Clapham shines as Dragons dominate
When Aaron Clapham clicks Canterbury United are a different class.
The ex-All White was on target twice yesterday as the Dragons whitewashed Waikato FC 4-0 to take a major step towards cementing a national football premiership playoffs berth.
Clapham netted either side of halftime - the second courtesy of the underside of the bar after belting a penalty attempt - to help Canterbury collect their second successive four-goal victory and keep a clean sheet for the first time in six games.
The Dragons are still in fourth place - just behind Auckland City on goal difference - but could climb the table if they beat second-ranked Hawke's Bay United in Napier on Sunday.
Clapham said the Hawke's Bay game is "massive" and his duel with another ex-international Cole Peverley could prove decisive.
Clapham, 26, is an irresistible force at ASB premiership level, particularly when striker Russell Kamo plays as strong a support act as he did during yesterday's second half.
But the team outcome meant more to captain Clapham than personal performance. "It was really important for us to pick up six points from these last two games, especially after the run of three bad results.
"To put on a couple of good performances and to score eight goals was just a bonus."
The stand-in skipper couldn't have picked a better time to score - two minutes before halftime after Canterbury had survived a couple of scares in a stop-start first half.
Clapham started and finished the move, combining with Nick Wortelboer and Ken Yamamoto down the left-hand edge before stepping inside to open up space. The ball was switched to the right flank where Clapham latched on to Darren White's cross to bundle it home.
Canterbury doubled their lead in controversial circumstances five minutes after the restart . Referee Peter O'Leary awarded Canterbury a penalty after a collision between striker Ash Wellbourn and Waikato keeper Neil Mouncher.
"That wasn't a penalty, the keeper had nowhere to go," said Waikato coach Mark Cossey.
It wasn't all Canterbury in the second spell - Dragons keeper Adam Highfield made three superb saves, including a brilliant effort from Jack Hobson-McVeigh's late freekick.
Kamo was a menace every time he ran at the Waikato defence, Wellbourn is holding the ball up well for his team-mates and teenager Yamamoto has added width and finesse to the forward effort.
Champions Waitakere United now have a 10-point lead after beating arch rivals Auckland City 3-2 on Saturday. Hawke's Bay jumped over Auckland into second after a 3-1 win over Otago United in Dunedin and Team Wellington remain fifth - six points behind Canterbury - after Wiremu Patrick and Hamish Watson both netted twice in a 6-0 hammering of Youngheart Manawatu.