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Central United v. Miramar Rangers, 31/3/02
Miramar Extract Maximum Revenge For Grand Final Defeat
by Jeremy Ruane

Miramar Rangers extracted maximum revenge from Central United for last seasonís Southern Trust National League Grand Final when trouncing the defending champions 5-3 on Easter Sunday in a rip-roaring affair at Kiwitea Street.

The tone of the match was set inside the first nine minutes, during which time three goals were scored, and a fourth only narrowly missed. Rangers started the ball rolling in the second minute. Jon Harahap sent the ball down the line to Graham Little, who galloped clear before whipping in a low cross for the unmarked David Batty to steer home from ten yards.

Central were level four minutes later. A slick one-touch passing move down the right saw Michael Ridenton and Bruce Hill combining to send Brian Hawke scurrying towards the byline.

His cross was targeting Herman Costabel, but Nick Longley stretched out a leg to intercept, only to endure the agony of steering the ball into his own net in the process. The sound of Centralís "Goal" celebration tape would not have been music to the ears of the visitorsí skipper.

Two minutes later, a Daniel Aliaga free-kick picked out Hawkeís head, and the ball only just cleared Dylan Hallís crossbar, the goalkeeper again deputising for the injured Adam Highfield.

From the resulting goal-kick, Miramar regained the advantage. Andy Hedge sent the ball forward down the right, and off went Little once more, aided by James Patersonís misjudgement. The Golden Boot-winning striker of 2001 maintained his goal-a-game average at the head of the pack in 2002 by slotting home past the advancing Ross Nicholson  - 2-1 Miramar.

Back came Central, Glenn Eie leading the charge in the thirteenth minute. He slipped the ball into Hawkeís path, but a splendid recovering tackle by Hedge denied the speedster the chance to restore parity, after which Miramar began to flex their footballing muscles.

Time and again they carved Central apart, the inspirational Tim Butterfield central to much of Miramarís mayhem-making. At times it was men against boys, with the home team playing with all the innocence and naivety of youth, much to the delight of the visitors, who were relishing the freedom such play afforded them.

Too few Central players were showing the stomach for the fight - their failure to compete was disturbing, to put it mildly, because that is one attribute which, throughout Centralís forty-year history, has been omni-present in the clubís make-up and approach.

Ridenton, Hawke and Paterson, and, to a lesser extent, Stick, Eie and Costabel, were giving their all for the home side, but you need more than three players to perform to their potential when free-scoring Miramar are in town, a fact underlined when the visitors sliced open Centralís rearguard for a third goal in the 25th minute.

Butterfield fed Little on the right, and his low cross picked out Geoff Brown charging through the middle. He side-stepped Daniel Dobrec before ramming the ball under the advancing Nicholson, who had charged off his line at the first hint that his defenderís efforts wouldnít be adequate.

Brown had an even better chance to score two minutes later, Little yet again the architect. But this time, the soon-to-depart-to-Europe striker lifted the ball over the bar from inside the goal area, with Dobrec right on his shoulder.

Central were springing leaks all over the park by this time, and Miramar were endeavouring to make the most of the situation. A David Johnston cross was scrambled clear, before Butterfield and Little combined to set up Brown once again, Nicholson turning his snapshot to safety on this occasion.

Brown then headed into the sidenetting on receipt of a Batty cross, before the outstretched leg of Nicholson thwarted Little from adding a fourth Miramar goal prior to the interval, after the striker had cut inside after being released down the left by Harahap.

The second half started in much the same vein, Butterfield battering a twenty-yard drive a yard wide of Nicholsonís left-hand upright. And after Herman Costabel had headed a Josh Stick cross skywards, following the combination play of Eie and half-time substitute Peter Spelman, the visitors came desperately close to making it 4-1.

Brown led the charge from half-way in the 52nd minute, and touched the ball towards the surging Batty. Stick got a foot to the ball, turning it towards Nicholson, who, with Batty bearing down on him, made a complete hash of saving at the midfielderís feet. Thankfully for Central, Paterson was on hand to spare their blushes this time round.

Just after the hour, Central were granted a lifeline. Eie and Hawke combined on the right-hand side, the latter getting to the byline before firing in a low cross. It didnít get very far, however, as it ricocheted off the hand of Longley, who was sliding in to challenge, for a corner.

