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Auckland City v. Hawkes Bay United, 22/12/13
Another Christmas Cracker At Kiwitea Street
by Jeremy Ruane
Back on 21 December, 2006, Auckland City and Waitakere United turned on a right royal Christmas Cracker at Kiwitea Street in the then unsponsored NZ Football Championship. City had just returned home from the FIFA Club World Cup Finals, and found themselves trailing 3-0 at half-time to their arch-rivals.

They came storming home in the second spell to prevail 4-3 in an epic encounter, one laced with flourishes of coloured cards galore - nineteen in total, and a staggering nine minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second spell, during which City scored two of their goals to snatch a dramatic victory at the death.

It will forever rank as perhaps the greatest game played in the first decade of the competition now known as the ASB Premiership, and rightly so. The 1200-odd who were present that balmy Thursday evening probably wondered, in the aftermath of that match, if they'd ever see as good a contest again at this level.

Seven years on, and in very similar circumstances - the same venue; Auckland just home from the FIFA Club World Cup Finals; a refereeing display which left much to be desired - City and Hawkes Bay United went dead-set close to matching that magnificent match, sharing eight goals in a pulsating 4-4 thriller which had just about everything you could wish to see in a football fixture.

This one started in fairly scrappy fashion, with the first twenty minutes sorely lacking in precision and quality, due in part to the lenience and inconsistency of referee Antony Riley.

The official picked and chose his way through a plethora of rigorous challenges during the first half in particular, and didn't often get things right in terms of the appropriate punishment for the particular crime. His overall contribution was not one of which he should be overly proud, to put it circumspectly.

Matthew Gould made a couple of saves in this period of play to deny both Roy Krishna - from twenty-five yards - and Emiliano Tade, while a neat move involving Chris Bale, Krishna and the outstanding Cristobal Marquez could well have seen the desired outcome had Ryan de Vries contributed to it in a more positive manner at the business end of things.

Having seen the lie of the land, with United seemingly intent on imposing themselves physically rather than aesthetically on proceedings, City started to go through the gears half-way through the first half, and began to ask a few searching questions of their opponents, who entered this match level on points with their second-placed hosts.

Their most demanding query in this phase came in the 28th minute, when de Vries, Mario Bilen, John Irving and Krishna combined to present Tade with the chance to, after evading a challenge, unleash a teasing, curling effort which bettered Gould but not the crossbar.

United cleared the rebound to the relative safety of the half-way line, where Tomas Mosquera was lurking. He made in-roads in-field before slipping a pass into the stride of Tom Biss, who fired the visitors' first shot in anger well wide of the mark in the 29th minute.

After Tade had seen his shot blocked - Bale and Krishna had combined to present the Argentininan with the opportunity, United fired their second shot in anger in the 31st minute, and took the lead.

Ivan Vicelich was harshly adjudged to have fouled Sean Lovemore on the right-hand edge of the penalty area, and instantly, the eyes of former City set-piece specialist David Mulligan lit up - this was right up his street!

Sure enough, "Mully" let rip, curling a gem of a free-kick round the wall which beat Louie Caunter, City's second-string 'keeper, all ends up at his near post - 1-0 United, a goal they celebrated eagerly.

Within seventy seconds, they had doubled their advantage in startling fashion. City kicked off, but within seconds the ball was at the feet of Biss, some thirty-five yards from goal and with the prevailing sou'wester coming perfectly over his left shoulder.

The midfielder let fly, and from the moment it left his boot, it looked a goal all the way. The trajectory, the general uncertainty of Caunter, the 'keeper's lack of positional awareness all up, sheer perfection from a Hawkes Bay perspective, and if you thought their first goal celebrations had been wild, they were mere child's play by comparison to Biss' blissful exuberance at scoring a goal he'll never forget!

2-0 down, City knew they had to score next, and in the 34th minute, they did exactly that, thanks largely to some ponderous defensive play by United. Mario Bilen tried to chip Gould from distance, into the wind it was never going to happen, but nor should what happened next.

Gould came to gather the ball as a team-mate appeared on the scene. Between them, they botched things up big-time, for within seconds de Vries was on the scene, and unleashing a shot which was blocked on the line. Marquez was following in, and buried the rebound - 2-1. Fasten your seatbelts

Why Hawkes Bay opted to employ a physical approach to this match only they will know. And why referee Riley allowed them to persevere with it without punishment for so long was equally as bad.

Come the 37th minute, however, the visitors crossed the proverbial line in the sand when Mosquera clattered into Caunter after the goalkeeper had raced out of his penalty area to head a bouncing ball clear. The striker was fortunate that only a yellow card was brandished - the 'keeper's recovery may well have saved his bacon!

Two minutes later, Vicelich, de Vries and Marquez combined to bring Takura Iwata into play, the fullback rampaging down the left before delivering a low cross to the near post. De Vries was racing in to meet it, but Gould anticipated the threat well, and averted the danger.

The same cannot be said for City's defence in the 42nd minute. Sean Morris was given all manner of time on the ball just outside the penalty area, which allowed him to pick his pass. Mosquera was his target, but Vicelich, at full stretch, thwarted the striker.

City's captain directed his clearance straight to Lovemore, who didn't waste the invitation to thrash a first-time volley past the stunned figure of Caunter and into the back of the net - 3-1 United, and it wasn't even half-time yet!

By the time referee Riley did blow his whistle for the interval, he'd twice brandished the red card following separate incidents, both of which could have been avoided had he taken firmer control of the contest from the outset.

Krishna had been a target of United's rugged approach to proceedings, and when Bill Robertson went through the back of the Fijian without any hint of a free-kick being awarded in the 45th minute, the red mist descended and a red card soon followed, reducing City to ten for the duration.

