Auckland City moved into second place on the ISPS Handa Premiership on Guy Fawke's Day, comfortably accounting for Canterbury United 3-1 after the visiting team enjoyed the better of the early exchanges at Kiwitea Street.
But their failure to truly trouble Enaut Zubikarai - a wild twenty yard volley from George King in the twelfth minute best summed up their efforts, with the ball clearing the clubrooms! - during this period was ruthlessly punished by City, who struck on both occasions they threatened in the first sixteen minutes of play.
Their first strike came in the ninth minute, and was instigated by Albert Riera's ball wide to Darren White. The newly naturalised fullback brought Reid Drake into play, and his flick encouraged Emiliano Tade to slip the sphere into the path of Callum McCowatt.
The youngster promptly worked a deft one-two with Drake to put himself in on goal with just Coey Turipa to beat, and the 'keeper found himself powerless to prevent a fiercely struck ten yard volley from crashing into the net behind him.
Worse was to follow for Canterbury seven minutes later. Dae Wook Kim released White down the right, with the fullback heading the ball inside to Tade. He cleverly lifted the ball over the head of Tom Schwarz before evading another challenge prior to picking out the top far corner of the net past the unsighted Turipa - 2-0.
The early double-strike allowed City to keep United at arm's length for much of the balance of the contest. The visitors were left having to feed on scraps, such as in the nineteenth minute, when a stray defensive pass gave Juan Chang a sniff of goal, only for Zubikarai to hurtle off his line and hoof the ball to safety.
Moments later, McCowatt could have wrapped up the points for Auckland. Cameron Howieson released the youngster on the counter-attack, but upon gathering the ball he neglected to look up and assess the situation.
Had he done so, he would have seen Turipa miles out of his goal, desperately scrambling back towards it, and ripe for lobbing from distance. Instead, McCowatt kept his head down before playing the ball towards Tade, whose supporting run had been well tracked and meant he could make no further progress upon receiving the pass.
Ten minutes before half-time, Auckland launched a sweeping attack which started on half-way. White and Drake worked a one-two before the former brought Howieson into play. He promptly released Takuya Iwata down the left, the overlapping fullback picking out McCowatt with his cross.
He evaded a couple of challenges before turning into a blind alley, from where he fired a shot well wide of a target which Tade narrowly missed hitting with a twenty-five yarder on the stroke of half-time.
Canterbury came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half, and mustered their first opening of note inside the first sixty seconds. Andreas Wilson and Chang combined with Aaron Spain, whose cross invited Stephen Hoyle to out-jump the Auckland defence. His header flashed narrowly over the bar - a warning shot across the bows which the home team heeded, for Canterbury created very little of consequence thereafter.
Indeed, their next opportunity, on the hour, came courtesy a City error, with Kim's untimely stumble allowing three Cantabrians the chance to bear down on goal. Before they had the chance to, however, Angel Berlanga careered across the top of the penalty area and cleared the danger.
By now, City had regained control of proceedings,
with Turipa called upon either side of Kim's error to keep United in the contest. On both occasions, he thwarted Tade, the first of them a parried denial from an acutely angled shot struck from near the by-line.
United's goalkeeper was powerless to prevent City from scoring their third goal in the 65th minute. McCowatt gathered the ball on the edge of the penalty area and fed Tade, whose cross was headed out by Wilson.
Sadly for Canterbury, however, the fullback's attempted clearance landed straight at the feet of McCowatt, who wasted little time in slamming the ball home via the underside of the crossbar - 3-0.
The game very quickly became an exercise in 'by how many', as Auckland started to dip into their box of tricks. Three minutes after the goal, Berlanga pinged one forward to release Tade down the left. He turned Schwarz this way and that before finally being denied by Turipa as he looked to deftly flick the ball over the approaching custodian.
McCowatt and Tade then combined with Drake, whose chip from the edge of the penalty area was tipped over the bar by Turipa. McCowatt and Tade then combined with substitute Fabrizio Tavano in the 76th minute, but the newcomer's return pass to his Argentine team-mate was mis-timed - Tade would have been in on goal with Turipa to beat had it not been.
Unperturbed, City pressed again, Tade sweeping the ball wide into the stride of White, who raced forward before picking out the front-runner with a cross - at least, he would have done, had Turipa not plucked the ball off Tade's head at the near post thirteen minutes from time.
Five minutes later, Zubikarai played the ball wide to Iwata, who produced a lovely piece of ball control before feeding Tade. His clever pass sent McCowatt away down the left, from where he cut into the penalty area only to encounter the retreating figure of Wilson, who eagerly made amends for his part in City's third goal on this occasion.
Three minutes from time, Tavano worked a one-two with White on the right before linking with Tade in similar fashion on the edge of the area, the latter's return pass leaving Tavano with just Turipa to beat, a chance the 'keeper denied by blocking bravely at the substitute's feet.
Canterbury, for whom attacks by now were as rare as hen's teeth, earned themselves a consolation goal in stoppage time. Gary Ogilvie's free-kick picked out Cory Mitchell, with the substitute's header goalwards being deftly flicked home from close range by fellow newcomer Travis Nicklaw, whose effort brought about the final scoreline.
It wasn't the last act of the match, however, City twice going close to restoring their three-goal margin via the attempts of substitute Dan Morgan and Iwata, whose buccaneering run deserved better fate.
The points deservedly belonged to the home team, however, with City proving very good value for their 3-1 win over a Canterbury combination which started both halves strongly, but which quickly fizzled out in the face of Auckland's superior firepower in this Guy Fawke's Day encounter.
Auckland: Zubikarai; White (booked, 90), Kim, Berlanga, Iwata (booked, 90); Riera (Hudson-Wihongi, 82), Moss-Edge, Howieson; Drake (Tavano, 71), Tade, McCowatt (Morgan, 87)
Canterbury: Turipa; Wilson, Terris (Mitchell, 72), Schwarz, King (booked, 75); Ogilvie, Spain, Clapham (Clark, 75 (booked, 90)); Chang (Nicklaw, 62), Nakamura, Hoyle (booked, 26)
Referee: Campbell-Kirk Waugh