Wins for Waitakere and Auckland
Northern powerhouses Waitakere United and Auckland City are on track to feature in yet another national football league final after securing first leg semifinal victories away from home today.
Waitakere, the minor premiers, eased to a 4-1 win over Hawke's Bay United in Napier while Auckland scored a 2-1 win over Canterbury United in Christchurch.
It leaves Hawke's Bay with the seemingly impossible task of beating Waitakere by four goals in next weekend's return leg to progress to the final, though Canterbury will fancy their chances of overturning in Auckland slightly more, given their performance in today's loss.
Canterbury made all the running in the first half at English Park but somehow found themselves trailing 1-0 at the break.
Andrew Barton (twice) and Ashley Wellbourn had goal-bound efforts scrambled off the line, Aaron Clapham's early free kick clattered into the post, and Russell Kamo should have been awarded a penalty in the second minute, but it was the visitors who would break the deadlock with their only real chance of the first 35 minutes.
And what a beauty it was.
Canterbury failed to clear from a rare Auckland corner and after some aerial ping pong, the ball fell to midfielder Chris Bale who swivelled and struck a tremendous waist-high volley from 10m out which thundered past goalkeeper Adam Highfield and into the roof of the net.
City had a couple of half chances toward the end of the half, the closest of which saw Ivan Vicelich head over the bar, but otherwise Canterbury would have been wondering just how they found themselves behind as they trudged off the park.
The southerners got the equaliser they deserved in the 68th minute, when Wellbourn scooted in behind the City defence, beat goalkeeper Tamati Williams, and finished off the post.
But they drifted asleep from the kickoff and moments later James Pritchett found Manel Exposito at the far post, and the striker didn't miss with a well placed header.
The home side continued to press but Auckland killed the game off professionally and almost pinched a third goal when Canterbury were forced to press numbers forward in the final 10 minutes.
In Napier, Waitakere led 2-0 at halftime courtesy of a double to Roy Krishna while a second half header from captain Jake Butler and a strike from Chad Coombes put them 4-0 up with 15 minutes to play, before Cole Peverley scored a consolation goal from the penalty spot for the hosts.