Playoffs await Canterbury United
Canterbury United have qualified for the national league playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.
They drew 1-1 with Hawke's Bay United in Napier yesterday but challengers Team Wellington lost 3-2 to Auckland City after a last-minute winner by Daniel Koprivcic.
Fourth-placed Canterbury moved to seven points ahead of Wellington and cannot be headed with two games remaining.
Defending champions Waitakere United, Auckland and Hawke's Bay will also take part in next month's semifinals.
Canterbury coach Keith Braithwaite, who has made the playoffs every season in his four-year tenure, was relieved his initial goal has been achieved.
"Every competition you enter, you want to do well and aim to win it. Anything can happen once you are in the playoffs.
Braithwaite said Canterbury "could have been 3-0 up with a little bit of luck" in the first half after "a fantastic team performance" against Hawke's Bay.
They missed a gilt-edged opportunity when Darren White sprang the offside trap and rounded goalkeeper Richard Gillespie but he could not slot the ball home from a tight angle.
A Russell Kamo shot was cleared off the line and Bay captain Bill Robertson blocked several goalbound shots.
Hawke's Bay scored against the run of play in the 43rd minute when wing Conor Tinnion broke away and hit a speculative shot which beat Canterbury goalkeeper Adam Highfield and glanced into the net off the post.
"We went 1-0 behind but the lads showed great character to come back and equalise just before halftime," Braithwaite said.
Kamo picked out Aaron Clapham with a precision long pass. Clapham met it with his head and flicked it over Gillespie to tie the score in the second minute of injury time.
Canterbury went close to grabbing a deserved away victory in the second half but Robertson again came to the rescue, blocking a point-blank blast by White. Ex-All White Cole Peverley booted Dragons striker Ash Wellbourn's shot off the line.
White will miss Sunday's match against Youngheart Manawatu in Christchurch after picking up his fourth yellow card of the campaign yesterday.
In other results, Ryan de Vries grabbed a hat-trick as Waitakere United beat Otago United 4-1 in Dunedin. They now lead Auckland by seven points.
Youngheart Manawatu edged Waikato FC 3-2 in the basement battle in Hamilton.
Waitakere have 34 points, Auckland 27, Hawke's Bay 24, Canterbury 22, Wellington 15 and Otago, Waikato and Manawatu each have six.
- The Press