ISPS Handa Premiership
Porirua Park, Porirua
Sunday 3rd February, 2018
Attendance : I counted 72

It was a glorious day out at Porirua that saw the Phoenix Reserves (Weenix) at their ninth different home ground, taking on Tasman United. Had I been a marketing guru I probably would have taken a leaf out of the FFA book and come up with a contrived derby name such as the Bottom-Top (Bottom of the North, Top of the South) Derby, ignoring the fact that Tasman United's base of Nelson is actually slightly north of Wellington.

There were however a few connections in this game which while not a derby looked to give it a bit of an edge. Tasman United's coach is Andy Hedge who had been the Weenix's gaffer from their inception until a season ago. Goalkeeper Keegan Smith had come through the Nix Academy and made it to the first team before being released and ending up at Tasman and Jake Williams has recently joined Tasman from the Weenix. While in the Weenix squad is Callan Elliott an ex Tasman player. 

Despite the heat the game started and was played at a reasonably quick tempo, although this did result in a few comical moments later in the game with players making silky turns only to find they had left the ball behind!

Tasman's Keegan Smith somehow saved this shot from Ben Waine TJF Photo

This was a bottom of the table clash, the Weenix only having picked up their first points two weeks previous with a 2-1 win over Waitakere while Tasman United had picked up Seven of their 11 points in the last three games and had moved into eighth spot. As such the teams were fairly evenly matched and a lot of the game was played in the middle of the pitch. 

It was the referee, Antony Riley, that had the biggest influence on the game, ironically while he was trying not to. He was employing a policy of allowing the game to flow, which is always admirable, but when you get some tasty challenges flying in and don't punish them and allow the players to constantly swear at you when querying decisions, it just allows the players to think they will get away with it more. Although his job wasn't made any easier by comments from the sideline, you'd think the Weenix had started a referee's academy with the amount of "advice" they were giving out to the officials!

Tasman did force a couple of great saves out of Weenix keeper Zac Jones in the first half. It was the Weenix that had the best chance though when Keegan Smith fluffed a clearance and sent the ball straight to Ben Waine in the penalty area. The Weenix then had an attack of "academyitis". "Academyitis" is what I call the art of getting the ball in to a great scoring area but them opting to pass it rather than actually have a shot at goal. Smith had done well to recover and Waine decided the best option was to knock the ball across the goal to an incoming Willem Ebbinge who really should have leathered it into the back of the net, but instead to controlled it allowing a defender to crowd him and so he passed it back to Waine, who did have a shot and even though it went under Smith he was able to grab it before it crossed the line. Then as if to rub salt in to the wound, Tasman broke down field and forced another excellent save from Zac Jones who tipped it over the bar, but from the resulting corner there wasn't much he could do when Kiernan Hughes-Mason slotted it home from two yards out. 

Tasman United's Kiernan Hughes-Mason makes it 1-0 TJF Photos

The Weenix were lucky not to be down to 10 men at half time as well, when Ben Waine managed to elbow a Tasman United defender in the face but it went unseen by the officials.
In the second half it was Tasman United's turn to be lucky in the keeping men on the field department when from a throw in, and behind the referee, Kiernan Hughes-Mason apparently punched a Weenix player (I never saw it but I was told this by two independent people who did see it). The Weenix bench saw it and were up in arms, while none of the officials saw it so the result was a yellow card.

The ref started to show some yellow cards in the second half but it was probably too little too late. There were a couple of challenges that ended up with players waving arms and facing up to each other and again another case where both sides were lucky to keep a full set of players on the pitch. Tasman United's Tom Hickey, who was wearing a facemask, made a bad challenge, which was blown up and he was booked for, but before that could happen some of the Weenix player's took exception to it, in particular Owen Smith, who was on the left wing and ran into the middle of the pitch to give Hickey a shove, amazingly he only received a yellow card for this.

Tom Hickey (TU) and Owen Smith (WPX) discuss the merits of the challenge TJF Photos 

Tasman United were starting to control the game more and play in the Weenix half but weren't getting a lot of shots in. Max Winterton should have made it 2-0 but agonisedly saw his shot bounce of the underside of the crossbar. Just when it looked as if Tasman had done enough to secure the three points, a long ball was played forward and Ben Waine picked it up about 10 meters into the Tasman half and took off smashing the ball past Keegan Smith to make it 1-1 with about four minutes left.

The  final minutes were frantic as both teams searched for a winner and given the heat it was impressive that the players could keep up the pace. In all, while it was a bit of a scrappy game, it was better than I had expected and a 1-1 draw was a fair result.


Weenix's Ben Waine celebrates his equalising goal TJF Photo