But Stephen Budai, the refereeís assistant on the street-side touchline, was nothing if not vigilant in his duties, and considered that by playing the ball with his hand, albeit inadvertently, Longley had gained his team an unfair advantage. He explained this to referee Neil Fox, who immediately pointed to the penalty spot.

Longley was livid at what he considered a ridiculous decision. His outburst earned him a yellow card, as did that of Tariq Imam. And while there can be no denying the harshness of the call, what also couldnít be denied was that Central had been prevented from making the most of a goalscoring opportunity. Such are the Laws of the Game that, on this occasion, the officials really had no option open to them but to follow the course of action they did.

Up stepped Daniel Aliaga, who sent Hall the wrong way from the penalty spot, and suddenly it was "game on", as far as Central were concerned - they suddenly started to play as a competitive unit!

The home team dominated the next ten minutes, during which time Hall bravely saved at the feet of Costabel, Eie, Hawke and Harahap in one right-wing raid, ten looked on as Costabel hammered a shot into the sidenetting, moments after a timely Paterson clearance denied Brown at the death, as he looked to make the most of a Little cross.

With eighteen minutes left, and the game, despite Miramarís earlier dominance, now very much in the balance, Central committed the closest thing youíll see to footballing suicide - they substituted the player who was holding things together for them at the back.

Removing Paterson from the fray, rational reasoning irregardless, was akin to Sir Alf Ramseyís decision to replace Bobby Charlton during Englandís 1970 World Cup quarter-final against Germany - thereís no other way to describe it! (Well, there is, but itís not printable!!)

The impact of replacing the well-performed Paterson took just two minutes to materialise. When he left the field, Miramar led 3-2. Brown, who, like many of us, looked on in disbelief at this change of circumstances, suddenly had eyes like saucers, as a gaping hole in Centralís defence suddenly materialised, and he wasted no time whatsoever in making the most of it.

In the 73rd minute, Batty sent the ball forward towards the striker, who was greatly aided by Hillís slip as the injured midfielder looked to fill the void. Brown was through - cue another Nicholson charge off his goal-line. The goalkeeper came, saw and missed - open goal, thankyou very much, 4-2 Miramar.

Make that 5-2 a mere forty-five seconds later. Straight from the kick-off, the ball was played back to Jason Thompson, who slipped. Brown was onto the ball in a flash, and gave Nicholson no chance by slamming the ball past him to complete his hat-trick.

Central continued to press on in search of goals, any chance of victory now beyond them. In the 81st minute, an Aliaga corner to the far post picked out Ridenton, whose powerful downward header struck Imamís arm on the goal-line. Penalty, and a red card for the Miramar man, who knew his fate and was on his way even before referee Fox had had a chance to wield the card.

Costabel stepped forward, and sent Hall the wrong way from the spot, only for referee Fox to rule the goal out for encroachment. Take two! This time, Hall guessed correctly, but Costabel sent the shot sailing high into the net - 5-3. Surely there couldnít be any more twists in store?

On Centralís part, it wasnít for the want of trying. Eie and Hawke combined on the left, a touch to Stick, and a deep cross to the far post. Ridenton was hurtling in, but sent his header bulleting over the crossbar.

Mitch Brydon and Little were then thwarted by Thompson, before Stick unleashed a sizzling twenty-five yard drive which Hall tipped onto the angle of post and crossbar in the last minute.

5-3 was how it stayed, however, a highly entertaining affair from which Miramar fully deserved to emerge with the three points at stake. The win all but secures their spot in the play-offs, but the defending champions have a lot of work to do if they harbour ambitions of joining them.

How they respond to conceding twelve goals in two matches over three days, on home turf to boot, will speak volumes for the individual and collective character of Centralís squad, some of whom have a great deal of honest soul-searching to do in this regard.

Central:       Nicholson; Ridenton, Paterson (Major, 72), Dobrec (Spelman, 46), Thompson; Hawke, Hill (Vuksich, 74 (booked, 77)), Aliaga, Stick; Eie, Costabel
Miramar:     Hall (booked, 84); Hedge, Longley (booked, 61), Imam (booked, 61; sent-off, 81); Johnston, Batty (Farrington, 85), Butterfield, Birch (George, 74), Harahap; Little, Brown (Brydon, 79)
Referee:      Neil Fox

National League