Thursday, 16 February 2017

THE SEASON RUN IN


With only 3 games left in the regular season and 4 points covering the top 6 teams the finish to Stirling Sports Premiership is shaping up to be a cracker.

I was doing previews before each round but that stopped due to christmas, moving house and some generally laziness. So here is a preview of each teams run in


AUCKLAND CITY

Hamilton Wanderers (h)
Southern United (h)
Waitakere United (a)
Eastern Suburbs (h)

Auckland City with the Charity Cup The JourneyFan

Auckland City have lost 3 games this season the most they have lost in a season since 2008-09, when they lost 5 (but still were champions!). They have only conceded 8 goals all season but it has been the other end of the park where they have struggled - it may seem strange to say this about a team that has scored 25 goals but 16 of them have come in 4 games. The usually reliable Ryan De Vries has not been hitting the net, and Ramon Tribuletiex's rotation policy means Emilano Tade hasn't had as many games as he perhaps should have as he is a lot more clinical at finishing than Portuguese striker Joao Moreira.

They should pick up 6 points from Wanderers and Southern before 2 tricky derby games to round out the season.

MY PICK - They will finish in the top spot, but how they go in one off games in the finals series really is anybody's guess as they have shown that they are vulnerable when they go behind

TEAM WELLINGTON

Southern United (a)
Tasman United (h)
Canterbury United (a)

David Farrington Park "grandstand" The JourneyFan

The defending champions can be slow starters but when they hit form they can be devastating as Waitakere United found out last week when they were hammered 7-2
An easy run in playing the bottom 2 before a tough last game away to Canterbury United. In between they will be traveling to Kone in New Caledonia for the Oceania Champions League group stage.

MY PICK - They will get 7 points from their last 3 games and finish on 34 points, unfortunately despite having a superior goal difference to Eastern Suburbs this won't matter as the top 4 placings are decided by head to head records rather than goal difference (but the rest of the league is decided on goal difference - go figure!). Team Wellington's games against Eastern Suburbs produced a 0-0 draw and a 3-1 loss so on my picks they will finish 3rd


EASTERN SUBURBS

Tasman United (a)
Canterbury United (h)
Auckland City (a)

Eastern Suburbs not missing Sam Burfoot's yellow cards The JourneyFan

The only team to have been in the top 4 all season, even a 4 game winless streak couldn't move them out of a final position. Lost a couple of players in the transfer window including Sam Burfoot, but also signed a few so it doesn't seem to have effected them.

MY PICK - They will get 7 points from their last 3 games and finish on 34 points like Team Wellington and get the home semi-final due to their better head to head record

WAITAKERE UNITED

Canterbury United (a)
Auckland City (h)
Wellington Phoenix (a)

Waitakere United's Julyann Collett in almost the best strip in the league The JourneyFan

While the season isn't over yet, it feels as if Waitakere United will look back at last week's game against Team Wellington and say that's when our season ended. Being 2-0 up after 20 minutes and looking like a team that could easily win the championship to finish on the end of a club record hiding of 7-2 will take some coming back from. If they can do it it will be a huge testament to the players and coach Chris Millich, but I think it will be a step too far for them.

MY PICK -They will just miss out on a top 4 spot


CANTERBURY UNITED

Waitakere United (h)
Eastern Suburbs (a)
Team Wellington (h)

Andre de Jong (OK from last season but don't have any pic of Canty this season) The JourneyFan

A tough run in, but they do have the advantage of 2 home games. While Aaron Clapham is a great player, Canterbury do tend to over rely on him and everything seems to have to go through him, he is one of the top scorers in the league but 7 of his 10 goals have come from set pieces (6 pens and a free kick)

MY PICK - They will be left ruing the dropped points against the leagues cellar dwellers, Southern United, Tasman United and Hamilton Wanderers


