Words: ACFC Media
Thursday 14 July 2022
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC and Birkenhead United serve up an eight goal thriller at Shepherds Park as the Navy Blues close in on their second consecutive Northern League title and qualification for the National League Championship.
City came into last night's game 12 points clear of United with Paul Hobson's team on a red-hot run of form in the shape of a nine game unbeaten streak that stretched back to the middle of May and with everything to play for.
But the visitors seized their opportunity to tighten their grip on the title when they opened the scoring courtesy of a sensational move initiated by Joe Lee.
Lee went on a breath-taking run before slipping Ryan De Vries into space and the former All Whites striker gave goalkeeper Damian Hirst no chance with a powerful rising shot on 18 minutes.
The lead was doubled within three minutes when De Vries' cute touch released Angus Kilkolly who went through on Hirst before tucking the ball away.
Hirst and Kilkolly collided and play stopped for four minutes with the bad news for Albert Riera that Kilkolly now looks set for some time in physio treatment.
The hosts, backed by an impressive and as always vociferous home crowd, halved City's lead when Curtis Hughes cross was tucked away by Sam Burfoot on 30 minutes.
City responded with a series of threats from set plays and out wide and it was from one of these situations that the visitors would restore their two goal cushion.
Cam Howieson, who had an outstanding evening, picked up a failed United clearance then picked out Adam Mitchell with a peach of a cross that allowed the former All Whites defender to nod past Hirst just after the restart.
Howieson was at it again just minutes later when United failed to deal with one of his corners and broke to Mario Ilich who swept home a brilliant finish to make it 4-1 on the hour.
When Lee was felled in the penalty area referee Nick Waldron pointed to the spot only for Hirst to save Emiliano Tade's penalty with his feet.
United broke up the pitch at breakneck speed and Luke Jorgensen punished City with a superb finish from just outside the penalty box.
Bouyed by their home crowd, United snatched another goal when substitute Luke Allport got to the byline and whipped in a shot to the near post that somehow squirmed past the City defence and into the net.
The match was back in the balance but Lee came to City's aid when United got caught out at the back and the pacey wide man hit a brilliant finish past a scrambling Birkenhead defence to make it 5-3.
Match Reaction - Albert Riera
Coach Albert Riera was very happy with the performance and the result.
"From a spectator point of view it would've been quite exciting but if you're a coach.
"We went from almost leading the game 5-1 and allowed Birkenhead to get back into it.
"That's the way Birkenhead United play, anything is possible, they have a lot of energy and they break lines very fast.
"But, to be honest, I am extremely happy with the way we played tonight.
"This is one of the hardest games, if not the hardest games, we'll face this season.
"We talked through the week with the players about what they would need to do to win this game and the players did exceptionally well.
"Yes, it was passionate, but you're talking about a game between first and second in the league table so you always have a bit of passion.
"I always feel a lot of passion throughout the season but games like these its drawn out of me.
"But I think thats a nice thing, I shook hands with Paul Hobson at the end of the game, I really respect him a lot and I told him that.
"Everything is fine on that front and now we focus on North Shore United on Saturday at Kiwitea Street," he said.
The result leaves Auckland City FC 15 points clear of second place and 24 points clear of fifth which means their place in the National League Championship is secured.
Birkenhead United's hopes of catching City are faint but requires Hobson's team to win all six of their remaining games and hope the Navy Blues drop points in at least two of their remaining five games.
City now face a run of three consecutive home games against North Shore United (Saturday 16 July), Manukau United (Tuesday 19 July) and Bay Olympic (Saturday 23 July) before travelling to Dunedin to take on Dunedin City Royals, most likely on Sunday 31 July, in the Chatham Cup Quarter Finals.
Beyond that looms the OFC Champions League next month with three group games set for Auckland with Hienghene Sport (Friday 5 August), Rewa (Monday 8 August) and Nikao Sokattak (Thursday 11 August).
Saturday's game with North Shore United holds special resonance for Auckland City FC with the game marking the club's 500th match since the club began in 2004.
In another coincidence, if Emiliano Tade plays, he will become just the third player in club history to make 200 appearances for Auckland City FC.
The only other two players to reach 200+ games are Angel Berlanga (224/9 goals) and James Pritchett (203/5 goals).
The game is at Kiwitea Street at 3.00pm NZDT.
The Auckland City FC U-23 team is also in action when they face North Shore United U-23 at the Croatian Cultural Society on Saturday 16 July 2022 at 12.00pm NZDT.
Wednesday 13 July 2022
Birkenhead United 3 (Sam BURFOOT 30', Luke JORGENSEN 63', Luke ALLPORT 77')
Auckland City FC 5 (Ryan DE VRIES 18', Angus KILKOLLY 22', Adam MITCHELL 51', Mario ILICH 55', Joe LEE 81')
AC: 24. Cam BROWN (GK), Mario ILICH, 3. Adam MITCHELL, 7. Cam HOWIESON (c), 9. Angus KILKOLLY (20. Emiliano TADE 29'), 11. Ryan DE VRIES, 12. Sam BROTHERTON, 13. Nathan LOBO, 16. Joe LEE (8. Gerard GARRIGA 82'), 17. Reid DRAKE, 23. Alfie ROGERS.
SUBS NOT USED: 1. Conor TRACEY (GK), 4. Christian GRAY, 6. Matt ELLIS.
COACH: Albert RIERA
ASSISTANT COACH: Ivan VICELICH
GOALKEEPER COACH: Enaut ZUBIKARAI
MANAGER: Keith COTON
ANALYST: Adria CASALS
TECHNICAL: Jarrod WALLACE
TRAINER: Alejo LEGUIZAMON
PHYSIO: Matt PAYNE
REFEREE: Nick WALDRON
ASSISTANT REFEREE 1: Charlie TSENG
ASSISTANT REFEREE 2: Reza AL RABEA
Sunday 4 December 2022, Wellington Olympic, Mount Smart Stadium