TEAM Gisborne took a huge step towards the Pacific Premiership football title on Saturday.
They beat main rivals Taradale Prems 4-1 in an action-packed game in Hawke’s Bay.
With two games to go, Jennian Homes Team Gisborne are now three points ahead of Taradale at the top of the table.
The championship could still elude player-coach Brett Derry and his lads, but their two remaining games are at home so nobody is likely to be betting against them.
All followers of the premiership were convinced that this game would virtually be the championship decider.
On the face of it they are right. It is hard to see Taradale coming back after losing on their own pitch.
The Hawke’s Bay Challenge Cup was also at stake in this game so Gisborne will now defend it against visiting teams.
Saturday’s 4-1 scoreline might suggest Gisborne cruised to an easy win. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Taradale team stormed into the game in the early stages, fighting back hard when they went down against the run of play.
It was not until well into the second half that Gisborne took a lead beyond the comeback reach of Taradale’s ever-dangerous strikers Chris McIvor, Kerry Bartlett and Mike Daly.
This in itself was no mean feat and full marks must go to Derry for his leadership.
Faced with injuries to ace goalscorers Kieran Ryan and Nick Somerton and the recent departure of regular centreback Daniel Taylor to England, Derry put his boots back on for this one.
It was a decision that probably clinched the honours on the day. His presence up front alongside sharpshooter Albert Geuze caused Taradale all sorts of problems.
Derry can play anywhere and have an impact on the game.
Today his best position would probably be sweeper, organising the defence. But on Saturday he went to the other end of the pitch to help Geuze trouble the strong Taradale defence.
He also contributed hugely to the efforts of lively central midfielders man-of-the-match Nicky Land and David Ure. They never wasted a ball all day and linked well with clever flank players Max Logan and Kane Stirton.
They, in turn, worked hard to help defenders Liam Ryan, Kieran Venema, Josh Bates and Craig Christophers.
It was Gisborne’s most gruelling opening spell of the season. This was understandable as Taradale had strong support and the home advantage. They came into the game playing a confident, close-passing, accurate style of football that tested Gisborne keeper Mitchell Stewart-Hill and his crew to the full. But the rearguard never put a foot wrong.
Then in the 16th minute Gisborne stunned the home support. Derry and Geuze combined well and set up a shooting chance for human dynamo Land.
He burst on to the ball from midfield and belted home a shot from the edge of the penalty area.
From then on there was no doubt who would be man of the match. Land just never stopped working, in defence and on attack.
Ure was once again the architect of many Gisborne moves and he linked up well with Derry to trouble the Taradale defence.
Gisborne have been playing an enterprising passing game all season and it has paid dividends. But once they had grabbed the lead and found Taradale pouring forward, closing down space and looking for interceptions, Gisborne put up the shutters.
But they didn’t just boot the ball anywhere. Skipper Ryan showed the way once again with the perfect long ball. He turned desperate defence into deadly attack in the 26th minute when he won the ball in his own defensive third, spotted Geuze on the run and sent him goalwards with an inch-perfect long ball. Geuze raced clear and gave the keeper no chance with a masterly finish . . . 2-0.
But full marks to Taradale. They came battling back, putting the emphasis on attack, and were awarded a penalty. It stemmed from one of those difficult-to-assess incidents when a defender tries to block the ball but is judged to have handled it deliberately.
Taradale netted from the spot and were right back in the game.
Both teams were playing so well that, at this stage, a draw looked on the cards.
But after Land and Ure had done the spadework in midfield, Derry linked with them and flicked the ball into the space behind the defence. Needle-sharp Ure darted on to it and chipped it in over the keeper. Sheer magic . . . 3-1.
And there was more to come. Derry and Geuze combined well again for Geuze to cut in and make it 4-1 in the 80th minute.
Substitutes Juan Francis, Jared McMillan and Cai Maclean all saw some game time in the second half.
Other results: Maycenvale 1 Havelock North Wanderers 0, Port Hill United 2 Napier Marist 2, Western Rangers 0 Napier City 4, Taradale AFC a bye.