By Harrison Ryburn
Southern League champions Christchurch United will try to extend their unbeaten start to four games when they host winless Manurewa in the Men’s National League on Saturday.
Following three rounds of action, Christchurch United are third on the table with two wins and a draw, while Manurewa remain stuck at the foot of the ladder, despite playing out some close scorelines.
United have real ambitions of ending their national league title drought dating back to 1991, and the southerners have made a strong start to their campaign.
Main photo: Chatham Cup winners Christchurch United … ambitions to win the national league/cup double. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.
They opened with 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Eastern Suburbs and the Wellington Phoenix Reserves.
In such a short competition, there is no room for mistakes, though, and Christchurch United let three points from their grip last weekend, leading 2-0 away at Auckland United, before conceding two second half goals to settle for a 2-2 draw.
A screamer from striker Eoghan Stokes gave them lift-off at Keith Hay Park just before halftime, followed by the fortune of an own goal from Sione Fa’apoi to double their advantage in the 51st minute.
Backed on by the home crowd, Auckland United found a way to claw back the deficit, scoring two late goals from Yusuf Al-Kalisy and Xavier Green to steal a share of the points.
That result would have disappointed coach Paul Ifill, but they still remain right in the hunt for a Grand Final place after Wellington Olympic dropped points away to Cashmere Technical.
Irish striker Eoghan Stokes was the star of the show with his incredible first-half strike, scoring his first National League goal, and adding to the 15 he scored in the Southern League.
There’s no doubt about his quality, offering invaluable professional experience up front, having come through the Leeds United academy, and racked up over sixty appearances in the League of Ireland.
The challenge for Stokes will be backing up last weekend’s performance, and he should be confident, given Manurewa were on the receiving end of six goals to the Phoenix reserves last time out.
Eddie Wilkinson is another who’s caught the eye through the first third of the National League schedule, scoring a decisive solo goal against Eastern Suburbs back in round one, and offering some real flair through midfield.
Watch out for new signing Jonty Bidois too, who made his National League debut last weekend after joining from NRFL Championship winners Tauranga City.
He scored 22 goals in that title-winning run, and the young striker will be eager to get off the mark on the national stage.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t get any easier for Manurewa as they attempt to pick up their first points of the National League campaign.
The South Auckland club were former national champions back in 1983, but this season marks their return to the pinnacle of New Zealand domestic football since 1992.
They’ve lost all their first three matches, with the defence proving a major concern.
Twelve goals have been conceded across their first three, with 2-5 and 4-6 losses to Wellington Olympic and the Wellington Phoenix reserves.
However, it is worth noting that they only lost 0-1 Auckland City in round two, in what was a very encouraging showing against the defending champions and league leaders.
Which Manurewa side shows up on Saturday will be crucial then.
They were blitzed early on by the Phoenix reserves last weekend, trailing 0-3 at half-time and 1-5 just ten minutes into the second half.
That took the game away from them, and despite their best efforts at a comeback with three late goals, they ultimately fell to a 4-6 defeat in a goal bonanza.
As such, the defensive partnership of Shuaib Khan and Agustin Contratti will be key for Manurewa.
They’ve played in all three of the team’s National League games, and are going to have to find a way to keep the floodgates closed at United Sports Centre.
It’s clear who the target is down the other end of the field, with former All White Monty Patterson playing a major part in Manurewa’s reinvigoration this season.
The striker has represented New Zealand 15 times, scored 22 goals in the Northern League this season, and is already building a National League tally with two goals in three.
Any hopes of a Manurewa upset rest largely on him, and his ability to take his chances up front.
This promises to be an interesting affair, but Christchurch United should have enough about them to maintain their unbeaten streak and pick up three points.
Scott Morris, Frewen Watts
Nicholas Murphy, Riley Grover, Aaron O’Driscoll, Cameron Lindsay, Benjamin Lapslie
Louis King, Abdul Khalifa, Mason Stearn, Thomas Chao, Daniel Meyn, Matthew Tod-Smith, Jago Godden, Eoghan Stokes
Jackson Cole, Sam Philip, Daniel Maclennan, Haris Zeb, Joel Peterson, Luca Molnar, Edward Wilkinson, Sorasit Mac Prathumphitak, Jonty Bidois
Aydin Mustahib, David Masters, Roshan Kumar
Mohammed Muzakkir-Nabeel, Aidan Price, Dylan Horgan, Shuiab (Sammy) Khan, Agustin Contratti, Ronaldo Munoz, Dylan Morris, Caleb Prasad
James Hoyt, Connor Probert, Ethan Foo, Keen Mandizvidza, Boon Oxawa
Eric Kostandini Ziu, Monty Patterson, Hayat Ali Tobita, Nicolas (Nico) Bobadilla, James (Jamie) Cotter
Game to be played on Saturday October 14, 2023
Christchurch United v Manurewa
United Sports Centre, Christchurch, 3pm
Harrison Ryburn is a Canterbury-based football writer.