Auckland City FC lift Lotto NRFL U-23 title

Words: ACFC Media

Saturday 3 September 2022

Picture: Phototek

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC U-23 are Lotto NRFL U-23 Premier Division champions for the second season in a row but only after coming back from 2-0 down to snatch a draw with Auckland United U-23.

Auckland City FC U-23 fell behind early when Alexander Hale lashed a superb shot past Finn Dockerty after just five minutes and Ryusei Ishibashi doubled United's lead before the break with a tidy finish.

City looked jaded for much of the first half but came out with all cylinders firing in the second and found a foothold in the game when Max Sutton headed past Hayden Stubbings just four minutes after the restart.

VIDEO - Max Sutton makes it 2-1

United seemed to lose their grip on the game and that allowed Riley Sexton the opportunity to hit a looping header beyond Stubbings within two minutes of Sutton's goal to tie the game up at two each.

Coach Kris Bright subbed Liam Gillion and Ilham Hameedi out of the game and that seemed to give United a chance to turn the game into an end to end affair.

United spurned a raft of gilt edged chances to retake the lead as City clung on often reduced to winning the ball in their own third then launching it long only to have to defend for long periods.

With Birkenhead United U-23 destroying Manukau United U-23 by 9-0 at Shepherds Park it was essential Auckland City FC U-23 achieved at least a point to put them beyond the grasp of the Beach Haven-based club.

Curiously, the Tribe app enjoyed the spotlight during the afternoon's coverage with followers of the Auckland City FC Twitter account claiming that a 2-2 draw combined with Birkenhead's 9-0 win meant Birkenhead had won the league.

It turned out the Tribe app had mistakenly lodged Auckland City FC U-23's default win over North Shore United U-23 as a 0-0 draw.

VIDEO - Riley Sexton seals the title with the equaliser

Bright was a relieved man at the final whistle as his team crawled over the finish line after surviving a late barrage by United.

"This wasn't one of our better performances at all and we didn't start the game well in my opinion.

"I would rate this one of our worst performances but the way the players showed character to come back from 2-0 down to get the point and the title was fantastic.

"The players were very down at half time but they knew if we could get two goals we would be right back in it and they did it early and quickly which was great.

"We had a long pre-season where we played nine or ten club first team sides and that's caught up with us at the end.

"We had 45 minutes to retrieve the situation and that combined with the fact we had a big crowd here, our first team had come down early to support them, I think helped shift the mental side of the game for them.

"For us it's satisfying to win the league again but perhaps more importantly its to see Adam Bell make his first team debut, Will Eng make a first team debut and Matt Ellis to score a first team hat-trick.

"They've all come through our age-group system and done well but the way they react to the weight of the badge and the responsibility that comes with it has been a highlight of the year for me," Bright said.

With City winning the league, Birkenhead United U-23 finished second despite defeating Auckland City FC U-23 twice this year, and Auckland United U-23 finished third. The bottom two teams were Eastern Suburbs U-23 and North Shore United U-23.

Will Eng also won the Golden Boot with 16 goals. 

Ends

Match Details
Lotto NRFL U-23 Premier Division
Saturday 3 September 2022
Auckland United U-23 2 (Alexander HALE 5', Ryusei ISHIBASHI 41')
Auckland City FC U-23 2 (Max SUTTON 49', Riley SEXTON 51')
HT: 2-0.

AC: 1. Finn DOCKERTY (GK), 2. Jesse GAGE, 3. Riley SEXTON, 5. Marcel STODDARD, 8. Anthony DUNAN, 9. Will ENG, 10. Finn McCRACKEN, 11. Max SUTTON, 16. Rayan TAYEB, 19. Liam GILLION, 21. Ilham HAMEEDI.

SUBS NOT USED: 4. Richard SWAMI, 12. Luke ROBB.

COACH: Kris BRIGHT.
ASSISTANT COACH: Paul DRAKE.

OTHER RESULTS
Hamilton Wanderers U-23 5-0 Melville United U-23
Waiheke United U-23 0-1 Takapuna U-23
Auckland United U-23 2-2 Auckland City FC U-23
North Shore United U-23 2-2 Eastern Suburbs U-23
Western Springs U-23 2-2 Bay Olympic U-23
Birkenhead United U-23 9-0 Manukau United U-23

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