Auckland City have won the Men’s National League after beating Wellington Olympic 3-2 in a thrilling Grand Final at Mt Smart Stadium.
The Navy Blues had to win the hard way, reduced to 10 men for the entire second half after a red card to substitute Reid Drake.
The game had everything — goals, missed chances, controversy and a tense finish as Olympic threw everything they could at City.
City were under the pump for the game’s opening 20 minutes as Olympic pushed forward, pressing Auckland City at every opportunity and denying them the chance to pass the ball around their defenders.
Olympic chased and harried, and almost took the lead when Jessie Randall won possession and hit the post in the 14th minute, and then shot wide with the rebound.
Against the run of play, City took the lead in the 33rd minute when a scramble in front of goal had Dylan Manickum hit the post, and Liam Gillion was on hand to bundle the ball across the line.
City doubled their lead in the 40th minute when Gerard Garriga played a neat one-two and shot past ‘keeper Scott Basalaj.
City reduced to 10 men just before half-time
As the half went into stoppage time, it looked as though City were going to be in control at the break.
Not so. Two minutes into added time, City’s Reid Drake tripped Olympic’s Jack-Henry Sinclair as he was about to break clear on goal.
Reid, who had come on as a replacement for injured Takuya Iwata after only 10 minutes, was apologetic as he was shown a yellow card by referee Calvin Berg.
Then followed a consultation between Berg and his assistant, and the yellow was changed to red.
The Navy Blues made it clear in the second half that they would be happy to soak up time with possession, while Olympic went back to their strategy of giving them as little time as possible on the ball.
The Wellington side thought they had found a way back when they had the ball in the City net after 62 minutes. A cross into the box was deflected by a defender past ‘keeper Conor Tracey and into the net. But the assistant’s flag was up.
It appears the ‘goal’ was ruled out because Kailan Gould was a fraction offside, a decision jeered by Olympic supporters as they watched the big screen replay at the ground.
Olympic mount fightback and have the momentum
Olympic pulled back a goal in the 77th minute when Tor Davenport Petersen struck a sweet shot from 22 metres, giving Tracey little chance.
The goal triggered a manic period where Olympic had chance after chance.
Substitute Connor Gaul hit the crossbar. Tracey saved from Randall. The momentum was all Olympic’s.
With three minutes of normal time left, City hit their opponents with the sucker punch.
Gillion played a lovely ball into the path of substitute Angus Kilkolly and he calmly steered the ball inside the post.
In the final minute, Davenport Petersen was brought down in the penalty area, giving Olympic one more chance at salvaging the final.
Captain Ben Mata stepped up and struck the penalty past Tracey, making it 3-2 with at least six minutes of added time to be played.
Players on both sides ran themselves to a standstill and when referee Berg finally blew the whistle, it brought an end to 49 games this calendar year for the City players, and an historic quadruple.
Game played on Sunday December 4, 2022
Auckland City 3 (Liam Gillion 33′, Gerard Garriga 40′, Angus Kilkolly 88′)
Wellington Olympic 2 (Tor Davenport Petersen 77′, Ben Mata 90+1′ pen)
Steve Sumner Trophy
Auckland City’s Gerard Garriga was awarded the Steve Sumner Trophy for being the Grand Final’s Player of the Match.
It was presented to him by Beckett Sumner, grandson of the late Sumner, attending the game with his father, Carl Sumner.
Presented since 2018, the trophy ensures the football community continues to honour the memory of Sumner, who led New Zealand to the FIFA World Cup in 1982, won the national league five times (and a record six Chatham Cups).