Two Wellington sides were celebrating wins in the final round of the Men’s National League on Sunday.
Wellington Olympic prepared for next weekend’s Grand Final against Auckland City with a 4-1 victory against arch rivals Miramar Rivals, while Wellington Phoenix reserves beat Birkenhead United 4-2 in the drizzle at Fraser Park.
Here’s our round-up of Sunday’s fixtures:
Olympic blitz Rangers with four goals in impressive first half
Wellington Olympic showed their attacking menace with a four-goal blitz against local rivals Miramar Rangers, beating them 4-1 at David Farrington Park.
Olympic scored all the goals in a first half in which they outran, out-thought and out-played Rangers, and showed they’ll have every chance when they meet Auckland City in the Grand Final on Sunday December 4.
They took their foot off the pedal in the second half, as Rangers dug in to restore some pride, but Olympic did enough to finish the nine-round fixture schedule with the best record.
But despite having the best goal difference, Olympic will be recorded as runners-up on the table because competition rules say the tiebreaker is the outcome of the game between sides on the same points — and Auckland City won that game.
Olympic got off to the best possible start, holding possession from the kick-off and scoring 80 seconds later.
The damage was done by playmaker Kailan Gould whose cross was met perfectly by top goalscorer Gianni Bouzoukis who turned the ball across the line.
In the 19th minute, Olympic doubled their lead through Jesse Randall, adding to the four goals he scored a week earlier. He followed up a rebound to punish a misfiring Rangers defence.
Three minutes later, Gould was again the provider, crossing for Bouzoukis to score from close in.
It was 3-0 and only midway through the first half.
Rangers tried to stop the tide of attacks but could not stop the supply from Gould whose crosses into the box were deadly.
Gould created the fourth goal with an excellent cross to the back post where Theo Ettema met the ball with a diving header, sending it past ‘keeper Joe Knowles and into the net.
Main photo: Theo Ettema (left) and Gianni Bouzoukis … goalscorers for Wellington Olympic.
In the second half, Rangers got stuck in and fifty-fifty tackles started to go their way.
Bouzoukis kept working up front for Olympic, in search of a hat-trick that would have taken him ahead of Cashmere Technical’s Garbhan Coughlan in the race for the league’s Golden Boot.
But in the end, it was Rangers who had the last word with a goal as the game entered stoppage time, scored by Andrew Bevin.
Phoenix end season with back-to-back wins
The Wellington Phoenix reserves have capped their season with back-to-back wins.
The Phoenix reserves beat Birkenhead United 4-2 at Fraser Park in Lower Hutt, after leading 2-0 at halftime and 3-0 early in the second-half.
Oskar van Hattum scored a brace, while fellow first-team players Sam Sutton and Yan Sasse also found the back of the net for the young Nix.
The result ensures the Phoenix reserves finish sixth in the 10-club competition.
Head coach Chris Greenacre was able to call on six first-team players, with club captain Alex Rufer, Sasse and Sutton joining Alex Paulsen, Finn Surman and van Hattum, who started last week’s match against Cashmere Technical. Riley Bidois also returned from suspension to partner van Hattum up front.
“We had a few first-team players step down but on the whole I was pleased with how the young players played as well.
“And it’s great to see Alex Rufer back getting some game time, which is massive for the club.
“Full credit to all of the first team players that have stepped down this year. They’ve been absolutely fantastic…and the boys love having them around.
“I don’t think one of the first team players went through the motions today. They were getting stuck in and were putting their play at risk.”
The Phoenix reserves finish the National League Championship with three wins, three draws and three defeats from their nine matches, leaving the head coach unsatisfied.
“In this National League season, we’ve been punished for our mistakes. It’s been a step up for the boys, which I think they’ve grown towards,” Greenacre said.
“We haven’t kept a clean sheet in his National League season which is disappointing. One of the challenges I set the players today was to finish on a clean sheet. That wasn’t the way I wanted it to finish so we can always improve.
“With the ball, I think the guys have played some really attractive stuff and the boys have learnt a lot in this National League campaign because of the quality of opposition has gone up.”
The young Nix started brightly, with van Hattum forcing a great one-on-one save from Birkenhead ‘keeper Silvio Rodic in the fifth minute before Sasse rattled Rodic’s left-hand post.
Van Hattum and Sasse had further opportunities to open the scoring before Rufer was substituted in the 32nd minute, having made a successful return to competitive football eight and a half months after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Soon after, the Phoenix reserves had their opening goal. Sutton made a great run down the left flank after winning possession on the edge of his box, slipped a ball through to Bidois, who found van Hattum at the back post and he beat Rodic with a first-time shot.
Sutton doubled their advantage on the stroke of halftime, finishing a flowing passage of play after bursting into the box.
Van Hattum had his second and the reserves third little over a minute into the second-half, side-footing a volley from the top of the box after Rodic could only parry away Sasse’s initial shot.
Paulsen was relatively unemployed in goal for the young Nix until the 68th minute, when he was called upon to deny Alex Connor-McClean Birkenhead’s opener.
Paulsen’s next act was to collect the ball out of the back of his net after being chipped by Luke Jorgensen from 40 metres out.
Sasse hit the post moments later for the second time in the match before he was finally rewarded for his endeavour nine minutes from full-time.
The Brazilian headed home a perfectly weighted cross from substitute Josh Tollervey at the near post to cap a fine counter-attack.
Birkenhead defender Dino Botica had the final say little over a minute later, powerfully heading home a free-kick at the back post to complete the scoring.
Games played on Sunday November 27, 2022
Wellington Phoenix 4 (Oskar Van Hattum 36′, 47′, Sam Sutton 45’+2′, Yan Sasse 81′)
Birkenhead United 2 (Luke Jorgenen 76′, Dino Botica 82)
Miramar Rangers 1 (Andrew Bevin 90′)
Wellington Olympic 4 (Gianni Bouzoukis 2′, 21′, Jesse Randall 20′, Theo Ettema 38′)
Games played on Saturday November 26, 2022
Auckland United 3 (Oliver Middleton 22′, Nic Zambrano 50′, Ross Haviland 66′)
Napier City Rovers 2 (Sam Lack 28′, Jonathan McNamara 88′)
Auckland City 2 (Ryan De Vries 15′, Joe Lee 51′)
Melville United 0
Game played Friday November 25, 2022
Christchurch United 4 (Joel Peterson 25′, 88′, Eddie Wilkinson 26′, 90’+6′)
Cashmere Technical 1 (Lyle Matthysen 90+5′)
Note: Though Wellington Olympic have the better goal difference, the rules of the National League state that the tie breaker used to separate teams with the same points will be the outcome of the game between them. Auckland City won their game against Olympic so top the table.