HAWKE'S BAY UNITED

Wellington Phoenix (a)
Southern United (h)
Hamilton Wanderers (h)
The impressive Josh Hill makes a save The JourneyFan

Say what you like about twice sent off coach Brent Angell's touchline antics, there is no denying he is a great coach having taken Hawke's Bay United to a grand final and a 2nd place finish in his 2 years in charge. He obviously inspires loyalty in his players, (why else would captain Finn Milne come out with the ridiculous statement that officials in NZ aren't "mature" enough to handle him?) and he gets the best out of them. Yet with no great changes to the team from last season they were not really rated as a contender and can be seen as a bit of a dark horse. Also have been helped by some outstanding goalkeeping displays from the young Josh Hill.

MY PICK - Have probably the easiest run in of the top 6 and should have no problem picking up 9 points and sneak into 4th place and the finals


THE REST



WELLINGTON PHOENIX

Hawke's Bay United (h)
Waitakere United (h) - well QBE Stadium in Auckland as A-League curtain raiser
Hamilton Wanderers (a)

Ollie Whyte & Luke Tounge The JourneyFan

Had a great start to the season and at last are competitive in the league. Beaten both Team Wellington and Auckland City this season. Have some promising players coming through such as Sapreet Singh & Ollie Whyte. Losing the impressive Joe Bell to an American University was a blow but it has been a pretty decent season for them


HAMILTON WANDERERS

Auckland City (a)
Wellington Phoenix (h)
Hawke's Bay United (a)


Wanderers were inconsistent at the start of the season, they found some consistency in the 2nd part of the season unfortunately for them it has been in losing, they have now gone 8 games without a win and have conceded 39 goals - the worst in the league. The team is largely made up of players from the coaches winter clubs, Mark Cossey's Hamilton Wanderers and Paul Hobson's Birkenhead United and it looks as if the step up from the Northern League is just step too far for them at present. They will need some drastic action if they are to be a contender for next season.


TASMAN UNITED

Eastern Suburbs (h)
Team Wellington (a)
Southern United (h)

Ermal Hadjari in the best strip in the league The JourneyFan

While most people expected successful Nelson College & Nelson Falcon's youth coach, Davor Tavich to be given the coaching reins. Tasman surprised all by appointing Englishman Richard Anderson. Things didn't go great, although apart from a 4-0 loss at Auckland City, Tasman's losses were by only 1 or 2 goals. Anderson's  strict adherence to a 3-5-2 formation led to disillusionment with the players, and when he was summoned to discuss it he never turned up, the club learning later via Social Media that he was back in England!


SOUTHERN UNITED

Team Wellington (h)
Auckland City (a)
Hawke's Bay United (a)
Tasman United (h)


Southern United have only survived in the league due to their geographical position and the whole mindset in Southern Football needs to change. Thankfully it seems to be happening with the "Irish" invasion. Coach Paul O'Reilly has the team playing with structure and purpose that has been lacking in previous season's, they even managed 3 wins in a row. It's small steps but the fact the Irish imports are also working for FootballSouth hopefully means they will be sticking around and hopefully make Southern competitive again.




Monday, 13 February 2017

TRULY A GAME OF 2 HALF'S

Team Wellington 7 Waitakere United 2
Stirling Sports Premiership
Sunday 12th February, 2017
David Farrington Park, Wellington
ATT : around 200

Zambrano &  Jackson celebrate with Moretti after the 6th goal The JourneyFan
WOW! just WOW - It's games like these that you go to the football for!

It was a big game, Team Wellington, current champions and sitting 2nd in the league going into the game, up against 5 time champions and the team sitting in 1st, Waitakere United. Team Wellington have a pretty poor record against Waitakere United, having only won 8 of the previous 35 meetings between the clubs, although they had won the last 3 in a row.

Writing about football it is easy to slip into cliche's and you try to avoid doing that, but this game was really a text book example of a game of 2 half's!

