Universities move step closer to Mainland Premier League survival after win over Western
Universities passed their toughest examination of the season with a win which should secure their Mainland Premier League future on a day champions Cashmere Technical suffered a surprise upset.
The students beat Western 1-0 in the basement battle at English Park on Saturday which could result in Western being relegated for the first time in MPL history.
Ferrymead Bays notched a last-minute goal to beat Nelson Suburbs 2-1 and cut Cashmere Tech's lead to two points after Tech stumbled 2-0 to Coastal Spirit.
Coach Jesse Rawlings said Universities were not celebrating just yet with two rounds still to play, but he admitted the victory was "a massive relief".
Universities moved off the bottom of the table and now have nine points from 19 games with Western on eight.
"Obviously, it's huge win for our season, but it's too early to say we are safe.
"I think we've got to pick up another win from our last two games. We've got Ferrymead and Nomads and we've definitely got to win one of those games [to avoid the drop].
"Western have got Ferrymead and Tech, who both have ex-Western players, so we don't want to take any chances.
Universities captain George Moore was already in celebration mode, gesturing exuberantly to Western's fans after Rodrigo Balcazar's second half goal earned the students their most vital three points of the campaign.
Rawlings said his skipper probably overdid it a bit, but he could not fault his passion. "He was excellent at centreback and dealt with their big striker really well. He loves university [football].
"Rodrigo, our goalscorer, also hit the bar twice and played really well in midfield."
Universities continued to pressure forward after taking the lead in the 75th minute with Rawlings resisting the temptation to shut up shop and put more men behind the ball.
He said they came unstuck "sitting back" after going in front in some earlier matches, most notably after conceding two late goals to FC Twenty 11 after enjoying a 2-0 lead with five minutes to go.
"Western were throwing their centrebacks forward, so we decided they were going to leave plenty of holes ...
"We had three 3-on-1 chances in the last 10 minutes, but we didn't take them."
Western tried vainly to equalise and created a few opportunities but failed to score for the 11th game this season.
Coastal were clinical in their 2-0 win over Cashmere Technical to take the Hurley Challenge Shield off the defending champions.
Tech dominated possession but could not find the net, allowing Haris Zeb to fire Coastal ahead after the interval.
An own goal by a Tech defender doubled Coastal's lead and earned them their second victory of the season over the Chatham Cup semifinalists.
Two goals from centreback Ciaran Aherne - playing his first game for 10 weeks - earned Ferrymead Bays an important win in Nelson on Sunday.
Aherne headed Bays' equaliser in the 20 minutes - two minutes after a fine individual goal to Nelson's Ryan Stewart.
He nodded in the winner in the 90th minute and said: "It was a great fight. Everyone was knackered but we kept believing and kept going.
"Two goals isn't bad. Centre-backs don't usually score."
Callum Smith's seventh-minute goal set up FC Twenty 11's 2-0 win over Nomads. Jacob Richards killed the game off in the second spell.
Meanwhile, Coastal Spirit celebrated their seventh Mainland Premier Women's League title in 10 seasons with an emphatic 6-1 away win over Waimak United.
Mel Cameron grabbed a hat-trick and Britney-Lee Nicholson a double as Coastal notched three goals in each half.
Runners-up Cashmere Technical were also big winners with Ash Ward collecting four goals and Emma Kench three in a 8-1 victory over Universities.
Tasman United consolidated third place with a 3-2 win over FC Twenty 11.
At a glance
Mainland Premier League
Coastal Technical 0 Coastal Spirit 2 (Haris Zeb, own goal). HT: 0-0.
FC Twenty11 2 (Callum Smith, Jacobs Richards) Nomads 0. HT: 1-0.
Universities 1 (Rodrigo Balcazar) Western 0 HT: 0-0.
Nelson Suburbs 1 (Ryan Stewart) Ferrymead Bays 2 (Ciaran Aherne 2). HT: 1-1.
Points (after 19 rounds): Cashmere Technical 46, Ferrymead Bays 44, Coastal Spirit 33, Nelson Suburbs 31, FC Twenty 11 24, Nomads United 20, Universities 9, Western 8.
Cashmere Technical 8 (Ash Ward 4, Emma Kench 3, Tessa Lewis) Universities 1 (Lia Cameron). HT: 3-0.
Tasman United 3 (Tiana Williams, Geena Gross, Amelia Abbott) FC Twenty11 2 (Zoe Eggleston-Archer, Frankie Morrow). HT: 1-2.
Coastal Spirit 6 (Mel Cameron 3,Britneylee Nicholson 2, Cody Taylor) Waimak United 1 (Jaz Ball) .HT: 3-0.
Final points: Coastal Spirit 39, Cashmere Technical 34, Tasman United 25, FC Twenty 11 11, Waimak United 9, Universities 6.