Freak goal denies Suburbs
If two-time defending champions Ferrymead Bays set the standard in the Mainland Premier League, Nelson Suburbs are all but at that level, with only a "freak goal" separating the two sides at Saxton Field yesterday.
AMI Nelson Suburbs picked up their first loss this season, a 1-0 defeat to Bays, who have now won three games on the trot to open their title defence.
In a fast and physical game of football played between two of the top MPL sides, the only goal came from an error in the opening minutes of the match.
Suburbs goalkeeper Coey Turipa gave away what Ferrymead Bays coach Mick Braithwaite described as "an early Christmas present" to the opposition, though Suburbs co-coach Paul Brydon explained he was left somewhat unsighted twice.
"He has held the ball and then rolled it on the ground [to clear]," said Brydon. "Then Russell Kamo came and blindsided him. [Turipa] just whacked it straight into him, the ball bounced and Coey didn't know where it was, then Kamo has just put it in.
"It was a freak goal, to be honest."
From there, Suburbs played with the harrying freshness of a side that looked as though they hadn't played a game two days prior.
Hanging off the Bays players and then playing out well from the back, Suburbs created a number of quality chances. They limited their class opposition to opportunities from set pieces where the talents of Kamo and Michael White combined well.
Suburbs' best chance for an equaliser came in the last play when Wes Olea met a perfect cross into the box just to see his header hit the crossbar. The Suburbs faithful were up again as Brandon Kay's shot from the ricochet slammed into the side netting.
On those occasions the bane of the Suburbs' strikers, Bays goalkeeper Adam Highfield, had been beaten, though he had denied Olea and others earlier in the match.
Directly after halftime Kay was searching for his third goal this season. His sliding, low shot was stopped by Highfield, who trapped and held the shot between his outstretched right hand and the ground.
Not only stopping shots, Highfield also organised Bays from the back with blunt authority. Nelson Suburbs captain Mark Johnson said he is one of the major reasons Bays have three clean sheets and are chasing three titles in a row.
"[Highfield] has been the difference in the league the last couple of seasons," said Johnson yesterday. "He makes those key saves and it wins them matches, as you can see today; without him it could have been 3-1."
Braithwaite said a draw would not have been a bad result in what was a battle of "rearguard action", and Brydon was pleased to limit a team that had scored eight goals in their two previous games to an opportune early winner.
"I thought it was a good game between two evenly matched sides, with a disappointing result at the end," said Brydon. "I can't fault the lads' effort - it was 100 per cent, and if we do that every week, we will be up there."
A busy Ryan Stewart and midfielder Peter Whyte continue to bring a lot to the side, and Sean Parkes showed he is comfortable playing at both left back and on the wing up front.
Johnson delivered another consummate performance at the back, and is helping to lead a line that has conceded just the solitary goal from three matches.
For Nelson Suburbs, the defensive combination with the direct play of Johnny Gough and the inclination for their team-mates to drop back and work in defence is one of the most impressive signs and Johnson believes that bodes well for a good season.
"I think we are pretty solid," said Johnson. "We have got a lot more experience and organisation this year.
"We have lost a lot of X-factor from last year but we are definitely going to finish at the top of the table this year, whether it is first, second or third. [Ferrymead Bays] are the benchmark and we are not too far behind them."
The dynamic edge could not be too far away for Suburbs as Chilean midfielder Alberto Zabala is likely to return promptly, and Solomon Warriors FC strike weapons Gagame Feni and Sam Ayers are likely to be back after the O-League is completed in May.
After three rounds, Nelson Suburbs sit fourth out of eight teams, three points behind leaders Ferrymead Bays.
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