Wairarapa United skipper Cameron Lindsay towers over for a header as Rovers defender Jamie Wilkinson arrives too late at Park Island, Napier, on Saturday. PHOTO/HAWKE’S BAY TODAY

FOOTBALL

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

The Wairarapa United men’s team did their best to spoil Napier City Rovers’ party on Saturday, but as has so often been the case this season, came up just short.

The 2-1 result ensured the Central League trophy would head to Napier for the first time since 2015.

Both teams knew exactly what was at stake before the match kicked off, with Rovers needing a draw or win to guarantee they would be champions for 2018.

United coach Phil Keinzley had said he expected Rovers to come out chasing an early goal to give themselves some breathing space, and that is exactly what transpired when Martin Bueno opened the scoring with a header.

Rovers maintained that lead until halftime, and United captain Cam Lindsay said they were confident they would be able to turn it around in the second half.

“There was quite a strong wind throughout the game and we were playing into it in the first half which made it difficult for us to get out of the back third and middle third.

“They scored from a header and we were disappointed we didn’t defend it, but we knew having the wind in the second half would be a huge advantage for us.”

And so it proved, as United attacked relentlessly in search of an equalising goal.

In similar circumstances to their Chatham Cup quarterfinal loss to Birkenhead United three weeks ago, United dominated possession and territory but struggled to capitalise on the momentum.

A red card to Hamish Watson 20 minutes from fulltime made things even more difficult for United, but striker Paul Ifill stepped up with seven minutes remaining to level the scores and send some nerves through the Rovers’ camp.

“To be fair, the pressure was relentless,” Lindsay said.

“Unfortunately, Hamish got his second yellow with about 20 minutes to go, but if you were watching the game you probably would have thought they had 10 men.”

United threw bodies forward in an effort to steal a late winner, but that left them vulnerable at the defensive end and Rovers pounced to score the league-winning goal in the dying moment.

Lindsay said the result was a reflection of their season as a whole.

“It summed up our season really – we were good in periods and really bad in periods.

“They were more consistent than us, so fair play to them.”

The result means United finish eighth in the 10-team competition, and they can put that down to an awful start to the campaign.

Lindsay said despite playing out a sub-par season overall, there were positives to take into next year.

“The second half of the season has been a lot better than the first – it just comes down to that consistency and maintaining that over 90 minutes rather than just having patches.

“You might be better than the team you’re playing but if they’re more consistent they’re likely to pick up the points.”

Meanwhile, in women’s W-League action, Wairarapa United were guaranteed to finish as runners-up but ended their campaign on a high with an emphatic 5-0 win over Palmerston North Marist.

They will now prepare for a Kelly Cup semifinal clash with Wellington United tomorrow night.