Hamilton Wanderers finish first national league season with loss to Hawke's Bay
Hamilton Wanderers' first national league football season is in the bag, coming to an end in disappointing fashion in Napier on Sunday.
There, they lost 4-0 to Hawke's Bay United, a result that meant the hosts qualified for the semifinals at the expense of Eastern Suburbs, and all three newcomers – Tasman United were the third – were left on the outside looking in.
While Wanderers were well short of full strength – one of many issues they will address as they prepare for their second season – they held Hawke's Bay to a stalemate for 40 minutes on Sunday at Bluewater Stadium, before conceding an own goal to open the scoring, which came only after their defender Sam O'Regan had a penalty kick saved.
That was then added to by Angus Kilkolly, Cory Chettleburgh and Facundo Barbero in the second half, as Hawke's Bay ran rampant and set up a semifinal with Auckland City at Kiwitea St next Saturday.
Hawke's Bay won the last time those two teams met – in Napier in February, just days after City returned from winning the Nike Lunar New Year Cup in Hong Kong – and will fancy their chances of a repeat performance.
If any of the Wanderers players take an interest in that clash, or the other semifinal, between Team Wellington and Waitakere United on Sunday, it will be as spectators only.
The four goals they conceded on Sunday took their total allowed for the season to the dreaded 50 mark, eight more than the next-worst team, Tasman United.
At the other end, they were held scoreless for the sixth time this season, finishing with just 24 strikes in 18 games, fewer than every team except Southern United.
If there was one positive for Wanderers to take, it was that they didn't claim the wooden spoon, which remained in Southern's hands for the third year running, after they were unable to beat Tasman on Saturday, losing 5-2 with former Wellington Phoenix striker Paul Ifill scoring four for the winners.
After finishing ninth, and losing nine of their last 10 matches, they will head into the winter, where coach Mark Cossey has no other commitments, unlike last year, when he took Wanderers' northern league side for most of it, and examine what went wrong, and what they're going to change.
A good place to start will be building a more stable squad, that is fully committed, and able to train together on a regular basis.
Across 18 games, Wanderers used 31 different starters and never fielded the same starting lineup twice. There were only four games where someone wasn't starting for the first time, including Sunday's finale. On top of that, another eight players were named on the bench at one point or the other, while three were signed but never featured.
Of those 42 players, 28 are either from, played, or will play their winter football in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty region, which Wanderers is charged with - and intent on - representing, and that is another glimmer of hope, one that contrasts strongly with the likes of Auckland City, Canterbury United, Hawke's Bay and Southern, who often fielded a majority of imports in their starting lineups this season.
AT A GLANCE
Stirling Sports Premiership, Rd 18
Hawke's Bay United 4 (OG, Kilkolly, Chettleburgh, Barbero) beat Hamilton Wanderers 0