Suburbs score late to keep title bid alive
It was another late escape but even though it took 85 minutes at ASB Football Park in Christchurch, Nelson Suburbs came away with three vital points in a 1-0 win over Christchurch United on Saturday.
Jordan Swaney's winner five minutes from time sank United's desperate bid to push off the bottom of the Mainland Premier League ladder and kept AMI Nelson Suburbs' hopes of a fourth title alive for another week.
Both Ferrymead Bays (40 points) and Cashmere Technical (37 points) had big wins to remain ahead of Suburbs (36) and with only two games remaining a Bays victory next weekend would see Suburbs' chances dissipate.
A win, no matter how it came, was what the sky blues needed when they turned out on the artificial surface in St Albans.
For Christchurch United, the point from a draw would have lifted them off bottom spot and reduced the relegation pressure, but to their credit United still sent men forward. It would have been easy for United to enter this game with a negative mindset, throwing men behind the ball in the hope they could hold out for a draw, or limit the damage given the seven goals Suburbs put past them in their last meeting. But away from home Suburbs were made to work hard, defend stoutly and sweat on a late winner.
Playing in a 4-3-3 formation, Brandon Kay was joined up front by Michael White and Denis Ifunaoa. Willow Milligan was sitting behind them, with Swaney on one side and captain Mark Johnston on the other.
At the back, Francisco Sepulveda made his starting debut alongside Darryn Cunningham with David Malloy returning to right back and Callum Rollo on the left.
This team has a vastly different look to the side which led the league mid-season. The endless changes due to injuries and departures have seen a lack of stability in personnel transfer to a lack of consistency on the pitch from week to week.
United were up for this one from the first whistle, with Suburbs creating only a few half chances in the first period of play. Suburbs enjoyed more of the ball, but led by Garry Bint the United defence closed down Suburbs' attack well.
The Suburbs back four were even harder to break down, led by the dependable Cunningham, who formed a good understanding with Sepulveda, while Malloy brought his usual tenacious play. Their effort was mirrored by the secure work of goalkeeper Coey Turipa. In addition to making a couple of saves and communicating well from the back, Turipa came out to quash a number of crosses before the ball could reach the tall Christchurch timber.
The danger man for United was Chris Anderson. Traditionally a striker, Anderson played as an attacking midfielder, the prime target for a number of balls in from close to the byline. As the game entered the last 10 minutes both teams pushed forward creating chances, but it was Suburbs midfield man who hit the target.
Co-coach Ben Wright came on as a substitute late in the match and a booming kick from Turipa found the target man up front.
Wright headed it down to Swaney who took a good first touch, set himself and struck a great left-foot shot through traffic into the corner of the net.
This was the second time in as many weeks Suburbs have triumphed in the final minutes of a match, after they scored two late goals to overcome FC Twenty 11 at home. It does nothing for the coaches' blood-pressure, but boosts belief in the team's ability to close out a game.
"They made it very difficult for us; they are at the bottom of the league and they worked really hard, especially in midfield," said Wright.
"We didn't play great. At times we passed the ball round well, but it wasn't our best performance this season.
"It was important that we won today.
"It wasn't the greatest spectacle. It was a tough game but we got the goal in the end, so we are pleased."
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