Two quality strikes in the last six minutes of the first half proved enough to ensure the regaining of the Deane Low Shield by Australia's Secondary Schoolgirls soccer team at Mt. Smart Stadium on January 24.
The visitors' 2-1 win over a New Zealand Invitational Under-17 side was the culmination of an unbeaten five-match tour by the Australians, who recorded wins over Bay of Plenty (8-0) and Auckland (1-0 and 4-0) on their trip, their one blemish being a scoreless draw with a scratch Auckland Secondary Schools side.
In the one-off test, New Zealand began brightly, and should have taken the lead in the fifteenth minute. Avondale's Patrice Bourke intercepted an Australian attack, and switched the ball to Ruth Cooper, who promptly fed Lily Somerfield. The Eden midfielder staved off the challenges of two defenders, but, in doing so, was forced onto her weaker left foot. Goalkeeper Candice McMinn was little troubled by the resulting shot.
McMinn provided an instant of "from the sublime to the ridiculous" in the 26th minute. Bravely plucking the ball off the foot of Stacey Philpott, the goalkeeper's thrown clearance landed at the feet of Tarena O'Neil. Her first-time shot whistled past the gaping goal with the fast-retreating McMinn heaving a mighty sigh of relief at her good fortune.
The Australians were making regular inroads down New Zealand's left flank, with Peta Shirlaw and Cath Copeland, a 21st minute substitute, proving themselves to be the twin terrors at the heart of most such raids. Copeland brought a fine save from Stephanie Puckrin in the 33rd minute, but had reason aplenty to celebrate sixty seconds later.
Shirlaw's inch-perfect pass clinically bisected Margot Bowker and Sarah Parata in the heart of New Zealand's defence, and put Copeland, who had made a fine blindside run, in on goal with just Puckrin to beat. The supersub did the business, coolly despatching the ball beyond Mt. Roskill's goalkeeper to open the scoring.
Right on half-time, Copeland made the game safe, firing a thumping twenty-five yard free-kick beyond Puckrin to make it 2-0.
New Zealand came out fighting in the face of adversity early in the second spell, and pulled a goal back inside five minutes. O'Neil, who, moments earlier, had fired wide of the target, finished off a fine attack stylishly, after Lucy Wall and Melita Harrison had combined to capitalise on another disastrous McMinn clearance.
With just a goal in it, the game was poised to fulfil all expectations that trans-Tasman clashes raise, but those hopes evaporated in the 52nd minute with the sprinkler system's impromptu, not to mention untimely, intervention. Play ceased for five minutes, but not the entertainment - the sight of Deane Low running around muttering curses and other such comments still raises a chuckle!!
The break in play, however, took the edge off the game, while New Zealand's coach, Kathy Hall, strangely opted to substitute her side's two best-performed players on the day, Somerfield and Vicki Chong. This at a time when O'Neil was clearly tiring in midfield, and suffering cramp to boot.
2-1 it remained, with Puckrin denying Copeland again at the death, as the speedster sought her hat-trick. The shield heads west once again.