Rebuilt Suburbs pick off Twenty 11

A new look Nelson Suburbs side has shrugged off a soft pre-season to pick off a "match-hardened" FC Twenty 11 team 2-0 in their Mainland Premier League opener in Christchurch on Saturday.

With seven players making their MPL debut and coming off a couple of eight-goal routs in one-sided local warm-up games, the AMI Nelson Suburbs side could have been forgiven a slow start. That was what their opposition were expecting at ASB Football Park.

Having played five pre-season matches against MPL opposition, Twenty 11 thought they could catch the Nelson side on the hop.

But hard work and two second-half goals gave Suburbs the start they were after.

Both teams threatened in a fairly even first half, chances were created but not finished as the sides turned still tied and the game goalless.

Suburbs continued to press their opposition high and got the breakthrough from a set piece in the 63rd minute. Sean Parkes sent in a great delivery to the near post and Brandon Kay made a good run in, getting in front of his marker to meet the cross and send the glancing header into the netting.

From there the FC Twenty 11 side became vexed with a match that was slipping out of reach. That frustration came to a head with an incident 15 minutes from time when a straight red card was given to Twenty 11's central defender Stu Bola for an ugly challenge on one of Suburbs' key off-season acquisitions, Alberto Allende Zabala.

The Chilean import had been a classy presence in midfield, but an injury picked up in the "reckless" tackle has him in doubt for next week's home game. Zabala's combination with Peter Whyte in the centre of the park was a strength of the Suburbs' game, along with the work of Mark Johnson and Johnny Gough in the central defence positions.

On the wings, Parkes and Nelson Falcons player Neil Mason worked tirelessly up and down the edges, and Mason's endeavour was rewarded with a goal two minutes from the final whistle.

Co-coach Ben Wright, who came on for a five-minute cameo, played a ball on for Neil Connell in an advanced position. Connell had his initial shot blocked, but was collected enough to lay-off the rebound for Mason who made no mistake and sent Suburbs home convincing victors.

Wright said it was a solid performance away from home and the determination Suburbs demonstrated would provide a good base to build on.

"The effort was there, the boys put a real shift in and worked really hard," said Wright. "We try to play on the front foot in their half and the boys showed they are quite fit. We created quite a few chances, I though the shape of the team was good at times.

"Obviously, we hadn't been tested against Mainland opposition, so I was pleased."

FC Twenty 11 team manager Paul Clarke said Suburbs had simply taken the opportunities on offer.

"It was an even first half, there were chances at both ends, second half the game was crying out for a goal and whoever got that would probably come out on top."

Nelson Suburbs have two home matches during Easter weekend.

The Nelson Mail