It started at a frantic pace and Team Wellington almost got the ball in the net in the 1st minute but the shoot sailed across the goal. From then on, the rest of the half was all Waitakere United. Keegan Linderboom got his 2nd goal in as many weeks, before captain Jake Butler made to 2-0 with only 20 minutes gone. Waitakere United were in charge, they were bossing the game, dictating the pace and looking like a very well organised unit more than capable of winning the league. Team Wellington didn't look like scoring at all, unless it was something spectacular and on the half hour mark, Leo Villa provided just that with a claim for goal of the season, a screaming volley from 25 meters out. But still Waitakere United went into the half time break deservedly 2-1 up and looking the more likely to win.

Now only the coaches and Team Wellington players will know what coach Jose Figueira said at half time, but whatever it was, along with a tactical change, it obviously worked.

After a couple of half chances in the first few minutes of the half, Ben Harris bundled the ball over the line for a controversial goal. Waitakere United's German keeper Pirmin Strasser felt he was fouled, but his protests to the referee just earned him a yellow card - here's what happened

Harris & Strasser compete for the ball The JourneyFan
Strasser fails to hold the ball The JourneyFan
Harris controls the ball The JourneyFan
Harris turns despite Strasser's attention The JourneyFan
and it's a goal Leo Villa celebrates Harris' goal The JourneyFan

4 minutes later, Team Wellington were in the lead when Ben Harris scored from the spot. 
2 minutes after that Harris celebrated his birthday by completing a hat-trick when he chipped Strasser from an acute angle.

Leading scorer Tom Jackson was itching to get in on the action and in the 55th minute he latched onto an Andy Bevin cross and put the ball into the back of the net to make it 5-2. In the 80th minute, as Leo Villa trotted over to take a corner he barked out some instructions in Spanish and from the following well practiced short corner he found the head of Guillermo Moretti to nodded it home. Team Wellington weren't finished yet though, in the 85th minute Nicholas Zambrano broke into the penalty area and beat Waitakere United's Strasser in a 1 on 1 to make it 7-2 and inflict Waitakere United's biggest ever loss and cap an amazing comeback from Team Wellington

Team Wellington fans (including Niko Kirwan's Dad) looking satisfied with a 7-2 win The JourneyFan

FOR MORE PHOTOS FROM THE GAME CLICK HERE





 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

STIRLING SPORTS PREMIERSHIP ON TOUR

Hawke’s Bay United 3 Tasman United 2

Memorial Park, Palmerston North
Sunday 29th January
Att : around 100





National League football in the Manawatu - not something that happens that often!
Manawatu United had a season in the National League in 1979 and then again in 1986. They merged with Rose City in 1987 and competed in the National League as Manawatu AFC until 1988, when they were relegated.


The next time the Manawatu had National League football was in 2005 when they won a place in the new franchise competition, with an entity that sounded more like an over 35’s team not really accepting they were actually over 35, Youngheart Manawatu!  

It looked as if they would pick up where the previous Manawatu teams had left off, when they finished bottom of the league in the 1st season. However, the next 4 seasons saw them finish 2nd in the league twice and 3rd once, and while they had no luck in the finals they still remain one of only 4 New Zealand teams to compete in the Oceania Champions League. Then the wheels fell off and 3 consecutive bottom places saw them dropped from the league. They continued in the National Youth League (and changed their name to Manawatu United) but when that league was aligned with clubs in this season’s Stirling Sports Premiership, the only National League representation for the region is the Central Football women’s team.


As the only team from the Central Football Federation in the National League, Hawke’s Bay United decided they would take a game on the road to help promote the game and hence the reason they were in Palmerston North to take on league newcomers Tasman United.


After last weeks antics Hawke’s Bay United were without Cory Chettleburgh and coach Brent Angell, who had to sit in the stands, however that didn’t seem to bother them too much, especially when Sam Mason-Smith beat Tasman’s keeper from an acute angle in the 2nd minute. Tasman weren’t to be out done and 10 minutes later Tanashe Moarowa slotted the ball past an advancing Josh Hill to level up the scores.


