Dragons scorch champions
Canterbury United's confidence for the national league playoffs has soared after a convincing 3-1 win over titleholders Waitakere United.
Russell Kamo struck twice and Aaron Clapham converted a penalty in yesterday's ASB premiership regular season final round match at Whenuapai yesterday.
Goalkeeper Adam Highfield was the Canterbury Dragons' saviour with a first-half penalty save and several other superb stops, but coach Keith Braithwaite hailed the best result of the season as a total team performance.
"They are the league champions and the best in the country, but we have got a very good win against them. What it means is we are not afraid of anyone . . . we are capable of beating anyone."
Canterbury cemented third place in the minor premiership - a result guaranteed after Team Wellington upset fourth-ranked Hawke's Bay United 4-2 on Saturday.
The Dragons now host second-placed Auckland City in the first leg of the semifinal at English Park on Sunday with the return match set for Auckland on March 10. The victor will play the winner of the Waitakere-Hawke's Bay tie in the grand final.
Canterbury needs to win the final to join minor premiers Waitakere in the Oceania Champions League for the first time.
Waitakere had the opportunity to become only the second team to go through the regular season unbeaten but they foundered against a determined Dragons unit who were the last team to beat Waitakere - 16 games ago - in the first leg of last season's semifinals.
Braithwaite was bemused by both penalty awards in the first half. Clapham scored from the spot after referee Nick Waldron whistled for a slight push on Canterbury captain Dan Terris at a corner.
Highfield came to the rescue by blocking Allan Pearce's twice-taken shot.
Pearce set up Waitakere's equaliser two minutes later when his corner was touched on by Jake Butler for Milos Nikolic to bundle home.
Kamo scored a couple of carbon copy goals after jinking through the Waitakere defence to net in the 59th and 90th minutes.
Auckland clinched second place with a 3-1 win over Youngheart Manawatu, who collected their third wooden spoon.
Final points (after 14 rounds): Waitakere United 37, Auckland City 33, Canterbury United 28, Hawke's Bay United 24, Team Wellington 21, Waikato FC 9, Otago United 6, Youngheart Manawatu 6.