A memorable goal from teenage debutant Reid Drake gave WaiBop United coach Peter Smith dual reasons to be happy on Saturday.
Drake's classic volley against Southern United helped the hosts at Cambridge to a 4-2 ASB Premiership win that temporarily lifted them to third place on the ladder.
It also gave Smith some justification that he was doing the right thing with the new franchise.
"Some people have been saying there's too many Auckland players in the side," Smith said.
"But there you've got a 17-year-old from Taupo making his debut and scoring, another 17-year-old from Bay of Plenty in Tom Probert playing well at the back, and Ben Latham making his debut too."
Ngaruawahia United defender Latham started at right back in place of captain Aaron Scott, who injured an ankle at training, while injury also ruled out regular centre back Tyler Lissette again, meaning another start for Probert.
After a costly error last week against Wanderers SC, Probert was an assured figure in the home team defence, which saw Liam Higgins return after missing last weekend's disappointing draw.
The changes may have played a part in a muddling first 30 minutes at John Kerkhof Park that did see WaiBop eke out more chances than the winless visitors, although goalkeeper Andy McNeil was called on to make a sharp save to keep the game goal-less after 16 minutes.
Milos Nikolic put WaiBop ahead on the half-hour when Shaydon Young ran onto an astute Higgins through ball and had his ankles clipped by Peter Overmire. Nikolic sent Southern keeper Tom Batty the wrong way as he rolled in the resulting penalty awarded by referee Antony Riley.
Young doubled the advantage just before halftime when he headed past Batty after Mark Jones' industrious work got him to the byline to provide the deep cross.
Drake came on in the 56th minute to replace Young on the left flank and made a massive impact five minutes later.
Southern cleared a corner but Drake waited for it to bounce before exhibiting excellent technique to drill home a swinging left-foot volley from 25 metres that Batty couldn't stop.
WaiBop looked like running riot at that stage as they knocked the ball about swiftly with aplomb, but they've made a habit of conceding questionable penalties and did so again in the 71st minute.
This time there was little doubt Riley got it wrong, as substitute Nick Hindson went down in the box while merely being sherperded away from danger by Probert. To make the penalty decision crueller, McNeil did as he did the previous match by saving the initial spot-kick from Henriques Alves Viana, only for Viana to knock home the loose ball from McNeil's parry.
Nikolic restored the three-goal lead with a near-post header from Drake's corner after 85 minutes, but another Southern sub, Andrew Ridden, skipped past Latham in the 90th minute and crossed for Matt Joy to head home and somewhat reduce the joy WaiBop felt in victory.
Nikolic, who now has four goals in five matches, was still rightly happy with the win, WaiBop's second of the summer to go with a draw and two defeats.
"It wasn't just about three points, we wanted a whole team performance as well, he said. "We finally did that today so we're pretty happy."
His memory failed him when he believed it was the first time his side had opened the scoring this campaign - they did so in the 3-1 away loss to Auckland City - but still felt it eased some pressure.
"It gave us the chance to relax, to hold on to the ball and to play properly - it adds another dimension to your game and makes it much easier," Nikolic said.
The frontman was again a key figure for WaiBop, holding the ball up well, linking adroitly with fellow striker Maksim Manko and possessing his usual nose for goal.
Takahiro Yokota was solid at the back in combination with Probert, while the central midfield duo of Alexis Varela and Masaki Nomoto were always busy and positive.
Nikolic said things continued to look up for Smith's troops.
"There's a really positive atmosphere within the group - everybody's very hungry to win and there's a lot of passion about."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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