Tasman concede a penalty The JourneyFan 


It wasn’t long before Sam Mason-Smith restored Hawke’s Bay United’s lead, then a minute later, Tasman gave away a penalty (and effectively the game). Saul Halpin stepped up, but his kick was saved, but he pounced on the rebound and slotted home, but as he celebrated, the ref ran over to check with her assistant who had flagged. After some discussion it appeared that the keeper had moved of the line but as Halpin had scored the rebound the goal stood.


After 4 goals in the first 22 minutes the scoring settled down, although Hawke’s Bay United were unlucky not to make it 4-1 when they hit the underside of the bar just before halftime.


It took Tasman united just 7 minutes to score in the second half when Paul Ifill, at right midfield sent a long ball in which found Tanashe Moarowa on the edge of the penalty area and he hit a brilliant volley that curled into the top corner, one of those goals that are so good even the opposition fans cheer!

Tasman's Tanashe Moarowa scores a goal that even the opposition fans cheered! The JourneyFan


Despite dominating the possession and territory in the 2nd half, Tasman United were unable to breakdown a strong Hawke’s Bay United defence. Whether it was losing 3 players during the week, being bottom of the table, still waiting for their 1st win in the league or just most of the players waiting on Paul Ifill to do something special I’m not sure, but you get the feeling Tasman just need a couple of players who will put in that extra work rate and effort and results will start to go their way.


An enjoyable day in the Manawatu, it was a great idea of Hawke’s Bay United to take the game on the road to promote the game, just a shame the people of Palmerston North didn’t bother to turn up and support it.

Monday, 23 January 2017

WEATHER BOMBS AND F-BOMBS

Team Wellington 3 Hawke's Bay United 3
Sunday 22nd January 2017
Dave Farrington Park, Wellington
Att : about 100 hardy souls braved the wind and the rain

Team Wellington's 2nd goal The JourneyFan
We've obviously confused the weather gods by playing football in summer, so much so that they layed on the best of winter conditions (or as the mainstream media now calls it a Weather Bomb) for the clash between Team Wellington and Hawke's Bay United. 
In Hawke's Bay United's last 3 games there have been 20 goals, while Team Wellington's last 3 games have produced 14 goals, so the game promised much and it delivered.

Hawke's Bay United opened the scoring in the 4th minute when Saul Halpin scored from the penalty spot. 8 minutes later it was all level, Hawke's Bay United keeper, Josh Hill, made a great save from an Andy Bevin shot but couldn't hold it and Ben Harris pounced on the rebound to equalise. 12 minutes later Saul Halpin had the ball in the back of the net to restore Hawke's Bay United's lead.

Despite a very strong wind, both teams were playing pretty good football, although neither were dominating and when Tom Jackson scored with almost the last kick of the half to make it 2-2, it felt as if this was a fair reflection of the game.

Fin Milne (HBU) runs into Team Wellington's Andy Bevin and concedes a penalty The JourneyFan

5 minutes into the 2nd half Hawke's Bay United's Fin Milne ran into Team Wellington's Andy Bevin in the penalty area and Tom Jackson got his 10th of the season from the resulting penalty. This was when Hawke's Bay United coach, Brett Angell, came into focus. Angell, who played a season for Everton in the English Premier League, is what you can describe as a very vocal coach. In the first half he had questioned a few of the refs decisions, although they were the sort of questions that were befitting of a one eyed Bay supporter. He also had some entertaining banter with the Team Wellington bench, although the 4th official stepped in when it seemed to be getting a bit personal.

