Hamilton Wanderers know what not to do against Auckland City as rematch looms
It's fair to say that Hamilton Wanderers now know what not to do against Auckland City.
In the first half on Wednesday evening at Porritt Stadium, Wanderers were as bad as they have been at any point this season, disorganised, disjointed, and to an extent, disinterested in the task at hand.
As a result, they allowed City's raft of talented attackers far too much time and space, and paid the price as a result.
Four first-half City goals - a brace to Joao Moreira, and one each to Emiliano Tade and Ryan de Vries - meant that as they headed to the sheds at halftime, Wanderers were staring down the barrel of an extremely embarrassing defeat.
But then they came out in the second half, and they were much improved, even if their opponents had shifted down a gear, safe in the knowledge that their four-goal lead would probably be enough.
Where they had been disorganised, Wanderers kept their shape. Where they had been disjointed, they were more coordinated, pressing as a team more so than as one or two individuals. And where they had been disinterested, they were focused, and determined not to lie down and let themselves be humiliated.
Yes, City did eventually add a fifth, when Tade curled a free kick past Wanderers keeper Matt Oliver, who had been judged to have handled the ball outside his area, but it came after a long stretch where they were kept at bay.
And yes, Wanderers' only shot of note came right at the death, when teenage striker Jake Mechell poked an attempt across goal from an acute angle.
But it was a second half effort that will give them confidence that they can travel up State Highway 1 for the rematch at Kiwitea St on Sunday and be competitive, provided they come out like they did after the break, rather than how they did at the start.
At this stage of the season, with three games to go, Wanderers have one goal remaining - stay in eighth place, above fellow newcomers Tasman United and perennial strugglers Southern United.
As things stand, they have 13 points, two more than Tasman, who they lost to twice, and three more than Southern, who they beat once and lost to once.
Those are results which show just how odd their season has been. They have picked up 10 points from a possible 30 against the top six, but only three from a possible 15 against the other teams in the bottom four, the fourth of which is the Wellington Phoenix reserves.
While Wanderers will hunt an unlikely upset on Sunday, it is their games against the Phoenix reserves (on March 12) and Hawke's Bay United (on March 19) where Wanderers will look to get the job done, knowing that they likely only need one win, or two draws, in order to accomplish that goal, as there's a good chance that Southern and Tasman won't pick up any more points until that final weekend, when they play each other in Nelson.
Sunday's game is at Kiwitea St in Auckland and kicks off at 4.35pm.