Canterbury United Dragons lose game, top duo
Canterbury United might have to hit the Boxing Day sales to replace their homeward-bound Bulgarian brothers after yesterday's pre-Christmas carve-up by champions Waitakere United.
Coach Keith Braithwaite confirmed after Canterbury's 3-1 loss at English Park yesterday that Vladimir and Dimitri Bayrev had played their final game for the Dragons and were heading back to Bulgaria.
Braithwaite said the two skilful former Bulgarian first-division players who had done well for the Dragons were "homesick".
"We knew it was only going to be for the season or for half a season. They've adapted well, they haven't let us down. We'll have a look at the squad we've got then get on the phone and see who's around . . . we'll weigh our options up over the next couple of weeks," he said.
Waitakere's win - highlighted by clinically executed goals from man-of-the-match skipper Jake Butler, dangerous Fijian international striker Roy Krishna and Ryan de Vries - broke Canterbury's record-equalling five-match winning streak.
The three goals were the first the Dragons had conceded in four games and emphasised the gap in class between Canterbury and ASB premiership perennial pacesetters Waitakere and Auckland City, who beat the Dragons 5-2 in the opening round.
Canterbury are still second but are four points behind leaders Waitakere and just two ahead of Hawke's Bay United. Auckland, who beat Youngheart Manawatu, are four points adrift of Canterbury but have two games in hand after attending the Club World Cup finals tournament in Japan.
Braithwaite said finishing proved the difference in yesterday's game.
"They're clinical in the attacking third."
Waitakere coach Paul Marshall felt Canterbury hardly troubled his defence apart from their set-piece goal in the eighth minute when captain Dan Terris headed home Darren White's corner.
Canterbury's hopes were raised when Waitakere scratched ex-All Whites midfielder David Mulligan because of a neck injury but the Dragons suffered their own pre-match blow. Playmaker Aaron Clapham was struck by a stomach bug and vomited in the dressing room.
"We were borderline to pull him [out of the game] but he said he'd give it a go," Braithwaite said. "We thought we'd get maybe 25 minutes, so to get an an hour out of him wasn't too bad."
However, Clapham vomited again at halftime and was later replaced by flatmate Julyan Collett.
Marshall said Waitakere's game-plan was based on keeping Clapham "away from the ball" and Butler did so.
Canterbury paid the price for giving away too much ball to put themselves back under pressure, with central midfielder Josh Smith the chief culprit.
It looked promising for Canterbury when White won a corner with some flicks and tricks and picked out Terris at the back post for the skipper to score in a second consecutive home game. However, dithering by the Dragons gave Butler the space to tee up a 20m shot, which he laced into the corner of the net for a 15th-minute equaliser.
The West Aucklanders switched strategies in the second half, playing balls in behind the Canterbury defence for fleet-footed forwards Krishna, Allan Pearce and Max Manko to take. The visiting strikers combined superbly for Waitakere's second goal in the 53rd minute, with Krishna controlling the ball cleverly before volleying past keeper Adam Highfield.
Canterbury's attack failed to hit top gear, with Dimitri Bayrev, Russell Kamo and Andy Barton shackled by a Waitakere defence marshalled by Irish import Brian Shelley. White also wilted after a bright start.
Substitute Ash Wellbourn shot narrowly wide after the Dragons' best move featuring Smith, White, Nick Wortelboer and energetic replacement Ken Yamamoto, who had a later effort deflected for a corner.
Canterbury pressed forward but were caught on the break in the 88th minute, with de Vries' first touch taking the ball beyond Terris before unleashing a sizzling shot high into the far corner of the Dragons' net.