Navy Blues through to Grand Final

Words: ACFC Media

Saturday 24 March 2018

Picture: Phototek

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Second half goal blitz sends Auckland City FC through to the ISPS Handa Premiership Grand Final as the Navy Blues sweep hard-working Eastern Suburbs AFC aside 4-0 at Kiwitea Street.

In a tense first half Eastern Suburbs AFC was restricted to just one clearcut opportunity with Tristan Prattley drawing a superb save from Enaut Zubikarai when he bent in a beautiful free-kick the Navy Blues keeper saved with his legs.

Auckland City FC dominated possession and Tade almost opened the scoring when Louie Caunter got his fingers onto the Argentine striker's set-piece on the half hour mark.

It took a lapse in concentration for the first goal to arrive. Lilywhites stand-in skipper Jordan Vale clipped Dan Morgan to concede a penalty which was duly converted by Tade 10 minutes after the break.

AUDIO - Ramon Tribulietx

That goal burst the dam established by the Danny Hay-coached visitors and when Callum McCowatt blasted the second past Caunter with 20 minutes left the match looked beyond the Lilywhites reach.

That assessment was put to the test when a rare defensive lapse by the hosts almost saw a deflected effort trickle past Zubikarai who halted the ball flush on the line to retain his extraordinary streak of clean sheets in the ISPS Handa Premiership to nine matches.

With Eastern Suburbs AFC chasing the game gaps appeared and it was only a matter of time before Auckland City FC exploited the space with more goals.

Tade netted his second with a beautiful solo effort that looked like it took a big deflection off substitute Tom Ford with three minutes left. Tade claimed the goal which made him Auckland City FC's top goalscorer in the playoffs with eight strikes, one more than former record holder Manel Exposito.

With the Lotto NRFL kicking off there were fears of a sparse crowd for the match but with the cricket test between England and the Black Caps delayed by rain, the English Barmy Army's arrival soon lifted Kiwitea Street with the visiting fans taking the side of the Navy Blues adding to an already loud atmosphere.

Four minutes later the Navy Blues were celebrating again when substitute Dalton Wilkins kept up his record of scoring off the bench when he lashed home a great shot from just inside the box to cap off a satisfying day for the home support.

Coach Ramon Tribulietx said he was happy to reach his sixth consecutive ISPS Handa Premiership grand final in seven seasons but described the match as a tough one.

"It was a very difficult game today until we broke the deadlock. Eastern Suburbs AFC sat a lot deeper than the last time we played them and they man-marked out front players and through the middle.

"That made our life a lot harder and we struggled to understand how to break through that set-up in the first half. We talked about that at half time and tried to play in behind them in the second half.

"We were much better once we scored the first goal and we changed things again and it became very hard for them. We scored more goals and I'm very happy with our performance.

"Enaut Zubikarai pulled off a great save in the first half to deny Tristan Prattley from that free-kick and that could've changed things. These are the moments in football that matter. Its great to see we didn't concede again and showed a lot of patience not only with the ball but defensively.

"We know that when we control the game we will create chances and deny the opposition the ball. The effort belongs to everyone from Zubikarai through to the last player in our squad with the least minutes - this is how we prepare and part of our style.

"We're happy to qualify for the final and face whoever we get. Today was only a semi-final and we have to stay grounded," he said.

Records continue

Auckland City FC goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai has now kept nine consecutive clean sheets in the ISPS Handa Premiership for a total of 838 minutes.

That run includes cleansheets for 12 consecutive matches in all competitions for a total of 1,080 minutes.

Emiliano Tade is Auckland City FC's top goalscorer in the ISPS Handa Premiership with eight goals - one ahead of Manel Exposito (7), Grant Young (6), Keryn Jordan (6) and Ryan De Vries (4).

Tade is now fourth in the all-time scorers list for the ISPS Handa Premiership playoffs. The list is led by Roy Krishna (14), Ryan De Vries (10 - 6 for Waitakere United, 4 for Auckland City FC), Keryn Jordan (9 - 6 for Auckland City FC, 3 for Waitakere United), Allan Pearce (8) and Tade (8).

Auckland City FC have qualified for 11 ISPS Handa Premiership Grand Finals - six of them under Ramon Tribulietx. 

Today's 4-0 win over Eastern Suburbs AFC gave Auckland City FC its ninth consecutive ISPS Handa Premiership semi-final win. The margin of victory also equalled Auckland City FC's biggest winning margin in an ISPS Handa Premiership semi-final following on from 5-1 and 4-0 wins over Waitakere United on 29 March 2015 and 1 March 2014 respectively.


Match Result
ISPS Handa Premiership Semi-Final
Saturday 24 March 2018
Auckland City FC 4 (Emiliano Tade 57'-pen, 87', Callum McCowatt 71', Dalton Wilkins 90+1')
Eastern Suburbs AFC 0
HT: 0-0

AC: Zubikarai (GK); White, Berlanga (c), Hudson-Wihongi, Morgan (Iwata 85'); Riera, Tavano (R Drake 88'), Bilen; Tade, Lea'alafa (Wilkins 90'), McCowatt.

Subs not used: Tracey (GK), H Edge.

Coach: Ramon Tribulietx

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