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Stirling Sports Premiership round review
Team Wellington, Hawkes Bay Confirm Semis Slots
by Jeremy Ruane
Team Wellington clinched a second-placed finish in the Stirling Sports Premiership in the final game of round-robin action on March 19, convincingly seeing off Canterbury United 3-1 at English Park to secure themselves a home semi-final.

After enduring early pressure from "The Dragons", the reigning champions broke the deadlock in style courtesy Joel Stevens' thumping twenty yard volley twenty-five minutes into the contest.

Ten minutes later, only the crossbar prevented Mario Barcia from doubling the visitors' advantage in like fashion, but with the second half just 34 seconds old, Ben Harris doubled Team Wellington's lead with a stylish finish to cap off a fine move.

This roused Canterbury into life, with Gary Ogilvie's swerving forty-yarder forcing Scott Basalaj to scramble the ball to safety as the home team sought a way back into the contest.

The 'keeper produced a fine save to keep out a long-range effort from Sean Morris thirteen minutes from time, after which Wellington went desperately close to increasing their lead on three occasions, with Niko Kirwan and Golden Boot winner Tom Jackson denied by the legs of Danny Knight either side of a Stevens effort which narrowly missed the far post.

Wellington's persistence was rewarded in the ninetieth minute, Hailemariam capping a fine four-man move in which Kirwan was integral. But the visitors blotted their copybook in stoppage time, Justin Gulley conceding a penalty which Aaron Clapham despatched with his usual accuracy to leave Auckland City on top of the standings on goal difference, as well as in their head-to-head tussles with the Wellingtonians.

Earlier in the day, Hawkes Bay United claimed fourth position at Eastern Suburbs' expense by hammering Hamilton Wanderers 4-0 at Bluewater Stadium, but only after suffering a real scare when Sam O'Regan saw his 33rd minute penalty saved by Josh Hill.

Bay punished that let off in the second spell, but were given a boost four minutes before half-time when an Angus Kilkolly cross was inadvertently turned into his own net by a retreating defender.

Kilkolly himself got on the scoresheet two minutes after the interval, and when Cory Chettleburgh made it 3-0 five minutes later, the game was up for Hamilton, whose target switched to not conceding another goal, as it would be the fiftieth they had yielded this season.
They were on course to achieve that objective until four minutes from time, when Facundo Barbero belted home Hawkes Bay's fourth goal of the afternoon to confirm their fourth-placed finish, and a trip to Kiwitea Street on Saturday.

Tasman United finished off their maiden campaign in style at Trafalgar Park on Saturday, their 5-2 triumph over Southern United - who, as a result of this defeat, have earned the wooden spoon this season - inspired by a four-goal haul from Paul Ifill.

He bagged the first of his quartet with a close-range finish in the fourteenth minute, a goal inspired by Ermal Hajdari, who went close to doubling Tasman's lead soon afterwards.

That honour befell Ifill from the penalty spot just shy of the half-hour mark, but it didn't take long for the visitors, who had already tested Cory Turipa in the home team's goal, to find a way past the custodian, Danny Furlong heading them back into contention eleven minutes before half-time.

Three minutes into the second half, Ifill completed his hat-trick while restoring Tasman's two-goal advantage, which, after a plethora of chances at both ends, including a crossbar-rattling free-kick from Southern, was extended still further by Tanishe Marowa just after the hour mark.

The visitors had to score next if they harboured hopes of mounting a comeback, and did so via Furlong's penalty twenty minutes from time. But Ifill's dash wasn't done, and he potted his second spot-kick of the game five minutes later to seal the deal for Tasman, who finished the game with seven teenagers on the park after their squad was reduced to the bare bones by the call of the winter football season.

So it boils down to the final weekend in Saturday for the top four teams, two of which will advance to the Grand Final at QBE Stadium on April 2. On Saturday, Auckland City welcome Hawkes Bay to Kiwitea Street, while Sunday's semi-final pits Team Wellington against Waitakere, possibly as a curtain-raiser to Wellington Phoenix's Hyundai A-League clash at Westpac Stadium later that evening.

Canterbury United 1 (A. Clapham (90 pen)), Team Wellington 3 (J. Stevens (25), B. Harris (46), N. Hailemariam (90))  HT 0-1
Hawkes Bay United 4 ("oggie" (41), A. Kilkolly (47), C. Chettleburgh (52), F. Barbero (86)), Hamilton Wanderers 0  HT 1-0
Tasman United 5 (P. Ifill (14, 28 pen, 48, 75 pen), T. Marowa (63)), Southern United 2 (D. Furlong (34, 69 pen))  HT 2-1

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