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North Shore United v. Napier City Rovers, 27/8/95
You Missed A Treat!
by Jeremy Ruane
If there is one thing in New Zealand soccer which continues to amaze me, it is the fickleness of the code's followers.

Take the Smokefree Superclub National Championship encounter between Crown Worldwide North Shore United and Medallion Napier City Rovers. The 1994 Superclub champions against their predecessors. Two of the best teams in the country, without question.

Yet no more than six hundred spectators turned up at Allen Hill Stadium on August 27 to witness this clash of two of the country's leading teams. If you weren't amongst them, you missed a treat!!

Shore began the match like men possessed. Without Steve Nickson, Tim Stevens, Mark Cossey and Stuart Morton, the side more or less picked itself. But you would never have thought that, given the commitment and will-to-win shown by the home eleven - it was, at times, as if their very lives depended on winning this one match.

Napier's seventh minute goal seemed a minor aberration towards Shore's overall objective, coming very much against the run of play as it did. Paul Halford initiated the move, and Glen Whittington inspired it with a lob to the far post. In thundered the unmarked Warren Gilbertson, and home the ball went.

Back came Shore. With Matty Byers and Jason Batty quickly establishing their authority over the visitors' attack, their team-mates began to pour forward in search of an equaliser. Mark Elrick was the first to fire goalwards in anger, followed soon after by Neil Harlock and Michael Legg.

Billy Harris, against his old club, was next to chance his arm - no, he didn't do a Maradona!! - only to see Mark Paston pull off the first of a string of saves, some of them world-class. The goalkeeper's next intervention was at the feet of Tony Jasper, playing as a striker, the role in which he originally plied his trade in this country.

Early in the second half, Chris Jackson - inspirational in midfield - sent a smashing volley crashing against the Shore crossbar. The rebound fell to Halford, only for Batty to intervene. Seconds later, Jackson was in again, but his shot flashed inches past the upright.

Shore's response? Two goals in three minutes. The equaliser came on the hour, with Brian Ogg the initiator, a mazy run to the goal-line from halfway his principle weapon. His low cross for Elrick somehow ended up with the ball stuck between the All White striker's legs, and "Elf" consequently falling over the sphere with defenders all around him.

Whether it was pure instinctiveness of sheer presence of mind is open to conjecture, but Elrick's back-heel was downright cheeky! Legg gleefully accepted the opportunity, steering the ball home into the top corner, leaving Paston and company totally bewildered.

Inspired, Shore charged again, and gained reward from an unlikely source. This time Harris was the provider - he led his former Napier team-mates a merry dance down the right. His cross was flicked back by Elrick to his striking partner ... something tells me we may never hear the end of Captain Jasper telling the tale of how he deceived giant goalkeeper Paston with a looping header which dropped inches under the bar.

Again Shore attacked, Harris seeing the side-netting billow in response to his shot. Paston then denied the rampant Shore attack, foiling Elrick. Referee Gary Fleet also took pity on Napier's rattled rearguard, denying Lee Jones the goal his performance thoroughly merited by ruling that he had handled the ball before firing home, in the 73rd minute.

Paston then produced his save of saves for this match, Jones the despairing figure once again. He'd started the game at full-back, but was moved into midfield upon the injury-enforced departure of John Lawler from the fray, four minutes into the second spell. Napier simply couldn't handle him from here on in.

Again Paston saved Napier, this time Elrick the foiled party, in the 78th minute. Jones tried a curler, and Jasper another looping header - proof that lightning doesn't strike twice! - but both efforts were to no avail.

Ironically, the last incident of note in a cracking game of soccer went Napier's way, and it could have given them an undeserved equaliser. Ogg headed off the line after a goalmouth scramble and a half with two minutes remaining. The ball fell to Perry Cotton, who lined up the drive, only for Batty to produce a spectacular save to ensure Shore's 2-1 triumph. Yes, folks, you missed a treat!!

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