Wins for Birkenhead United and Auckland United have completed the opening round of the Men’s National League.
Birkenhead spoiled the return to national league by former champions Christchurch United, beating them 3-1.
Across town, Auckland United created history with the club’s first win at national league level, but they needed an own goal in added time to fight off Melville United.
Here’s our round-up of latest games:
Main photo: Birkenhead United … came on strong in the second half to beat Christchurch United
Second-half power delivers 3-1 win for Birkenhead
Birkenhead United wore down an enterprising Christchurch United to eventually win 3-1 at Shepherds Park.
In an entertaining and open match, both sides wasted chances and the final score could easily have seen seven or eight goals shared.
Both teams had chances in a scoreless first half, with the better opportunities falling to Christchurch United from corners.
For Christchurch, Blake Weston headed wide from a corner in the 12th minute, while Noah Billingsley missed a close-range header five minutes later.
At the other end, Birkenhead’s Dane Schnell forced a good save from Scott Morris midway through the half.
In the 37th minute, the home side’s claims for a penalty were waved away by referee Nick Waldron after Everton O’Leary came down in a tackle.
Soon after, Ben Lapslie was booked for bringing down a Birkenhead player just centimetres outside of the penalty box.
Christchurch rode their luck and almost took the lead in the 42nd minute when the ever-tricky Eddie Wilkinson broke through and his shot was parried by ‘keeper Silvio Rodic.
Early in the second half, Birkenhead had the Christchurch defence on the rack but Alex Connor-McClean shot wide with the goal beckoning.
Birkenhead took the lead in the 57th minute when Dino Botica won a header from the corner, powering it down and into the net.
Christchurch levelled in the 64th minute when Mika Rabuka made a penetrating run and laid off the ball to Wilkinson whose left-footer from the edge of the area eluded Rodic and found the inside of the far post.
In the 76th minute, Rabuka had a shot cleared off the Birkenhead line.
Birkenhead went ahead in the 79th minute when a corner was palmed down by ‘keeper Morris, into the path of substitute Chase Taylor who poked the ball through the pack of players and into the net.
In the 82nd minute, substitute Miles Palmer struck a beauty from 30 metres, only to see it bounce off the bar.
A minute later, Birkenhead won a penalty when Jackson Woods was brought down.
Palmer sent the ‘keeper the wrong way to score, and to trigger celebrations on the pitch and by supporters on the balcony above.
When the coaches review the match video, Birkenhead’s Paul Hobson will be delighted with the impact made by his second half substitutes, and the apparently superior match fitness of his side.
Christchurch United’s Paul Ifill will see his side can create goalscoring opportunities at national league level and the first game experience should benefit them.
Own goal in added time gives Auckland United win
Auckland United grabbed a late winner to celebrate the club’s first-ever national league fixture, beating Melville United 1-0 at Keith Hay Park.
The game seemed to be heading for a 0-0 draw — an entertaining draw, at that — until the third minute of stoppage time when clever interplay and a dose of luck combined for the home side.
As the clock ran down, Regont Murati pushed the ball to Andrew Blake, took the return pass and slotted it through for substitute Nic Zambrano.
His attempted shot was deflected goalwards and Melville’s Sean Liddicoat bundled the ball into his own net as he desperately tried to stop it going over the line.
It was a harsh reward for the Waikato club, making their return to national league status after a 24-year hiatus.
The first half had produced chances at both ends and Auckland United ‘keeper Mack Waite and Melville stopper Max Tommy had plenty to do.
Tommy kept one Auckland effort out, making a save while on the deck.
Ryen Lawrence fired over the bar for Melville.
Auckland United’s Oliver Fay curled a nice shot goalwards for Tommy to turn away for a corner.
For the first hour, the home side had the better of possession and territory but Melville scrapped for every ball, made every tackle and rode their luck.
In the 74th minute, they almost went ahead when Stafford Dowling fired an angled shot that rebounded off the chest of a defender and straight into the arms of a grateful Waite.
For the last quarter hour, Melville looked the side more likely to get the win.
But then came the heartbreaker in added time, as Liddicoat’s own goal became the decider.
Games played on Sunday October 2, 2022
Birkenhead United 3 (Dino Botica 57′, Chase Taylor 80′, Miles Palmer 85′ pen)
Christchurch United 1 (Eddie Wilkinson 65′)
Auckland United 1 (own goal 90+3′)
Melville United 0
Games played on Saturday October 1, 2022
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Cashmere Technical 4 (Andrew Storer 27′, Garbhan Coughlan 30′ pen, Lyle Matthysen 55′, Kian Donkers 79′)
Miramar Rangers 0
Napier City Rovers 1 (Sam Lack 72′)
Wellington Phoenix 0
Wellington Olympic 1 (Gianni Bouzoukis 74′)
Auckland City 2 (Ryan de Vries 48′, own goal 84′)