United, Thistle back on course
Redemption was what Gisborne teams United and Thistle wanted and on Saturday they achieved it.
United beat Western Rangers 5-1 at Harry Barker Reserve and Thistle beat Maycenvale 3-0 at Hastings Sports Park.
The previous weekend, both Gisborne teams had suffered their first losses of the year in football's Pacific Premiership.
Two goals each to striker Josh Adams and defensive midfielder Kieran Venema set Heavy Equipment Services Gisborne United on the way to victory.
The fifth goal came from PJ Goodlett's follow-up after Western Rangers keeper Scott Helson couldn't hold Venema's 30-metre piledriver.
The 5-1 scoreline seemed harsh on Western Rangers, who competed vigorously and often skilfully. But they hardly ever managed to get close enough to United's goal, or find the space to shoot when they did, to trouble Gisborne goalkeeper Seth Piper.
The goal United conceded — in the 76th minute to make the score 4-1 — was a 35-metre snapshot that dipped under the bar.
It was another highlight Down Under for the scorer, Chilean midfielder Alvaro Zepeda, who is in New Zealand on a working holiday. He had come on as a substitute for rightback Pablo Juarez 20 minutes earlier and moved forward when Argentinian working holidaymaker Braian Autorde came on in defence a little later.
For much of the game, Rangers denied clearcut chances to United's trio of danger men — Josh Adams, Josh Harris and Jarom Brouwer. But it's a 90-minute job, with no room for momentary lapses.
Centrebacks Thomas (TJ) Hinde and Anthony Baker made sure one of them was covering the other, so that breakaway goals were taken out of the equation.
Leftback Luke Morgan gave support and proved a useful launchpad for many of the Rangers attacks.
Sitting just in front of the defence was Dale Simpson, while Martin Zuquetti and Morgan Samuels were up against United's Brouwer, Harris and the hard-running Malcolm Marfell in midfield. Brouwer was nominally a striker, but he and Harris swapped back and forth throughout.
One or the other of Rangers' frontrunners Cory Janssen and Jarvis Alatise would drop back to help, in a bid to slow down United's attacks.
But it also gave United the numerical advantage when Rangers attacked.Alatise, 17, is a student at Hastings Boys' High School and has already represented Samoa at full international level. His pace and skill were evident on Saturday, but neither he nor the well-performed Janssen got any change from United central defenders Mal Scammell and Dane Thompson.
When either striker looked as if he might find the space for a shot, sweeper Kieran Higham or Venema were usually on hand to snuff out the threat.
When United build from the back, it can look laborious and at times risky, but if they can reach the attacking third still in possession, the sparks start to fly.
There the quick interpassing and sharp running of Adams, Harris and Brouwer come into play. On Saturday, they had James Bristow on the left and Craig Christophers on the right adding width to the attack and a helping hand to the defence.
Still, it took a series of “special moments” to break down Rangers.
The first came in the 18th minute. United had a free-kick for a foul on Harris 20 metres out. Left-footer Adams and right-footer Venema lined up behind the ball, Adams ran over it and Venema placed it over the wall and into the right-hand side of the net.
Seven minutes later, the ball was played from the right across the edge of the penalty area to Adams, who turned and got far enough from his marker to get in a carefully placed left-foot shot into the left side of the goal.
In the 63rd minute, a deft passing move down the right ended with Brouwer cutting the ball back to Adams, lurking around the penalty spot. His first-time shot came off his right foot — a rarity — and went in at the far post.
Four minutes later, a free-kick just outside the penalty area produced a routine identical to that of the first goal, with the same result — Venema scoring.
Then came the Rangers goal and, in the 83rd minute, the Venema-Goodlett double-act that made the final score 5-1.
United coach Corey Adams said he felt Rangers had played too deep, which opened the pitch up for the United midfield.
“We dominated the midfield,” he said.
“Craig Christophers played a good game. I thought he was enjoying it so I left him in there.
“We're still a little bit behind in our fitness. This was a good run for the boys and it was good to move on from last week.”
Western Rangers coach Grant Hastings said he was happy his side gave a good account of themselves, but in this game it seemed everything United touched turned to gold.
Rangers fullbacks Juarez and Morgan were shown the yellow card for bad tackles, and United's Bristow was shown it following a retaliatory shove on Juarez.
In the second half, United brought on Campbell Hall for Bristow, Jake Robertson for Malcolm Marfell and Goodlett for Josh Adams.
Referee Chris Niven controlled the game well.
In Hastings, Gisborne Vehicle Testing Thistle struggled to settle in the first half, coach Garrett Blair said.
The intensity and physicality of the Maycenvale side upset Thistle's rhythm and at halftime the score was 0-0.
The message at the break was to settle down, keep the ball on the deck, play good football and not get involved in the niggle.
“In the second half we put a lot more emphasis on being direct,” Blair said.
“We looked to shift the ball quicky out of our defensive third and play a lot more in our attacking third.”
The change paid dividends in the 53rd minute, when striker Tomek Frooms played the ball in to midfielder Charlie Morris, ran on to the return pass and from about the penalty spot placed the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal.
That got Thistle going. A shot from skipper and central midfielder Nick Land was cleared off the line and a header from right midfielder Ashley McMillan hit the crossbar.
In the 80th minute, Davie Ure — who linked well with Frooms up front — burst into the Maycenvale penalty area and was brought down. Centreback Ander Batarrita placed the penalty beyond the keeper to make it 2-0.
McMillan completed the scoring in the 87th minute. The ball was crossed from the left, skimmed the head of a defender and fell to McMillan, beyond the back post. From 10 metres out on the angle, he hit the ball on the half-volley and it beat the keeper at the near post.
McMillan was one of those to shine for Thistle on Saturday.
“He hassled, he didn't shirk his defensive duties, he got to the byline and he was rewarded with a goal,” Blair said.
Land worked hard throughout and got the team going, he said.
“It wasn't our best performance. The pitch was really heavy. It was good to get out of there with a 3-0 win.”
Blair said Frooms did well after taking a heavy challenge in the first five minutes.
“We had to bring him off, strap him up and put him back on.
“It was a tough game that — based on the first 45 minutes — could have gone either way. We lost the corresponding fixture 1-0 last year, and it cost us the title. We had a strong incentive to rectify matters.”
Rather than play Frooms in an attacking midfield role, Blair had him play up front with Ure and they took turns dropping back.
Blair thought that the previous week the Thistle midfield sat too deep, which allowed the Port Hill midfielders too much room. On Saturday Thistle made everything tighter, which forced Maycenvale to try to play quickly, which in turn led to lost possession.
Thistle had lined up with Mark Baple in goal, Ema Martos and Batarrita as centrebacks, Daniel Venema at rightback and Kuba Jerabek at leftback.
In midfield, McMillan was on the right, Land and Morris were in the middle and Brandon Josling was on the left. Either Ure or Frooms would drop in from forward positions as required.
Thistle had only one reserve, Hammy Il-Jammi, who replaced Josling 20 minutes from the end.
Blair said referee Mike Ju had a good game.