After Bale had battered a shot on the run inches
over the bar, United earned an attacking corner in the dying seconds of the first half. Robertson rose to meet it, but his elbow caught an opponent, and the eyes of the referee.

Mr Riley couldn't get his cards out quickly enough, with yellow swiftly followed by red to reduce this to a ten-a-side affair, the offender having already earned himself the day's first yellow card as early as the seventh minute.

So, City without their principle striker, United without their defensive lynchpin, on the road against a team which rarely loses in the Southern Hemisphere, and which had a deficit to make up. You can guess what's coming

For virtually the entire opening twenty minutes of the second half, City set up camp in United's half, and proceeded to pound away in search of the goals they needed to turn things round.

Within two minutes of the resumption, Marquez picked out Tade with a superb pass which allowed the striker to scythe in off the left and unleash a thunderous low drive which was bottom corner-bound until Gould produced an astounding save with his wrist to divert the ball up and over the bar - a quite remarkable denial!

Three minutes later, de Vries picked out Marquez, who was pinging the ball around the park as if it was tied to a string. Tade was again the beneficiary of his latest pass, and saw his shot blocked on the line by Harley Rodeka.

Seconds later, de Vries was denied in similar fashion by Aaron Jones. That clearance landed at the feet of Marquez, who angled a ball across the goalmouth which went between three City players, not one of whom thought to stick out a leg and prod the ball home a mind-boggling thirty seconds of goalmouth action!

More followed. In the 53rd minute, City halved the deficit. Marquez again, this time slipping a pass inside to Vicelich, who had been up in the attack following a corner. Auckland's captain chipped the ball across to Tade, who drove it home with relish.

3-2 to United, game on big-time! The visitors responded straight from the kick-off, a rare raid into City territory which saw Mosquera get the better of Iwata on the right before letting fly. Caunter could only parry his effort, but no-one in a barcode kit was following in.

Auckland resumed their relentless pursuit of parity, with Marquez continuing to direct traffic via both passes and movement. Another Bale piledriver knocked the wind out of Jones as a result of the playmaker's promptings, while in the 56th minute, Iwata rewarded Marquez's run on the left with a measured pass.

The Spaniard scythed into the area, outpacing the defence in doing so, then cheekily nutmegged the advancing figure of Gould to bring City level in eye-catching fashion - 3-3.

And still they pressed, Tade being felled in the penalty area on the hour for what looked a stonewall spot-kick. Referee Riley had other ideas, however

City's coach for the day, Riki Van Steeden, knows a thing or three about fouls, having committed his fair share during his prime, while finding himself on the wrong end of one of the worst challenges ever seen in this country on another occasion.

As the referee waved play on, Van Steeden said aloud what many present had long been thinking re the official's overall performance, and promptly found himself being sent from the dugout by Mr Riley, a decision which would have repercussions later in the match.

In the 63rd minute, Vicelich produced a superbly timed block tackle to stop United substitute Nathaniel Hailemariam in his tracks and spark a counter-attack which featured James Pritchett, Marquez and de Vries, who sent a shot soaring over the bar when scoring appeared an easier option.

Enter Adam Dickinson, who wasted little time in making an impact on proceedings, including, in the 71st minute, contributing to a sizzling six-man move from which City took the lead.

Inevitably, Marquez was at the sharp end of proceedings, his perfectly weighted pass into Tade's stride allowing the marksman to double his tally for the match, and put Auckland 4-3 up with nineteen minutes to play.

They weren't done with, either. Another effort from Tade, following a Marquez corner, was only kept out by the flying block of Gould in the 73rd minute, while low drives from Dickinson and Bale flashed across the face of goal in the next two minutes as Marquez continued to prompt and probe with reckless abandon.

At this point, City drew breath in preparation for a final assault, and United took full advantage to earn a rare second half corner at the Mt Albert Road end of Kiwitea Street.

Before they took it, however, Auckland made an ill-timed substitution, with David Browne entering the fray at Tade's expense. There is no way a team defending a corner should make a substitution before it is taken - it is a no-brainer! But without Van Steeden in the dug-out to call the shots, City made the change

And instantly conceded an equaliser!. Morris' pinpoint delivery picked out the unmarked figure of Jones, who sent a towering header crashing into the back of the net to level the scores once more in this remarkable match - 4-4!

Cue a grandstand finish! But which team could muster a winner? City piled on the pressure, Browne's cross-shot ricocheting off Morris and flying across the face of goal in the 81st minute.

Three minutes later, the three Bs combined, Bilen picking out Bale on the right, with the midfielder delivering a measured cross onto Browne's crown. His downward header flew past the post, much to United's relief.

Still City pressed, Marquez, Bilen and Dickinson combining to present Browne with another chance which he sent soaring over the bar from ten yards it just wasn't to be.

With United's attempts to win the match largely foundering on City's defence in the time remaining, it meant that the visitors' equaliser thirteen minutes from time proved to be the game's final goal, a 4-4 thriller which, given the advantage both teams held at different stages of the match, will leave each side considering the final outcome to be two points lost.

Or, given the defeat suffered by leaders Waitakere United, a point gained. Either way, it was Another Christmas Cracker at Kiwitea Street, one which all present won't forget in a hurry, that's for sure!

Auckland:     Caunter; Pritchett, Vicelich, Irving, Iwata; Bale (Burfoot, 89), Bilen (booked, 62), Marquez; de Vries (Dickinson, 65), Krishna (sent off, 45), Tade (Browne, 77)
Hawkes Bay:     Gould; Haviland, Jones, Robertson (booked 7, 45 - sent off), Wilson; Mulligan (booked, 43), Morris, Rodeka (Morton, 75); Lovemore (booked, 52) (Hailemariam, 61), Biss, Mosquera (booked, 37) (Mason, 60)
Referee:     Antony Riley

National League