4th Official tells Brett Angell to calm down The JourneyFan
He wasn't impressed with the decision to award Team Wellington a penalty and after remonstrating about it to the 4th official and using some choice language he was given a final warning. Then in the 66th minute Cory Chettleburgh made a hard tackle in front of the dugout, from my viewpoint next to the dugout, I thought it was a fair tackle and Chettleburg got the ball, however Team Wellington players claimed it was two footed and he went over the ball and the ref agreed with them gave them a free kick and booked Chettleburgh. As things were getting heated, Angell let the ref know what he thought of the decision. So after the ref dealt with Chettleburgh he sent Angell to the stands.

Angell's definition of “the stands” was, like his interpretation of the rules, slightly different to the ref's and he chose to stand in front of the changing rooms, from here he could still talk to the bench and his subs who were warming up. After a bit the ref noticed this and told him to go upstairs (to which some wag upstairs commented “we don't want him up here”). He disappeared for a bit but was soon back and still sending instructions to his bench, summed up best when the 4th official held up the board for number 2 to be subbed and he shouted out sorry he'd got it wrong it was supposed to be number 3, Kohei Matsumoto being subbed! The ref didn't seem to notice this.


Anyway back to the football, which was actually a pretty good game in difficult conditions. Team Wellington had a few chances but were unable to get past Hawke's Bay United's keeper, Josh Hill, who was having an outstanding game and made several vital saves, then with 10 minutes to go one of the subs made by Angell (after he had been sent off), Facundo Babero, popped up and made it 3-3. Shortly after this when Team Wellington were attacking the ref noticed Angell, and had more words with him, effectively telling him that if he didn't do as he was told Hawke's Bay United would be losing the game, whether or not the ref could do this didn't matter as Angell retreated into the changing room for the rest of the game, which ended 3-3.

Josh Hill makes a save at the feet of Team Wellington's Tom Jackson The JourneyFan
So it was an entertaining day and surprisingly, given the wind and the rain, some good football was played it's just a shame that the antics of Brett Angell overshadowed the game. This is the second time this season he has been sent off and local Hawke's Bay United fans seem to wait each game for the moment when Angell will kick off. He's undoubtedly a good coach, in his 2 seasons at Hawke's Bay United he has taken them to a Grand Final (where they lost 2-1 to Auckland City) and finished 2nd in the league (they lost the semi-final to Team Wellington) and he's done this with a team of decent but not spectacular players. 
But he does need to sort out his sideline manner, being passionate is fine but when you are expressing that passion and almost every 2nd word is the f-word it's not a good look, especially now the league is getting decent TV exposure.

He said after the game that next week he will be a spectator in the stand and his assistant (who wasn't at this game) Jamie Dunning will take charge of the team. I get the feeling it will be a few more weeks before he is allowed back in the dugout.

FOR SOME PHOTOS OF THE GAME CLICK HERE



Wednesday, 11 January 2017

CHARITABLE OFFERINGS

Team Wellington 1 Auckland City 3
Stirling Sports Premiership \ Charity Cup
Dave Farrington Park, Wellington
Sunday 8th January 2017 
Att : 200 or so

Auckland City's Angel Berlanga with the Charity Cup The JourneyFan
The Charity Cup started life in 1978 as the Challenge Trophy. Played to signal the start of a new season, it was contested between the League Champions and the Chatham Cup Winners. Mt Wellington won it three times, Wellington United and Manurewa twice, while Gisborne City and North Shore United had one win apiece before it was discontinued in 1988. The NZ Soccer Annual of 1988 said "......(the Challenge Trophy) continues to fail to grasp the imagination of the soccer public"

There was also the odd aside of the confusingly named NZFA Challenge Trophy. In 1987 the NZFA proposed plans to change the Chatham Cup format from a knockout competition to a challenge format not dissimilar to rugby's Ranfurly Shield. Thankfully the proposal was voted down (almost unanimously) at the NZFA AGM. However the powers that be in the NZFA felt committed to the idea so they substituted the Chatham Cup with a new trophy which they came up with the unimaginative name of the NZFA Challenge Trophy.

