Ryan Stewart returns in Nelson Suburbs' crucial victory over Coastal Spirit
It's good to be back, Ryan Stewart says.
The 32-year-old was greeted to a standing ovation as he made his Mainland Premier League return against his former team at Cuthberts Green in Christchurch on Saturday, his presence helping inspire an undermanned Nelson Suburbs side to a crucial 3-1 win over Coastal Spirit.
It was Stewart's first appearance of the MPL season and just his second competitive game since overcoming a battle with testicular cancer, making the big leap from division four in the space of one week.
"He got quarter of an hour at the end and he got a standing ovation from everyone when he went on, which was good to see," co-coach Steve Bignall said at fulltime.
For Stewart, those 15 minutes meant the world.
"It was a lot quicker than I remembered but it was good to get back out there and help the boys," Stewart said.
"I was nowhere near my best but I'm coming to training and working hard. I know it will be weeks before I'm back to full strength but I told Bigsy and Ben [Wright] that I was good for 20 minutes and they believed in me and put me on."
After a tight and goalless first half, Suburbs struck twice inside the first five minutes of the second half to take full control of the match.
The first goal came when Matt Tod-Smith smashed a left-footed effort from the edge of the box and the second when Wright calmly converted a penalty after Tod-Smith had been held back by goalkeeper Eddie Ashton.
Wright then scored his second midway through the second half before Coastal's Tristan Nicol finally got the better of goalkeeper Corey Wilson, who had earlier denied Aaron Spain from close-range, to make it 3-1 late on.
The result was just Suburbs second win on the road this season and lifts them up to third on the table due to their superior goal differential over Coastal.
Making the rare away win even more remarkable was the fact that Suburbs were forced to make four changes to the side that beat Nomads last weekend, with Zac Muir, Sam Wilson, Max Winterton and Wright replacing Kristian Gibson (suspended), James Deehan (injured), Robbie Pearson (injured) and Sam Ayers (unavailable).
Bignall said Coastal had "battered" Suburbs territorially throughout the match but he praised his team for their solid defence and clinical attack, ultimately registering their best result of the season.
"I thought we did well considering we had Skippy [Stewart], Neil Connell and Nathan Haymes on the bench and they all got on and did well," he said, with each of the three substitutes not even in the match-day squad last weekend.
"The 11 we had on the park aren't muppets, they're good players and we just went for it like we usually do and in the end we played some good football and held them off."
The two sides will meet again next weekend in the Chatham Cup with Suburbs taking a massive psychological advantage from Saturday's result.
"We'll have a full squad to choose from next week so we'll have a few selection problems," Bignall said.
AT A GLANCE
Nelson Suburbs 3 (Ben Wright 2, Matt Tod-Smith) Coastal Spirit 1 (Tristan Nicol)