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Central United v. Manawatu, 26/8/01
Unlikely Scoring Hero Steers Central To Final
by Jeremy Ruane

There are some sports stories which you’d really like to write or read about, but the opportunity for them to become reality never seems to come to pass.

Invariably, they relate to the deeds of one person, more often than not a stoic contributor to the cause, who goes about fulfilling his or her tasks in the background with the minimum of fuss, the impact of their input only being realised when said soul happens to be absent for one reason or another.

They’re the sort of person whose nature is such that you’d love to see them score a hat-trick, and generally get the chance to enjoy their moment in the spotlight, in recognition of the efforts they have put in over a lengthy period of time.

It is extremely rare for such a person to be central to the derring-do of the day, however - more often than not, their role is that of the unsung hero, rather than the person upon whom the glare of the spotlight falls.

At Kiwitea Street on August 26, 2001, the spotlight cast its unforgiving glare on one of soccer’s unsung heroes, and here follows the story of how he fired his team into the Southern Trust National League Grand Final with the first hat-trick of his senior career.

Michael Ridenton was the toast of Central United as his threesome, struck in a sixteen minute spell late in the second half of their sudden death play-off with Manawatu, steered his team to a 5-2 victory and a September 8 clash with Miramar Rangers, this time at North Harbour Stadium, with the prize of ‘National Champions’ at stake.

It was "Boy’s Own" stuff from Central’s skipper, who struck with two thumping headers and the first penalty of his career - there was no way on earth anyone else on the planet had the faintest chance of taking that spot kick once referee Neil Fox awarded it for a foul on Daniel Koprivcic two minutes from time.

The trio of goals got Central out of the mire somewhat, as they had been 2-0 up and cruising just fourteen minutes into the match. A delicious through ball from Bruce Hill provided an inch-perfect compliment to Daniel Aliaga’s perfectly timed angled run in the ninth minute, the midfielder ghosting in behind Campbell Banks to latch onto the ball and steer it across Hayden Englefield into the far corner of the net to open the scoring.

Five minutes later, a goal similar in conception and execution came to pass, Josh Stick this time the source of an angled through ball. Glenn Eie galloped clear of the defence, lured the ‘keeper out of goal, and cleverly disguised his finish, slipping the ball inside Englefield’s near post as the custodian stood up in anticipation of a deft chip.

Soon after, Banks went agonisingly close to keeping alive his now faint hopes of winning the Golden Boot award, sending an Eie cross whizzing wide of the near post to conclude an Aliaga-instigated raid.

2-0, Central have proven all too often this season, is a dangerous lead to hold onto. In fairness, they were denied extending it to 3-0 by the width of the crossbar in the 37th minute, Eie’s eye for an opening, allied to his evasive run to create the chance, deserving better fate.

They also twice came close to increasing it inside the opening minute of the second half, by which time Manawatu had mustered just three chances of note, two of which, from the well-performed Ian Sandbrook and the hard-not-to-notice Shane Cunliffe - he of the peroxide hair-do! - gave Central’s ‘keeper Ross Nicholson little cause for concern.

The third opportunity saw the custodian pull off a top stop at close quarters to thwart Jeremy Seales, who had weaved past a couple of challenges on his way into Central’s penalty area, and was hell-bent on reducing the deficit before the interval.

He wasn’t to do so, but namesake Jeremy Brown provided Manawatu with a lifeline six minutes into the second half, rising to head a Jon Harahap free-kick into an unguarded net as Nicholson came, saw and flapped awkwardly near the edge of his penalty area.

This set the alarm bells going in Central’s ranks, and Manawatu weren’t slow to make the most of their new-found initiative - to this point, they had looked a shadow of the team which had won here 5-3 just six weeks ago. And after Nicholson had flapped at another cross, this time from Sandbrook, the visitors’ travelling army was celebrating an equaliser.

Sandbrook was its principal architect, weaving his way in from the right flank in the 59th minute before playing a slick one-two with Ian Robinson which opened up Central’s rearguard with all the subtlety of a bacon slicer! To the byline Sandbrook swept, before whipping over a low cross which Cunliffe coolly crashed home by the far post - 2-2, and all on for young and old!

With the bit between their teeth, Manawatu pressed for more goals, and Seales was twice denied by Nicholson blocking at his feet inside the next six minutes. It was plainly clear that the next goal was going to be all-important, and with this in mind, Central’s coach, Paul Marshall, looked to inject some fresh life into his side twenty minutes from time, in the form of Miro Major and Daniel Koprivcic.

The former’s impact was instant, for within two minutes of his introduction, he had been felled near the right touchline. There didn’t appear to be much danger as Aliaga stood over the free-kick, but the outcome of his delivery was to have quite the opposite effect ...

"Daniel curled the free-kick towards the far post, and as I was the last man, I came racing in between two defenders and put my head in a place where I shouldn’t have - I got bangs on both cheeks from my opponents!! As soon as I met the ball, I knew it was in".

And so it was, Michael Ridenton’s 72nd minute downward header beating Englefield all ends up at his near post to edge Central in front once more. And after Greg Uhlmann had seen his forty yard screamer matched by Englefield’s spectacular flying save, the game turned irretrievably for Manawatu, with captain Seales being sent off for his second bookable offence.

Now facing ten men, and with the bit firmly between their teeth once more, there was no way Central was going to let Manawatu back into the match for a second time. Koprivcic and Major worked a splendid double one-two in the 82nd minute, and the former should have done better with his finish, the ball cannoning off Englefield for a corner. In hindsight, perhaps it was meant to be ...

"Daniel’s corner came over from the right, and I met it with my head on the edge of the eighteen yard box. It flew into the top corner" ... and as one, the heads of the ten men dropped, the game now beyond them, courtesy a player who hadn’t scored at all this season.      Ridenton had now struck twice. Surely a third was simply too much to expect?

Two minutes from time, Koprivcic pursued a seemingly lost cause. Allister Sturm pressed him all the way, the defender seemingly winning the race with a sturdy challenge in the penalty area, under which the striker went down. In referee Neil Fox’s mind, however, there was no doubt - penalty. And as soon as he pointed towards the spot, all eyes turned downfield.

Sure enough, "Rido" was already motoring forward, the game won, and the scent of some long-overdue personal glory tantalising his nostrils. Forty All White appearances, two Chatham Cup winners’ medals and Auckland’s Player of the Year award in 1999 adorn his mantelpiece, but for this 33-year-old defender, the chance of adding a first hat-trick to his footballing CV was simply too good to refuse.

Aliaga handed the ball to his captain, and destiny was duly fulfilled - 5-2 to Central, a personal triumph for an unlikely scoring hero, and one of soccer’s nice guys to boot.

Central:          Nicholson; Ridenton, Thompson, Uhlmann (booked, 30); Hawke, Hill (booked, 51), Aliaga, Vuksich (booked, 23) (Major, 70), Stick; Eie (Carmody, 86), Banks (Koprivcic, 70)
Manawatu:     Englefield; Tesar (booked, 71), Harahap (booked, 73), Sturm (Glen-Watson, 88); Sandbrook, Cunliffe (McCallum, 90), Brown, McCormick, Robinson; Eaton (Duker, 86), Seales (booked, 31, 77 - sent-off)             
Referee:    Neil Fox

National League