North Shore United, as the Chatham Cup holders were given the trophy and each home game they played was a defence. If they won or drew they retained the trophy, if they lost then it was the challengers who would defend the next time they played at home. The winner of each match would also receive $1000, there would be a sponsor for the tournament, North Shore United as holders would also play challenge games against the 1986 winners of the regional leagues and the NZFA would ensure there was the necessary publicity to generate significant interest in the games.

The sponsorship, regional games and promised publicity didn't eventuate. North Shore United defended the trophy 5 times before Wellington United (twice), Manawatu United and Christchurch United held it and the NZFA were out of pocket by $9000. The NZ Soccer Annual said "One suspects that the NZFA would be happy for their brainchild to slip quickly into obscurity"
 
Team Wellington's Niko Kirwan beats ACFC's Harry Edge for a header The JourneyFan
In 2010 when NZF (as the NZFA were now known) secured sponsorship from ASB Bank. They reintroduced the original Challenge Trophy, but called it the Charity Cup and the contestants were to be the League Champions and the best placed New Zealand team in the Oceania Champions League (or 2nd best if the best placed were the league champions)
This year it wasn't played pre-season as usual, scheduling issues with the Club World Cup and the earlier start of the Oceania Champions League been given as reasons. So instead it was doubled up with today's #SSPremiership game.

Like the original Challenge Trophy it has been a competition that has failed to grasp the imagination of the football public. After all today's game was between last season's finalists, who were also currently 1st (Team Wellington) and 2nd (Auckland City) in the league. Team Wellington's coach, Jose Figuera, was Auckland City's youth team coach last season. Ex Auckland City players, Nicholas Zambrano and new signing Nathaniel Haliemarian were in the Team Wellington squad. While Auckland City's Emilano Tade started his kiwi career at Team Wellington. It was not a game that needed the addition of an unloved cup to appeal to the masses (well OK the 200 that turned up).

As it was Team Wellington took the charity bit of the cup name to heart and were very charitable gifting the first goal to Auckland City when captain Bill Robertson hit a wayward back pass that eluded keeper Scott Basalaj and rebounded off the post into the path of Ryan De Vries for a simple tap in.

Ryan De Vries makes it 1-0 to Auckland City The JourneyFan
Four minutes later it looked as if we could have a game on our hands when Auckland City's Fabrizo Tavano, stopped Team Wellington's Andy Bevin from shooting by pulling his shirt and earning himself a red card. But all that happened was that Auckland City reverted to one up front and relied on their miserly defence, which had only conceded two goals in nine games so far this season, and the counter attacking speed of Ryan De Vries and Micah Lea'Alafa.

Team Wellington, who were badly missing Tom Jackson and Ben Harris up front, had more of the ball and territorial possession but were unable to break down Auckland City's solid defence and keeper Enaut Zubikarai was rarely troubled.

Auckland City were missing Joao Moriera, Daewoo Kim, Takuya Iwata & Clayton Lewis for various reasons but it never showed as they put in a very professional, if unspectacular, performance. They soaked up the Team Wellington pressure and relied on the counter attack, which paid off for them in the 67th minute when Tade made it 2-0.

Shortly after this Team Wellington introduced Ben Harris to the game and in his short time on the field he shouted at Haleimarian (amongst others) a lot, talked himself into a yellow card (and was almost a red), and scored a goal to bring the score back to 2-1 with a couple of minutes left. It was a significant contribution and one that left you questioning why Team Wellington didn't bring him on earlier. But it was Auckland City's day and from the restart they launched an attack which resulted in Darren White being fouled in the penalty area and Tade had no problem converting from the spot, to make the final score 3-1.

Emilano Tade's penalty sends Team Wellington's Scott Basalaj the wrong way The JourneyFan

So Auckland City win the Charity Cup for the 2nd time in a row (the first club to do this) and the 4th time overall, but more importantly for them the result takes them back to the top of the table, 2 points ahead of Team Wellington with a game in hand.
 

