NZFC - Round 9, Croatian Club, Saturday 19 January 2008 - 4pm
Salesh Kumar 20
Halftime: 1-0 Referee: Kevin Stoltencamp Crowd: 650
by Bob Pearce at the Croatian Cultural Society
Auckland City extended their unbeaten run in the New Zealand Football Championship to 14 games with a 3-0 victory over Otago United but they paid a price.
Rupesh Puna, one of the stalwarts of their defence, was carried off with a severe knee injury shortly after the start and seems unlikely to be available for some time. His loss adds to a worrying casualty list for the league leaders.
They started the game with something of a makeshift lineup, further weakened when Riki Van Steeden failed a fitness test, and they were confronted by an Otago side boosted by their win against Canterbury in their last game and a huge improvement on the team beaten by Waitakere in their last visit to Auckland.
The Southerners were 0-1 down at halftime after defender Salesh Kumar capitalised on a half-cleared corner in the 20th minute. But it wasn't until the 70th minute that Auckland had the security of a Grant Young goal and the bonus of another from Chad Coombes six minutes later.
"These are difficult games when you're on top," said Auckland coach Colin Tuaa, "so it was a good three points.
"They created a couple of chances but we also missed a bagful. We've got to be a bit more ruthless and turn those chances into goals."
Tuaa was very pleased with the performance of Kumar, who has joined Auckland's league squad in place of Henry Fa'arodo, who has signed to play professionally in Australia.
"It was his first game and he quickly found his feet," said Tuaa. "Rupesh Puna's injury looks bad and that's a blow because he's been very good for us."
Otago coach Terry Phelan was blunt: "We had three clear-cut chances and we didn't put them in. Players have got to realise you've got to put those chances away at this level.
"I'm disappointed. We came here to play positively and we did. We can't keep on saying we're unlucky. We've got to defend better and put those chances away."
Hot and windy conditions and a very hard and bumpy surface at the Croatian Cultural Society ground made for some untidy play from both sides. Kumar had a shot headed off the line by Nick Dale before he capitalised on a half-cleared corner for the opening goal.
Ten minutes later Andy Coburn should have equalised when clear in front of goal but he stabbed his left-foot shot over the bar.
Early in the second half Joel Mathews shot even wider when clear for Auckland in almost the same spot and at the other end Chad Severs had his shot cleared off the line by James Pritchett into the arms of goalkeeper Ross Nicholson.
Young, who had threatened on several occasions, finally added Auckland's second from an acute angle as several defenders tried to head the ball clear. Coombes' goal followed a right-wing corner, which fell to Greg Uhlmann who supplied a defence-splitting pass.
Kumar, Uhlmann and Ben Sigmund were the strength of the Auckland defence. Coombes was a force up front in the absence of some of the other first-choice strikers. Otago showed a huge improvement on their ultra-defensive effort against Waitakere. Severs, Aaron Burgess and Ben Keat were terriers up front while Kevin Taylor and Dale defended stoutly.
Referee Kevin Stoltenkamp deserves praise for yet another measured display that enhanced the game.
Photos: Shane Wenzlick www.phototek.co.nz
1 Ross Nicholson (GK)
1 Liam Little (GK)
2 Joel Mathews
4 Tristan Prattley
5 Ben Sigmund (off 81)
6 Terry Alvino
6 Ki Hyung Lee
18 Mike Smith
8 Chad Coombes
2 Nick Dale
10 Grant Young
17 Croyden Wheeler (off 62)
11 Luiz Del Monte (off 67)
5 Kevin Taylor
15 Jeff Campbell
21 Ben Keat (off 49)
19 Salesh Kumar
11 Andy Coburn
20 Greg Uhlmann
12 Aaron Burgess
26 Rupesh Puna (off 3)
14 Chad Severs (off 73)
7 James Pritchett (on 3)
3 Terry Phelan
12 Tamati Williams (GK)
9 John Lang (on 49)
13 Alex Fenerides (on 67)
16 Jessie Malloy (on 62)
27 John Niyonsaba (on 81)
8 Mike Flaws (on 73)
=2 yellow cards
= red card
Warm and windy with a growing crowd. No sign of rain as yet. Otago coach Terry Phelan starts on the bench. Minute's silence for Sir Edmund Hillary.
We're off with Auckland playing with the wind.
Rupesh Puna carried off after suffering knee injury
James Pritchett replaces Puna.
Auckland corner. Otago break but Coburn's shot well wide after deflection.
Otago concede corner after good cross by Del Monte. Shot by Kumar heaed off line by Dale
GOAL! 1-0 Auckland. Right and left wing corners for Auckland partially cleared by Coburn but Lee plays ball back and Kumar scores.
Chad Coombes just wide after run by Del Monte
Good build-up by Otago. Coburn clear in front of goal stabs left-foot shot over bar.
Young breaks through but Del Monte drags shot wide.
Lee clear for shot. Last seen heading for Henderson!
45 + 3 mins
Halftime whistle. Otago goal down but still very much in game. Much improved on last visit to Auckland.
Off again. No changes.
Joel Mathews clear and five metres out blasts over Otago bar.
Otago substitution Croyden Wheeler off, John Lang on.
Coombes only goalie to beat, thwarted by Liam Little and ball finally cleared.
Severs shot kicked off line by Pritchett, collected by Nicholson.
Yellow card. Chad coombes in the book for kicking ball away.
Long-range shot by Ben Keat, dipping but over bar.
Substitution Otago. Jessie Malloy on for Ben Keat.
Substitution Auckland. Alex Fenerides replaces Luiz Del Monte.
GOAL! Auckland 2-0. Grant Young outflanks the defence and scores from acute angle as Otago defenders try to head clear.
Substitution Otago. Mike Flaws on for Chad Severs.
GOAL! Auckland 3-0. Right wing corner, cleared to Greg Uhlmann, feeds unmarked Chad Coombes, who lasshed ball home.
Substitution Auckland. John Niyonsaba on for Ben Sigmund.
Coombes wins ball in penalty area but shoots wide.
Four minutes of time to be added on.
90 + 1
Young fires wide from close range.
90 + 4
Fulltime. Auckland 3 Otago 0.