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Champions Regain Ascendancy In Title Race
by Jeremy Ruane
The advantage has swung back Three Kings United's way in the race for the Lotto Northern Premier Women's League title as they came from behind to beat co-leaders Eastern Suburbs 2-1 in a hard-fought encounter at Keith Hay Park on July 23.

Both teams had chances inside the first three minutes, with Tayla O'Brien hitting the post with a corner before Hannah Robert volleyed wildly over when misjudging a cross from Rebecca Burrows, who was to prove a hugely influential figure in the match.

But not before Suburbs took the lead, O'Brien breasting home the rebound on the quarter hour after Aimee Phillips' swashbuckling run had culminated in a shot which Rivalina Fuimaono could only parry.

The goal saw "The Lilywhites" gain in confidence, and they were well on top over the course of the next twenty minutes, during which time referee Deb Stevens bewildered all-comers with some interesting - to put it mildly! - interpretations of the game's laws.

The reigning champions looked out of sorts, but they were hauled back into the contest five minutes before the break by a quite amazing equaliser from Burrows, who somehow forged a path through four challengers just inside the penalty area before unleashing a shot which was deflected past Corina Brown into the net.

Seven minutes into the second half, United took the lead, Lily Dowsett turning the ball home past the wrong-footed figure of Brown after Claudia Crasborn and Isabella Richards had combined on the right.

Only a fine save by Brown prevented Burrows thirty-five yarder from extending United's lead soon after, while Suburbs' 'keeper produced an absolutely stunning save to thwart the same player twelve minutes from time, as Burrows unleashed a dipping twenty-five yarder which was destined for the net until Brown's breathtaking fingertip save.

In between times, Fuimaono had produced a solid double-save to foil Phillips and Erin Roxburgh, who had strong penalty claims turned away by referee Stevens when going down under Crasborn's challenge twenty minutes from time.

It was all hands on deck for the title-holders by this stage, with Suburbs striving for an equaliser in a game neither side could afford to lose. But when Molly Bryans saw her stoppage time shot saved by Fuimaono, the game was up for the visitors, who still have a game in hand on their conquerors.

Three Kings' win wasn't good news for third-placed Glenfield Rovers, who continued their strong resurgence with a last-gasp 2-1 victory at Western Springs on Friday evening, "supersub" Laney Strachan netting the winner with thirty seconds to go after Katie Rood's 27th minute opener had been cancelled out three minutes later by Maisy Dewell.

Ashleigh Emery was the busier of the two 'keepers throughout proceedings, with Rood in particular having reason aplenty to be frustrated by the frequent interventions of "The Hoops"' custodian. But Strachan's late strike makes if four straight losses for Springs, three of which have come in league action.
Goals in each half from Tiana Hill and Sarah Krystman earned Claudelands Rovers a 2-0 win at Huapai Domain over Norwest United, one of four teams whose closing weeks of the season are set to be rather nervous ones, following proposed eleventh hour changes to the make-up of the competition from next season onwards which emerged on Friday.

A combination of Papatoetoe's late withdrawal from the league just before the start of the season, and NZ Football's Competitions Review recommending no more than eight teams compete in the leading Regional Women's Leagues around the country, has presented league management with the opportunity to make that change sooner rather than later.

It means that the goalposts have moved for Forrest Hill-Milford United, Hamilton Wanderers, Northland and Norwest with just weeks of the season remaining. One proposed change sees the ninth-placed team - currently Hamilton - relegated back to their Federation League.

The other sees the eighth-placed team - currently Northland - set to contest a play-off series which will also involve the Conference League and WaiBOP League champions, the winner of which will complete the 2018 Lotto Northern Premier Women's League line-up.

This news added an extra element to Hamilton's clash with Forrest Hill-Milford at Porritt Stadium, but "The Swans" held too many guns for the bottom-placed side, prevailing 4-0 thanks to goals from Jasmine Walden, Renee Mitau-Wasi, Arabella Maynard and Talisha Green.

Both these teams are set to lose key players to the Young Ferns' squad which contests the OFC U-16 Women's Championship in Apia next month, a team which, thanks to Vanuatu's late withdrawal, will play two games in three days at the start of group play, then won't play for an entire week - how those clubs could do with their players during that period!

Meanwhile, hard on the heels of the Junior Ferns' qualification for France - they play their last OFC U-19 Women's Championship match against Tonga at Ngahue Reserve from 10am on Monday, the Football Ferns Development Squad resumes its battles with the boys on Thursday evening, with Forrest Hill-Milford providing the opposition on the QBE Stadium Tigerturf.

That means the players in that squad will be free to contest next Sunday's round of Premier Women's League action, which spotlights the clash of Glenfield and Suburbs at McFetridge Park.

Three Kings travel to Claudelands' Galloway Park home, while Springs welcome Northland to Seddon Fields in a round which kicks off on Friday evening, with "The Swans" and Norwest locking horns under the Becroft Park floodlights.

Hamilton Wanderers 0, Forrest Hill-Milford United 4 (J. Walden (19), R. Mitau-Wasi (63), A. Maynard (75), T. Green (83))  HT 0-1
Norwest United 0, Claudelands Rovers 2 (T. Hill (10), S. Krystman (74))  HT 0-1
Three Kings United 2 (R. Burrows (40), L. Dowsett (52)), Eastern Suburbs 1 (T. O'Brien (15))  HT 1-1
Western Springs 1 (M. Dewell (30)), Glenfield Rovers 2 (K. Rood (27), L. Strachan (90))  HT 1-1

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