Josh Rudland [green] challenging Napier City Rovers captain James Hoyle. PHOTO/WENDY TURTON

FOOTBALL

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Wairarapa United coach Davor Tavich was full of praise for the team’s courage in holding on for a 1-1 draw away to Central League heavyweights Napier City Rovers on Sunday.

Striker Josh Rudland was sent off for a second yellow card after 63 minutes and centreback Conor Turton was red-carded six minutes later for what Tavich described as a strong challenge on left-wing Liam Schofield.

“I don’t think there was anything malicious in it – Conor just went for the ball and probably collected a bit of leg at the same time,” Tavich said.

“I don’t think it was nasty; I think he got more of the ball than the player, and the kid carried on playing after lying and rolling around a bit,” he said.

The sending-offs changed the complexion of the game, with United forced to take a more defensive approach.

Midfielder Cameron Lindsay dropped back to fill Turton’s defensive role, and Tavich packed the midfield to shut down the Rovers’ attacking threats, leaving only Jonty Roubos in a forward position to try and catch the opposition on the counterattack.

Tavich said Cory Chettleburgh, Paul Ifill and Hugo Delhommelle in the midfield, and Lindsay when he dropped back to the back four, as well as Noah Boyce, Ben Watson and Scott Adams, and Alex Britton had outstanding games.

“All of them put a really good effort into it, and Napier didn’t really have any clear-cut chances,” Tavich said.

“I’m very proud, I told the players that was the bit that was missing and there’s no going back from now.

“We set a little bit of a standard, we proved that we could defend, and it just needed a bit more commitment and passion, and they showed that.”

Earlier, the game looked like it might be heading the same way of previous United matches when Englishman Schofield opened the scoring after 16 minutes, only for Rudland to even the scores three minutes later.

Josh Stevenson missed an open goal opportunity after 28 minutes and Ifill had the chance to give United the lead from the penalty spot in the 42nd minute.

Former United goalkeeper Richard Gillespie was up to the task though and pulled off an outstanding save.

“It was a good opportunity to go 2-1 up, but to be fair it was a good save. The penalty wasn’t badly hit, just that the keeper read it and he made a connection with the ball,” Tavich said.

United continued to match the fourth-placed Rovers across the pitch and Tavich thought the game was in the balance until the sending-offs.

“The midfield was very good, and we were solid at the back, and we looked dangerous on attack where Josh, Jonty, and Paul were always a threat.”

“If we had stayed at 11, it could have gone either way. I felt confident at that point, and then obviously after going down to nine it was all about protecting what we had and getting one point.

“They’re a big club, a big team and very strong, and away from home to get a point with nine men is a good achievement.”

To bounce back with such a strong defensive effort after conceding 14 goals in losses to Miramar Rangers [3-8] and North Wellington [0-6] proved to Tavich that the team is a match for the other teams.

“We can play good football, and we just have to keep doing it, because you just can’t do it one week and then the next week you get another thrashing.

“We should be confident now that it’s doable.”

Despite picking up the valuable point for the draw, United have slipped to last on goal difference and in the relegation spot in the Central League after Waterside-Karori had their first win of the championship, 4-2 over North Wellington.