Suburbs bring league leaders back to earth
Nelson Suburbs' 1-0 away victory over Cashmere Technical is significant for several reasons, but topping the list is redemption.
Suburbs' sixth win in succession came thanks to Alex Ridsdale's goal midway through the first half at Garrick Memorial Park on Saturday.
Suburbs became the first team to take points off the defending Mainland Premier League champions this season, let alone beat them and keep them scoreless, after Tech had amassed 37 goals in their previous 10 games.
Suburbs also successfully defended a proud league record, ending Tech's bid to become only the second club to go a calendar year without a loss.
Suburbs were the last side to beat Tech in the MPL, a classy 3-0 defeat at Saxton Field on the first day of winter last year. Tech went on to win the league title and the Chatham Cup - but Suburbs' third straight away win means the unbeaten record will stay with the sky blues.
Toppling Tech also means the title race is back on, with Tech, on 30 points, now just five clear of Western, with Suburbs in third place on 21. Suburbs host Western next week.
Yet, when all the permutations and points are stripped back, Saturday's match was all about setting the record straight.
"Obviously, we are delighted. It was a good, good result. After losing 8-0 a few weeks ago, to go down there and beat them 1-0 is great," said striker and co-coach Ben Wright.
"Obviously, it is relief at first. Once you are in the changing sheds, on the flight back and later in the evening, you are able to enjoy it."
Before the game, reflecting on their first-round flogging by Tech, Suburbs captain Ryan Stewart said that all the players wanted was to perform the way they knew they could. In doing so, they knocked over the top team and restored themselves to a status worthy of the three-time champion club they are.
It was a tough game, played at a high standard, and from the outset Suburbs showed their intentions with good movement. They controlled the midfield through Erik Panzer and Davi Maciel and wide men Stewart and Ridsdale.
Midfield dominance meant they were able to play their style of game, with short passes into the final third and getting the ball to the strikers' feet, where Wright and Davitt Walsh caused problems for Tech's solid defensive line.
The only goal, Ridsdale's third in as many weeks, came from a similar buildup. The ball was worked down the right-hand side and switched across to the left wing. Ridsdale then cut inside on his right foot and bent the strike around the keeper and into the back of the net from the edge of the penalty area.
"Alex has shown great attitude since he has been back," Wright said. "He works hard and is scoring goals at the minute, so long may it continue."
In the second half, Tech were chasing the game and had the bulk of possession, but Suburbs' defence held firm.
"They were on the front foot but defensively, we stood up to it," Wright said. "They had more of the play but didn't create too many clear-cut opportunities.
"It was a great team performance. We defended well and saw the game out."
Tech coach John Brown was sincere in his assessment of the match when he said that Suburbs deserved the win.
Earlier in the season, Suburbs were as flimsy as wet fibreboard in defence, but the back five now have confidence in each other and options in cover.
It was a totally new centre back pairing that did the job against Tech. Sam Ayers filled in at the back for the injured Harry Tod-Smith and worked hard alongside Johnny Gough, whose form has been a barometer for Suburbs' season.
"Goughy seems to be getting better every game, and he was carrying a knock," said Wright. "He almost relishes those sorts of games. It was a high-intensity game, and he thrives on that."
Keeper Cameron Thomas, who collected his second clean sheet on the bounce against another top-four side, was another player who stood out.
"He made a couple of good saves but he came out for crosses, caught when he needed and punched when he needed to. The back four feel secure with Cameron."
But the win came from an entire team responding to pressure. Panzer provided a good vanguard in front of the line, while Walsh and the wingers worked hard to get back and help fullbacks Sean Parkes and Josh Moffat.
Wright was circumspect when talking about what such a win means within a season.
"The boys are just enjoying their football at the minute. We have got a good, tight squad. It is a cliche, but we will take it one game at a time and try to keep this run going."
- The Nelson Mail