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Team Wellington too good for Navy Blues

Words: ACFC Media

Sunday 24 March 2019

Picture: Phototek

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Team Wellington are through to the ISPS Handa Premiership grand final after a comfortable 3-1 win over Auckland City FC at Kiwitea Street today.

The Navy Blues defeat is their first since Team Wellington beat Auckland City FC in a Charity Cup clash on 17 October 2017, a total of one year, five months and one week ago.

That unbeaten run covered 37 matches and included 32 wins and five draws with the exception of Tasman United's turned over result on 17 December 2017 when they were awarded a 3-0 win after Auckland City FC were deemed to have fielded an ineligible player.

Auckland City FC have finished unbeaten in the ISPS Handa Premiership three times in their history and each time Team Wellington has emerged to kybosh the Navy Blues in the playoffs. 

In 2011-12, the Navy Blues won 11 and drew three in a 14-match unbeaten run only to lose twice to Team Wellington in the semi-finals in a 4-2 aggregate defeat.

In 2015-16, Auckland City FC did marginally better with 12 wins and two draws in the regular season but slumped to another 4-2 defeat this time in extra-time of the grand final.

Today's loss comes off the back of 17 wins and a draw from 18 regular season games and a competition record haul of points and the 3-1 scoreline could not have been more comfortable for the visitors. 

Team Wellington will savour a win that not only keeps their hopes of an OFC Champions League berth alive but could also see Auckland City FC miss out altogether should there be significant changes to Oceania's club competition.

The ISPS Handa Premiership regulations state that should the OFC Champions League be reduced to just one representative club per member assocation then the winners of the grand final will advance into Oceania.

Eastern Suburbs and Team Wellington will be aware that victory in next week's ISPS Handa Premiership grand final could go a long way to determining who stands at the front of the queue to represent New Zealand in future editions of the OFC Champions League and beyond.

FIFA voted to expand the FIFA Club World Cup from seven to 24 teams in 2021 with there some doubt over whether or not there will be a final smaller edition at the end of 2019.

The FIFA Council were meant to announce a host for the FIFA Club World Cup 2019 at their meeting in Miami last week but instead opted to delay any move until at least June.

There is some credible speculation FIFA may try to cancel the FIFA Club World Cup 2019 altogether now their more lucrative expanded version is set to get underway in two years time.

While those elements hovered above today's semi-final and while it doesn't devalue Auckland City FC's sixth consecutive league title win achieved with 17 victories and a draw from 18 games, failure to win today's semi-final could have a long lasting impact.

Auckland City FC started favourites to win this game and with Team Wellington finishing fourth in the league the home side had reason to be optimistic.

Fabrizio Tavano had two chances inside the first 15 minutes but dragged the first one wide and the second just over Scott Basalaj's crossbar.

Dan Morgan then let fly after good work down the left only to be denied by the visitor's goalkeeper at his near post.

Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi then sent a free-kick into the side-netting after David Browne was taken
out on the edge of the penalty box.

The chances continued to come thick and fast with Cam Howieson also dragging a long range wide of  target with his left foot.

Up to that point Team Wellington's best chance came when Mario Ilich hit an awkward long range lobbed dipping volley off his right foot which cleared Enaut Zubikarai's crossbar by some distance.

There was a nervous moment for the home side when Albert Riera went into the book for a sliding challenge on Andy Bevin just after the half hour mark.

Sadly for Auckland City FC, that's when the match turned on it's head.

Eric Molloy broke clear on a swift counter attack with Dylan Manickum in pursuit and upon hitting the byline fired the ball straight into Manickum's arm.

Angus Kilkolly scored the resulting penalty kick to give Team Wellington a shock 1-0 lead against the run of play just before the break.

Manickum almost redeemed himself just before the break when he raked a long range shot over the bar.

Kilkolly then blew a gilt-edged chance to double his team's advantage when he was sent clear on the angle by Nathaniel Hailemariam only to screw his shot wide with Zubikarai exposed.

The visitors enjoyed a flurry of chances at the end of the half with Hailemariam denied by good defending from Morgan and a Kilkolly header flying just over the bar after a timely intervention by Hudson-Wihongi.

But Team Wellington only had to wait 10 minutes after the restart before they doubled the lead when Jack Henry Sinclair finished past Zubikarai to leave Kiwitea Street in a state of stunned silence.

It took the home side ten minutes to fashion a response when substitute Omar Guardiola threaded a beautiful pass through for Morgan who miscued his shot in the exact same position as Kilkolly in the first half when it looked easier to test the goalkeeper.

The Navy Blues made no mistake with their next chance when Angel Berlanga headed past Basalaj from a corner to half the deficit.

Basalaj then turned away efforts from Browne and Tavano as the tension ramped up with 20 minutes left to play.

Chances came thick and fast thereafter with Browne at the centre of Auckland City FC's most creative spells of a frantic second half.

But the match was ended as a contest four minutes into additional time when Ross Allen found Joel Stevens unmarked at the far post with a simple pass that allowed his jubilant team-mate to steer the ball home unchallenged.

Team Wellington now face Eastern Suburbs AFC in next week's ISPS Handa Premiership final, the first grand final not to feature either one or both of the Super City pair of Auckland City FC or Waitakere United.

Auckland City FC's focus now turns to the only trophy left they can possibly win - the OFC Champions League.

Ends

Match Result
ISPS Handa Premiership
Sunday 24 March 2019
Auckland City FC 1 (Angel BERLANGA 69')
Team Wellington 3 (Angus KILKOLLY 37'-pen, Jack-Henry SINCLAIR 55', Joel STEVENS 90+4')
HT: 0-1.

AC: 1. Enaut ZUBIKARAI (GK), 5. Angel BERLANGA (c), 7. Cam HOWIESON, 8. Albert RIERA, 11. Fabrizio TAVANO, 12. Dylan MANICKUM (22. Omar GUARDIOLA 63'), 14. Jordan VALE (4. Mario BILEN 81'), 15.
Daniel MORGAN, 19. David BROWNE, 20 Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI (23. Alfie ROGERS 87'), 21. Maro BONSU-MARO.

SUBS: 18. Ruben PARKER (GK), 17. Reid DRAKE.

COACH: Ramon TRIBULIETX.

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