Clapham puts on another clinic in midfield
Two Aaron Clapham strikes and a freakish freekick goal earned Canterbury United an early Christmas present on a festive football occasion at English Park.
The victorious Mainland Pride national title winning women's team were feted in a halftime parade and former All Whites Ryan Nelsen and Brent Fisher were among the onlookers as Canterbury toppled four-time champions Waitakere United 3-2.
A bunch of boiler-suit clad fans sporting Santa hats watched from the embankment as Canterbury coach Keith Braithwaite pointed to his wristwatch, imploring the referee to blow the final whistle after an agonising 6 minutes 20 seconds of stoppage time.
Canterbury moved up to fourth place on goal difference, but have the same points as Hawke's Bay United, who have a game in hand.
Braithwaite praised "a tremendous first-half performance" by his Canterbury charges and said the Dragons "were dominant for the first hour" before conceding a couple of goals out of the blue.
Clapham - who must surely be a January transfer window target for the winless Wellington Phoenix A-League club - put on another clinic in midfield, totally overshadowing All Whites teammate Jake Butler.
"Clapham, [Stu] Kelly, [Steve] Morrison and [Cory] Mitchell just over-ran them in midfield in the first half; we passed the ball better than them and Russell [Kamo] looked like the Russell of old and [Federico] Marquez also caused them problems," Braithwaite said.
Canterbury played with much more width and verve down the flanks with right back Pablo Moya - who shut out former Celtic forward Jordan Lowdon - instrumental in creating Canterbury's first goal.
Moya broke down the right flank in the 19th minute and crossed perfectly into Clapham's pass. The All Whites playmaker thought: "Jackpot. When the ball's rolling across the front of goal from six yards out, you don't miss too many of those."
Clapham slammed an unstoppable shot past Waitakere keeper Danny Robinson for a 1-0 lead and doubled the advantage with another copybook penalty in the 31st minute when Kamo was felled by Chad Coombes.
Kamo headed a Danny Boys' freekick over the bar in the 35th minute and Waitakere missed a gilt-edged chance on the stroke of halftime when spread-eagled striker Sam French couldn't steer the ball past Adam Highfield.
Boys produced a belter for his first national league goal to give Canterbury a 3-0 lead four minutes into the second half. The left-footed former English non-league left back lined up a freekick on the right-hand side about 30m out, on the angle.
Canterbury captain Dan Terris told Boys to aim for the back post and the Dragons left back duly did. His thunderbolt effort caromed off the inside of the far stick and bounced in.
"It was pretty lucky it went in off the post," Boys said. "But I was pretty happy when it went in."
Up 3-0, Canterbury paid the price for ball watching in defence when Dylan Stansfield netted for Waitakere in the 51st minute.
Terris denied Stansfield later with a timely tackle and Boys had to scurry back to head the ball to safety after a communication lapse with keeper Highfield.
Marquez made a great break down the left wing and cut back a pinpoint cross for Kamo, who scuffed his shot with the goal at his mercy.
Highfield enhanced his reputation as one of the best keepers in the league with a fine reaction save down low at his near post to deny Waitakere's Australian striker Richie Cardozo.
But the west Aucklanders scored a second goal in the 82nd minute when Canterbury centreback Tom Schwarz was penalised for a push on a Waitakere striker. Cardozo sent Highfield the wrong way with the spotkick.
But more Highfield heroics in injury-time ensured Canterbury kept the three points. The national premiership resumes on January 12 with Canterbury hosting WaiBop United.