Tasman United's first season in the Premiership a success on and off the field
Five things we learned from Tasman United's first season in the Premiership.
1 Nelson's return to the national stage has been a success ... In hindsight it seems crazy to think that New Zealand Football ignored Nelson for so long. Tasman ticked all the boxes off the field, drawing large crowds by Premiership standards, creating strong community engagement and, crucially, being financially viable too. The on field performances should be given a pass mark after their late season resurgence lifted the Tasman to eighth place on 17 points with a record of four wins, five draws and nine losses. Victories over Eastern Suburbs and Southern United will go down as their best results but drawing with heavyweights Auckland City and Waitakere United were just as memorable.
2 Davor Tavich should have been coach all along ... Richard Anderson built the foundations and deserves credit for that. It's often forgotten that he was tasked with coaching a completely new team that featured numerous players who had never played at Premiership level before. But Tavich was far more successful when he took over late in the season and his record of three wins, one draw and one loss proves he should have had the top job all along. It would be shocking to overlook him again next season.
3 Paul Ifill has still got it ... Eight goals from 17 games isn't the return the 37-year-old former Phoenix star was hoping for in his first season with Tasman but it was still enough to earn him the team's Golden Boot award. His experience and leadership was invaluable, particularly when Tavich was the only coach left at the franchise. Ifill helped Tasman attract players, including the club's player of the year Cameron Lindsay, and will continue to do so. He also provided the highlight of the season when he scored four goals against Southern.
4 The future is bright but keep thinking local ... There were many times during the early stages of the season when the lack of locals in the match-day squad came under scrutiny. But that changed under Tavich to the point where there was a period during Saturday's game when Nelson teenagers Matt Tod-Smith, Labu Pan, David Maisey, Callan Elliot and Chester Gaskin were all on the field together. Tavich commented afterwards that none of them looked out of place and, form permitting, they are not only a good chance of making the squad next year but should have larger responsibilities. The whole point of Tasman is to complete the pathway for the region's young talent so let's hope next year's squad features less out-of-town fill ins who don't even last the 18 rounds and more of the players who will be there for years to come.
5 Retaining the bulk of the squad is key but additions still needed ... Of the squad that saw out the season, you could make a case that each of them should be signed next year and there are not too many additions that will be needed in order to lift the team into playoff contention should the current crop return. Securing Ifill, Lindsay and Robbie Pearson is the highest priority of the out-of-towners with the future of Tinashe Marowa and Ermal Hajdari unclear as the talented wingers hope to kick on to a higher level. Back up for Coey Turipa, more cover in defence and a top quality striker will be high on the shopping list, with former Richmond Athletic players Sam Mason-Smith (11 goals) and Ben Harris (10 goals) both realistic targets due to their ties to the region. As long as they remain injury-free, experienced Nelson Suburbs strikers Ben Wright and Campbell Banks could provide attacking depth on the bench that wasn't there this season.