so I’m happy with the game today,” Ilich said.
“We put in a good 50-60 minute performance, I think the second half the legs were gone a bit but we got over the line and got the three points and I think at the end of the day it’s a great start to our season.”
Getting a win was obviously the best part of the day for the midfielder, but the icing was definitely wearing the armband for his childhood club.
“It’s always an honour, I think I’ve done it once before in the Chatham Cup or something, but it’s just a huge honour for me given it’s my childhood club, which I’ve played for since I was four years old.”
The Navy Blues will be back in action in the Northern League next weekend when they take on Takapuna AFC at 3pm, Saturday 2 April 2022.
Saturday 26 March 2022
Auckland City FC 2 (Angus KILKOLLY 12', Dylan MANICKUM 37')
Melville United 1 (Oliver COLLOTY 25')
AC: 1. Conor TRACEY (GK), 2. Mario ILICH, 3. Adam MITCHELL, 8. Gerard GARRIGA, 9. Angus KILKOLLY, 10. Dylan MANICKUM (22. Kristoff MULLER 87'), 12. Sam BROTHERTON (5. Angel BERLANGA 77'), 13. Nathan LOBO, 14. Jordan VALE, 16. Joe LEE (19. Liam GILLION 65'), 21. Ilham HAMEEDI (17. Reid DRAKE 77').
SUBS NOT USED: 24. Cam BROWN (GK).
COACH: Albert RIERA
ASSISTANT: Ivan VICELICH
GK COACH: Enaut ZUBIKARAI
ANALYST: Adria CASALS
PHYSIO: Matt PAYNE
MANAGER: Keith COTON
Sunday 4 December 2022, Wellington Olympic, Mount Smart Stadium