Canterbury Dragons fans dare to dream
Could this be Canterbury United's year?
The Canterbury faithful have never had a national league title. However, they got an early Christmas present when Aaron Clapham and his cobbers hammered high-flying Hawke's Bay United 4-0 at English Park yesterday.
The Dragons rose to second place in the ASB premiership and scores of supporters streamed for the exit enthusing over Canterbury's new-found firepower.
Clapham claimed a double as premier player of the month Russell Kamo also netted and captain Dan Terris grabbed his third goal in his 113th game.
"That was a great team performance, we could have won by a few more," coach Keith Braithwaite said after Canterbury collected their fourth consecutive win and took their goals tally to nine for and none against in the past two rounds.
"We are getting better each week, the lads are really enjoying it and working hard. The back-four were quality, passing the ball around, especially Vlad [Bayrev].
"Nick Wortelboer came in and had another good game at left back and Andy Barton worked tirelessly for us down the left side."
Braithwaite was equally effusive about his forwards, saying he had always loved Kamo's bustling, unselfish style of play.
Victory was never in doubt after the Dragons led 2-0 at halftime. The gift victory was sealed when Hawke's Bay's former All White midfielder, Cole Peverley, was sent off in the 51st minute after a two-footed tackle on Vlad Bayrev.
The Dragons defence kept Sean Lovemore, the league's top scorer, under wraps, with all the action at the Hawke's Bay defensive end.
Canterbury carried on their sparkling attack form from their 3-2 mid-week win over the Wellington Phoenix Reserves.
Their big players - Clapham, Kamo, Barton, Dimitar Bayrev and Darren White - had too much skill and movement for their Hawke's Bay hasslers.
The Dragons could have been 4-0 ahead at halftime had Kamo and Terris converted chances. However, both goals were crackers.
Terris started a sweeping move that culminated in Clapham and Dimitar Bayrev exchanging passes.
Bayrev displayed composure to tee up Clapham as the former All White burst into the box and finessed a shot into the far corner.
Barton showed great determination to shrug off his marker on the left-edge of the Bay box. He squared the ball to an unmarked Kamo, who confidently struck a first-time shot beyond Richard Gillespie's reach.
Kamo should have slotted a second goal on the cusp of halftime after the Hawke's Bay defence again failed to clear another Clapham freekick that bounced ominously inside the area.
However, Kamo let them off the hook, misfiring from close range.
Canterbury kept pouring forward in the second spell. Clapham crashed home a penalty in the 61st minute after Kamo was pole-axed in the penalty area.
Terris atoned for his first-half miss when he rose high to head home Clapham's corner in the 74th minute.
Substitutes Ken Yamamoto and Ash Wellbourn also went close, underlining Braithwaite's belief that Canterbury have the strength in depth for another tilt at the premiership playoffs.
Waitakere United are the outright leaders with 13 points after a 4-1 win over Otago United. Canterbury are second on 13.
The Mainland Pride will host Auckland in the national women's football league semifinals at English Park on Sunday after finishing section play with a 6-1 win over Central. Midfielder Emma Proctor scored twice in Palmerston North yesterday as the Pride finished top of the southern conference table after five wins and a draw from six matches. Nelson defender Emily Jensen gave Mainland the lead in the eighth minute and Aimee Phillips took the score to 2-0 before Central reduced the deficit through Jane Barnett. However, Proctor was on target in the 60th and 73rd minutes and Orla Dawson and Dayna Napa scored in the final two minutes to complete a comprehensive win for Gareth Turnbull's Mainland team. Auckland beat Waikato Bay of Plenty 4-2 to earn a trip to Christchurch. Northern won the northern section with an identical record – five wins and a draw – to Mainland after a 7-0 win yesterday over the Northern-based national under-17 squad.