Lotto Northern Premier League leaders Onehunga Sports eased into the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup quarter-finals for the fourth time in seven years on July 15 with a nervous 1-0 victory over Melville United at Waikaraka Park.
It was a cup-tie which resembled a chess match for large phases of the contest, with the free-scoring Melville team - 81 goals in nineteen cup and First Division fixtures this season - erring on the side of caution on this occasion, and inviting "The Green Machine" to break them down.
Sports duly took up the challenge, but their patient approach meant chances were at a premium throughout the first forty-five minutes, so much so that neither goalkeeper had been forced to make a top drawer save by the time referee Avnit Maharaj blew the half-time whistle.
Harshae Raniga fired the first shot in anger on the quarter hour, opting to go it alone with Calvin Opperman in yards of space on his right. The filthy look which the latter gave the shooter after Raniga had dragged his shot well wide of the target spoke volumes.
Four minutes later, Opperman was more actively involved, Ross Haviland having surged out of defence before taking advantage of Tom Boss' intelligent off-the-ball movement, which drew two defenders and afforded the former U-17 international space in which to receive Haviland's pass and beat a defender before rattling the side-netting by Max Tommy's near post.
The visitors responded straight away, Joe Dawkins' failure to clear his lines under Steven Holloway's pressure allowing Jama Boss the chance to lob Louis Caunter, an opportunity which the midfielder guided wastefully into the grateful goalkeeper's gloves.
The cagey nature of the contest showed no sign of abating over the course of the next ten minutes, until a cleared Andrew Milne free-kick on the half-hour sent Stafford Dowling scampering down the right at pace for the visitors.
He took on both Shohei Moriyasu - he was outstanding throughout for Sports - and the retreating figure of Opperman before battering a twenty-five yarder past Caunter's left-hand upright, an effort which proved to be the last shot of the half.
Sports dominated possession throughout proceedings, but the final ball was too often their downfall, undoing all the patient approach work which the movement of the likes of Boss and Jordan Vale made possible.
The latter featured in the last act of note in the half, three minutes before its conclusion. Vale worked a slick one-two with Milne just outside the area, but the vital tackle of Robbie Greenhalgh meant there was no way through for Sports' mid-season signing.
"The Green Machine" began the second half on the front foot, Haviland leading the charge in the 53rd minute before forcing Tommy to save his twenty-five yard effort, which was swiftly followed by an Opperman volley over the bar after Milne's corner to the far post had been headed inside by Dawkins and down by Jack Caunter.
Melville's first clear chance of the second spell materialised in the 57th minute, and saw Greenhalgh's free-kick pick out Holloway on the edge of the penalty area, in behind Sports' rearguard. Just as he shaped to shoot, Moriyasu picked his pocket to avert the danger, much to the striker's chagrin.
It was to prove a costly miss, for two minutes later, Onehunga opened the scoring. Jack Caunter played the ball wide to Moriyasu, the fullback quickly linking with Opperman as the move swiftly gained momentum.
His angled ball inside found Milne darting in off the left in between the defenders, giving him just enough of an edge to flick the ball past the advancing figure of Tommy and into the net beyond, despite the despairing efforts of Eric Seekie to clear the ball.
Now Melville had to change their tactics, but before they did, they very nearly found themselves two goals down, Tommy forced into a desperate clearance after a mix-up with Greenhalgh came close to being capitalised on by the ever-willing Boss.
That 66th minute incident was followed seconds later by a double-save from Tommy which kept Melville in the tie. Raniga played the ball inside to Vale, who unleashed a curler which Tommy, at full stretch, turned away.
Unfortunately for United, he directed the sphere straight to Opperman, who set up Milne for what seemed certain to be his second goal in eight minutes, until Tommy produced a terrific block with his legs to keep the shot out. This time, the ball rebounded to Boss, who drove his shot past the far post.
Melville duly changed tactics, and it was Dowling, who had moved in-field as a result of the alteration, who engineered the opening with a delightful weaving run through three challenges, until he was felled just outside the area.
Marc Evans directed the resulting free-kick inches past Louis Caunter's right-hand post, then protested vehemently but in vain for a corner. Referee Mahajan, who booked five players in this contest, wasn't having a bar of his claims - goal kick!
Another Haviland run from deep - this time a sixty yard effort - culminated in a shot which required another save from Tommy eleven minutes from time. The goalkeeper cleared the ball downfield, in doing so sparking Melville's best chance of an equaliser.
Lachlan McIsaac gathered the ball on the left, and delivered a cross which picked out Evans, who headed the ball down into the stride of Dowling, arriving on the edge of the six-yard box.
Louie Caunter stood his ground well to block the shot at close quarters, and was right behind a twenty-five yarder from Seekie three minutes later, as the visitors sought a late leveller to take the game to extra time.
It wasn't forthcoming, however, with Sports unlucky not to net a second goal - which would have confirmed their superiority on the day - four minutes before the end. Dawkins got the better of Dowling and instantly pinged the ball forward for substitute Max Mata to pursue.
Tommy raced off his line to thwart the newcomer, but the ball fell kindly for Boss, whose effort was cleared off the line by Greenhalgh, the defender having the presence of mind to retreat to the goal-line in Tommy's absence.
"The Green Machine" now await Tuesday's quarter-finals draw, hoping, like all eight teams, that they will be afforded a home draw, thus avoiding the costs associated with a possible journey to either Christchurch, Masterton, Nelson or Wellington, the four locations south of the Bombay Hills boasting teams still in Chatham Cup contention.
Onehunga: L. Caunter; Moriyasu, Dawkins, Haviland, Cooper; Opperman, T. Boss (booked, 90), J. Caunter, Milne (booked, 90), Raniga (Mata, 73); Vale
Melville: Tommy; Seekie (Mouncher, 90), Greenhalgh (booked, 60), O'Brien, McIsaac; Dowling, Hayes (booked, 3), J. Boss, Hinchcliffe (booked, 87) (McMullan, 90); Evans, Holloway (Robb, 65)
Referee: Avnit Maharaj