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Grand Final 2015
City Come From Behind To Clinch Sixth Title
by Jeremy Ruane
Auckland City clinched a record-equalling sixth national championship on Easter Sunday, coming from behind to down first-time finalists Hawkes Bay United in the ASB Premiership Grand Final at Kiwitea Street.

Auckland's sixth title sees them draw level with Mt. Wellington and Christchurch United as the most successful championship-winning operations in the history of New Zealand football, with the two clubs gaining their honours during the era of the club-based National League.

City enjoyed the first opening of the match, Darren White rattling the crossbar with a sixth minute free-kick, the rebound of which was headed over by newly capped All White Ryan de Vries.

United responded with a fourteenth minute counter-attack, led by the pace of Sean Lovemore. Saul Halpin fired over on this occasion with Tamati Williams beaten, but when the visitors next raided, they took the lead, a nineteenth minute penalty from Ryan Tinsley firing Hawkes Bay in front after Oscar Garcia felled Facundo Barbero.

Cat amongst the pigeons? Hawkes Bay's fans delighted in taking the lead in their maiden Grand Final, and encouraged their team's defensive-minded tactics which entailed soaking up Auckland's possession before striking on the counter-attack.

City soon wisened to that game, and came up with a counter-active plan which ultimately paid dividends, but not before Viktor Lekaj had stung the gloves of Williams with a 28th minute free-kick.

Either side of Angel Berlanga and Darren White intervening to thwart further United attacks, Auckland drew level seven minutes before half-time. Sam Burfoot's precise pass from distance unlocked the door, through which de Vries strode to lash home the equaliser, to the delight and undisguised relief of the local faithful.

The second spell began with Marco Dordevich thwarting Lovemore as Bay looked to regain the lead, only for Auckland to counter with another Burfoot-led raid which culminated in de Vries being denied by Hawkes Bay's defensive henchmen.

The latter group, by fouling de Vries in the 51st minute, presented White with the chance to earn City the lead for the first time in the match. Hill dealt capably with that effort, and looked on with relief as a Burfoot bullet crashed into the side-netting moments later, following a delightful back-heeled move featuring de Vries, Mario Bilen and Takuya Iwata.

Auckland continued to press, with Garcia going
close prior to the hour mark. Two minutes after it, they were rewarded for their pressure when referee Peter O'Leary called a handball offence against Hawkes Bay, much to the visitors' frustration.

It was compounded seconds later when White's whipped delivery picked out the head of Dordevic, who guided the ball wide of Hill to head Auckland in front for the first time in the Grand Final.

Within minutes, City came within inches of increasing their new-found advantage, Garcia just failing to get on the end of Mario Bilen's cross. This served as a shot across the bows for United, who set about redressing the balance over the course of the next few minutes via the efforts of Mario Barcia and Ross Haviland.

Both were dealt with by City, who came desperately close to a third goal when de Vries was superbly denied by Hill fourteen minutes from time, with Joao Moreira heading the resulting corner narrowly over the bar.

The home team continued to keep their fellow finalists at bay throughout the remaining minutes, themselves threatening to score in stoppage time when substitute David Browne's wicked cross zoomed across the goalmouth, inviting a finish which never came.

The final whistle did moments late, however, confirming successive championships for Auckland, a thirteenth successive victory and a record-equalling sixth title overall, not to mention OFC Champions League qualification for next season's competition.

City's triumph was great news for Team Wellington. ASB Premiership rules deem that Hawkes Bay had to win the final to join round-robin winners City in the 2015-16 OFC Champions League.

But with Auckland winning the Grand Final as well, New Zealand's other spot at Oceania's showpiece club football event goes to the Premiership runners-up, so the country's representatives at the OFC Champions League Finals, which commence in Fiji next weekend, will also be on deck for the 2015-16 version of same.

Auckland: Williams; White, Berlanga, Dordevic, Iwata; Burfoot (booked, 25) (den Heijer, 57), Vicelich, Bilen; de Vries (booked, 35) (McGeorge, 90), Moreira (booked, 81) (Browne, 82), Garcia
Hawkes Bay: Hill; Haviland, Milne, Tinsley, Lovemore (booked, 86), Lekaj (booked, 8) (Birnie, 87), Barcia (booked, 12), Halpin, Barbero (Pennycooke-Morgan, 71), Liddicoat, Scott (Palezevic, 82)
Referee: Peter O'Leary

National League