FOR PHOTOS FROM THE GAME CLICK HERE


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Mid season report & Round 10 preview


Happy New Year!

The biggest football news over the Christmas break was the appointment of a solicitors firm, Buckingham & Greenacre, as coaches of the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League.

But never mind that, the #SSPremiership is back! I'm excited, and so is Tasman United's Paul Ifill – he was so keen to get back to training that he turned up at Wellington airport for his flight to Nelson a day early!

This week's preview is slightly different with a brief look back at how each teams season has gone so far as well

==========================================================
SOUTHERN UNITED v HAMILTON WANDERERS
Saturday 7th January, Peter Johnstone Park, Mosgiel, Dunedin, 2pm

Southern United (10th, 4pts) C+, improving but could do better

In their 12 years in the league, Southern United (previously Otago United), have only finished outside the bottom 2 on 3 occasions and they quickly assumed their traditional position at the foot of the table. However Irish coach Paul O'Reilly has called on 6 of his countrymen and reports have been of improved performances. They even managed their first win in 374 days when they beat Tasman United 3-1 in Invercargill in the last round before the break.

Best Game : The 3-1 win over Tasman United
The Big Question : Why are they still in the league?
Prediction for rest of season : Might manage a couple of draws and maybe another win but that's about it


Hamilton Wanderers (8th, 12pts) B-, need more consistency 

One of the league newbie's, made up of mainly Northern League players from Wanderers & Chatham Cup winners Birkenhead United. Have had a couple of big wins, including 4-0 over Eastern Suburbs, but have struggled for consistency. Bright spot was their youth side winning the National Youth League at the first time of asking.

Best Game : The epic 6-4 victory over Hawke's Bay United
The Big Question : Will they manage to get 2 wins in a row
Prediction for rest of season : Will get a couple more surprise results but their inconsistency will see them finish around 8th

Match Pick : Southern United 1 Hamilton Wanderers 3

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TEAM WELLINGTON v AUCKLAND CITY
Sunday 8th January, Dave Farrington Park, Wellington, 2pm
 
The "grandstand" at Dave Farrington Park The JourneyFan
 Team Wellington (1st, 17pts) A, title defence going to plan

With no pre season games, the defending champions were slow out of the starting gate and found themselves last after 2 rounds, but since then they have been unbeaten and are the league's top scorers with 21 goals.

Best Game : The 5-2 demolition of Wanderers at Newtown Park, Wanderers were lucky they stopped at 5!
The Big Question : Will Ben Harris manage to get through the season without picking up a red card?
Prediction for rest of season : Will definitely be in a top 4 spot and in the finals come the end of the season


Auckland City (2nd, 16pts) B, need to concentrate more

For most teams being 2nd at the halfway point of the league, 1 point behind the leader, with 1 game in hand and having only conceded 2 goals would be an A+ performance. But Auckland City aren't most teams, distracted by the Club World Cup in Japan (where they lost 2-1 to Japanese Champions and eventual runners up Kashima Antlers) they slipped up and lost 2 games for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

Best Game : The 4-0 thrashing of Team Wellington in the re-match of last season's grand final
The Big Question : Had I written this last week it would have been how long will Ramon be staying as he had been linked with the Bignix job, but now that's sorted the question is -
Will they get their trophy back?
Prediction for rest of season : Without the distraction of the Club World Cup they will hit form and again be the team to beat

Match Fact : Auckland City haven't won at Team Wellington 
since November 2014

Match Pick : Team Wellington 1 Auckland City 4

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EASTERN SUBURBS v WELLINGTON PHOENIX U20
Sunday 8th January, Bill McKinlay Park, Auckland, 2pm

Eastern Suburbs Sam Burfoot makes a yellow card challenge The JourneyFan
Eastern Suburbs (3rd, 16pts) A-, room for improvement

The big spending newcomers, although this is their 2nd spell in the National League and they did win it in 1971, have had a solid if unspectacular 1st half of the season. They haven't been outside the top 4 all season, which in such a close league is impressive, especially when there is a feeling that they haven't quite hit their peak potential yet.

