Team Wellington booked themselves a home semi-final in the Stirling Sports Premiership on March 19 after convincingly overcoming Canterbury United 3-1 at English Park in the final round-robin match of the campaign.
Despite having only pride to play for, the Cantabrians began brightly, with captain Aaron Clapham firing the first shot in anger at Scott Basalaj from twenty yards just four minutes into the contest.
Three minutes later, Clapham played a corner short to Matthew Wiesenfarth, who evaded a challenge before lashing a low drive goalwards. Basalaj blocked it, but Stephen Hoyle, who was first to the rebound, saw his attempt to convert it deflected to safety.
Canterbury continued to press. On the quarter hour, Wiesenfarth raced down the right before picking out Hoyle with a low cross. He side-stepped one opponent before charging into the penalty area.
Bill Robertson ensured he made no further progress, and ignited a Wellington counter-attack which culminated in a low cross-shot from Ben Harris being cleared off the line by Aaron Spain, who intervened again in like fashion soon afterwards as the reigning champions began to up the pressure levels.
In the 25th minute, they broke through. Canterbury failed to adequately address a free-kick from Leonardo Villa, the partial clearance inviting Joel Stevens to unleash a thumping twenty yard volley which Danny Knight got his fingertips to, but couldn't prevent from crossing the line to give Wellington a 1-0 lead.
That goal settled the title contenders, who held the upper hand thereafter and went desperately close to doubling their lead ten minutes before half-time, Mario Barcia's dipping volley deserving of better fate than to strike the crossbar.
Clapham sought to get United back on level terms soon after, and was only narrowly astray with his free-kick. But before he fired his next shot in anger, Wellington had doubled their lead.
Just 34 seconds into the second half, the electronic scoreboard operator at English Park reluctantly registered '2' next to the visitors' name. Barcia's threaded through ball invited Harris to turn between two defenders, then despatch an unerring fifteen-yarder across the diving figure of Knight into the far corner of the net - a fine strike!
Both architect and executioner incurred the wrath of referee Chris Kerr soon after for their role in separate incidents, with captain Robertson also on hand to heed the admonishing message expressed by the retiring official.
In Barcia's case, he was fortunate to avoid a second yellow card, and Wellington coach Jose Figueira swiftly moved to ensure his midfielder would be available for semi-final action by withdrawing him in favour of Nico Kirwan.
In between times, Clapham volleyed wide from twelve yards, before Jack Anderson squandered a glorious chance to pull one back for the home team, Hoyle and Wiesenfarth opening up Wellington's defence, only to find the youngster completely wrong-footed with the goal at his mercy in the 58th minute.
Gary Ogilvie went closer still seconds later. Spotting Basalaj off his line, having just received the ball outside the centre circle, the midfielder let rip with a wickedly struck effort which had Basalaj scrambling frantically to prevent the long-range effort from crossing the line.
By this stage, the game had deteriorated somewhat, both teams struggling to string three passes together - if that sometimes - before gifting possession to the opposition. Spain, in particular, was a multiple offender where failing to cherish the ball was concerned.
It reached its nadir when Harris' over-zealous challenge on Andreas Wilson earned the striker another yellow card to add to his collection, and left both players nursing injuries, the offender, ironically, the player who was worse off in the aftermath.
Harris' departure soon afterwards was the catalyst for Wellington to produce some really nice football, the striker's needlessly aggressive edge replaced by a far more attractive style of play, rich in movement, vibrancy and creativity.
At its heart was Kirwan, but before he could grab the game by the scruff of the neck, Canterbury twice went close to pegging a goal back. Basalaj was forced to fly to his left to keep out a twenty-five yarder from Sean Morris, which followed a Clapham free-kick taken soon after Colin Van Gool and Wiesenfarth combined in an effort to play in Hoyle, only for Basalaj to intercept the cross at his near post.
Wellington slipped through the gears eight minutes from time, Andy Bevin and Nathaniel Hailemariam working a one-two on the left which saw the former set up Kirwan, who evaded a challenge before seeing his shot blocked by the legs of Knight.
Three minutes later, the same trio were prominent again for the visitors as they contrived another opening, one which the hitherto quiet Tom Jackson set up for Stevens, whose shot flashed narrowly past the far post with Knight beaten.
Two minutes from time, Hailemariam scampered away down the left before setting up Jackson for a chance which, on another day, he would have gobbled up. But this time round, Knight's legs spared Canterbury's blushes once again.
He couldn't keep Wellington at bay forever, however, and as the game entered stoppage time, the visitors crowned their win with a fine goal. Kirwan surged forward before rewarding Bevin's run, the flank player linking with Josh Margetts before the ball was returned to Kirwan.
He curled a sublime ball in behind the Canterbury defence to find Hailemariam darting in on cue, the substitute wrapping up the win with an accomplished finish to make it 3-0.
That should have been the final score, but Canterbury made one last concerted effort to get on the scoresheet, and were rewarded in stoppage time when Justin Gulley's ill-timed challenge on youngster Nicholas Haworth saw referee Kerr pointing to the penalty spot, from where Clapham sent Basalaj the wrong way in unerring fashion to bring about the final 3-1 scoreline.
While Canterbury's season is done and dusted, it's far from the case for Wellington, who take on Waitakere United in one of two semi-finals they have coming up during the next few weeks, the other being a two-legged OFC Champions League showdown with AS Magenta, the second leg of which will be played at Dave Farrington Park.
Canterbury: Knight; Spain, Van Gool (booked, 61), Schwarz, Wilson; Clapham, Ogilvie, Morris; Wiesenfarth (Schacht, 78), Hoyle, Anderson (Haworth, 63)
Wellington: Basalaj; Gulley, Robertson, Moretti (Schrijvers, 89); Margetts, Barcia (booked, 37) (Kirwan, 51), Villa (booked, 90), Stevens; Jackson, Bevin, Harris (booked, 67), (Hailemariam, 70)
Referee: Chris Kerr