Waitakere”s four Englishmen all started as they came back from being a goal down early on to win 3-1. In the process, claiming the club’s second NZFC crown since the reconfiguration of New Zealander football in 2004.
In New Zealand, much like USA and Australia, teams qualify for end of season playoffs through their final league table position. The winner of the playoff is determined champion and not the team that finishes first in the league. Waitakere finished second in the regular season table.
Canterbury took the lead 6 minutes into the Grand Final and held on to that advantage until Solomon Islander forward Benjamin Totori equalised in the 34th minute. The turning point in the game happened before halftime when Paul Dirou was sent off for Canterbury for a late high tackle with his studs showing.
After the game Waitakere’s English player/manager Neil Emblen admitted “The sending off changed the game and I feel sorry for the lad, although he did go high and it’s one of those challenges that looks bad. Having said that, I thought we had momentum back before the sending off but it may their job a lot harder.”
Kiwi international Allan Pierce who was given the man of the match award for his constant attacking threat from the right wing, got Waitakere United’s second soon after the restart. Totori added to his tally with the final goal of the game on 73 minutes.
Goalkeeper Danny Robinson plus midfielders Martin Bullock (formerly a Premier League player with Barnsley in the 1997/98 season) and Neil Sykes are the other Englishmen in team from Waitakere City.
“We were apprehensive because we’ve come so far, got ourselves into two finals but there’s still the chance you could end up with nothing,” Emblen said as Waitakere now face the 2nd leg of the O-League final next weekend against Hekari United.
“It’s nice to get the first one out the way and now we will start thinking about the Hekari game, how we overturn the lead they’ve got and how we win that competition as well.”
Waitakere United are faced with a tough task in the 2nd leg, needing to overturn the 3-0 deficit from the first leg in Papua New Guinea. However Waitakere are used to this situation as they have won the competition two times before (in 2007 and 2008) coming into the 2nd leg behind. The winner of the competition will qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup to be held in the United Arab Emirates at the end of the year.