Best Game : Still to come
The Big Question : Will coach Malcolm McPherson be able to keep his big players ego's in check long enough to secure the title?
Prediction for rest of season : Will not drop outside the top 4, but will come up short in the finals


Wellington Phoenix U20 (4th, 14pts) A+, excellent

The kids are alright!!!
 At last, the Weenix are actually competitive, the kids are a year older, have all bulked up a bit, don't get pushed of the ball like they used to, the sports science work the Phoenix are doing seems to be paying off.
They have notched up wins over both of last seasons grand finalists and showed great character to snatch a 2-2 draw with Waitakere United, when they were 2-0 down in the 88th minute.

Best Game : The 2-1 derby win over Team Wellington
The Big Question : Can they maintain their progress?
Prediction for rest of season : Top 4 finish, although they can't qualify for the finals as they are the reserve team of A-League Wellington Phoenix

Match Pick : Eastern Suburbs 2 Wellington Phoenix 2

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WAITAKERE UNITED v HAWKE'S BAY UNITED
Sunday 8th January, Trusts Arena, Auckland, 2pm


Waitakere United (5th, 14pts) B, on the right track

The 5 times champions were not really rated at the beginning of the season, but after a mixed start, Chris Millich's team seem to be coming right. Could be a dark horse to make the finals.

Best Game : Their 1-0 win over Auckland City in the Super City Derby, their 1st win in the last 10 meetings of the clubs
The Big Question : Will the sleeping giant finally awake?
Prediction for rest of season : The results will still be mixed but potentially a 5th place finish, with the Weenix above them allowing them into the finals


Hawke's Bay United (7th, 13pts) C, disappointing so far

They have the 2nd most prolific strike force in the league with 18 goals but have struggled with consistency and a leaky defence. They have made the finals in the previous 2 season's but on this season's form will struggle to do so again this time

Best Game : From a neutral point of view it was the 6-4 loss to Wanderers, but for Hawke's Bay United it is probably their 3-1 win over Waitakere United
The Big Question : Will the forwards be able to score more goals than their defence will concede?
Prediction for rest of season : More of the same, high scoring games where they end up on the losing side and finish about where they are now

Match Fact : In their 15 previous visits to Waitakere, Hawke's Bay have recorded just the solitary win, 2-1 in 2010-11

Match Pick :Waitakere United 3 Hawke's Bay United 2


TASMAN UNITED v CANTERBURY UNITED
Sunday 8th January, Trafalgar Park, Nelson, 4.35pm on SKY TV


Tasman United (9th, 5pts) C, shows potential but failing to deliver

Tasman have played some nice football and apart from a 4-0 loss to Auckland, their losses have only been by 1 or 2 goals, although their 24 goals conceded are the most of any in the league. Paul Ifill has been moved to center back to try and stop this.

Best Game : 3-2 away to Wanderers. The only win they have recorded so far
The Big Question : Can they avoid the wooden spoon?
Prediction for rest of season : Could possibly pick up 1 or 2 wins but will be battling with Southern United to avoid the wooden spoon
 
Canterbury United (6th,13pts) B- not setting the world on fire

They were the last team to be beaten in the league, but despite this they only have 3 wins and lack consistency and that ability to kill games off.

Best Game : 3-3 draw at Team Wellington, coming back to grab a draw with a late goal after being down to 10 men for the second half.
The Big Question : Will Aaron Clapham score more than 1 goal from open play?
The leagues joint top scorer has 8 goals, 6 from the penalty spot and 1 from a free kick!
Prediction for rest of season : More of the same, hard to beat but won't threaten a top 4 finish

Match Pick : Tasman United 2 Canterbury United 1

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