Title tussle going right to the wire
Wainui Sharks and Gisborne United are taking their tussle for football's Eastern League 1 title to the wire.
Both teams won their game on Saturday, meaning United stay one point ahead going into the last game of the season.
But they have to wait another week before they are able to sort out the late-season dash to the finish.
Gisborne Boys' High School and Carpet Court Thistle Massive are the only teams of the six in Division 1 to have a match this weekend — a catch-up fixture that will put all the teams on an even games-played footing for the finale on October 3.
Ten-team Division 2 is set to finish a week later, on October 10, while the six-team women's competition is due to finish on October 4, the day after the Division 1 men wind up their season.
Heavy Equipment Services United coach Dean Wrigley had been hoping Thistle Massive would cause an upset of similar proportions to the one they produced against his side the week before, when Massive beat United 1-0.
It was not to be. Sunshine Brewing Wainui Sharks beat Massive 2-0, courtesy of goals by right-winger Jaiden Ibbetson. Co-coaches Jake Theron and Michael Smith play Ibbetson on the right so he can cut in and let fly with his powerful left foot, and that's the way it happened on Saturday.
In the 25th minute, a crossfield ball came to Ibbetson, he controlled it, cut inside and from within the penalty area finished with a sweetly struck shot on the run.
Five minutes later, Ibbetson struck once more with a goal that had those who saw it claiming season's-best status for it. He cut in again and, with minimal backlift, fired a shot from 30 metres that went in at the top left corner.
Thistle coach John Stirton changed things in the second half, and Massive were much more competitive. They were boosted by the presence of first-team defender Ander Batarrita and forward Tomek Frooms.
Batarrita was to be on the bench and came into the team only when Josh Blair became unavailable. Frooms came on as a replacement for Kieran Ryan, who had played well until he pulled a hamstring 20 minutes in.
Thistle had a chance to close the gap 20 minutes from time when they were awarded a penalty for handball against Ibbetson. However, striker Nic Somerton hit it over the bar.
Smith said Dan Torrie was the Wainui man of the match for his work up and down the left flank from his position at left wingback. Other than that, Smith did not want to single anyone out in what he said was an outstanding team performance.
United, for their part, beat a depleted Lytton High School side 7-1. Striker Stu Cranswick scored four, left midfielder Damon Husband scored two and centreback Jonathan Purcell scored with a powerful header from a corner.
For United, rightback Ben Hansen and leftback Jimmy Holden had good games, and Carl Shaw did well when he came on for Purcell, who had Achilles tendon issues.
Aaron Graham and Andrew Bristow were strong in the middle of the park, while Sam Royston moved ever closer to scoring his first goal of the season with a solid showing on the right wing.
Kim Perano came on in a central defensive midfield role and put in a good shift, as did Aubrey Yates in his targetman's role up front.
Lytton man of the match Matt McVey scored the goal for his side, who were still well in the game at 2-0 down at halftime.
Influential adult players Cam Cairns and Cole Devonport were missing, as was well-performed centreback Kyle McVey.
Nevertheless, Lytton played well in patches, with standout performances from central midfielder Jamil Dos Santos, right midfielder Tasmin Garau and centreback Toby White. Lytton play Wainui in the last round of League 1 games.
Thistle Reserves — United's opponents on October 3 — had an impressive 3-1 win against Gisborne Boys' High School. But Boys' High put on a first-half showing that pleased coach Sebastian Itman and had them leading 1-0 at the break.
A stern halftime talk from Thistle Reserves co-coach Davie Ure and a couple of positional changes seemed to have a beneficial effect for the Jags. Argentinian attacker Agustin Ventre and midfielder Ema Martos made a big difference in the second half, and Andre Riley impressed with his speed and reading of the game at fullback.
Ventre scored with a 30-metre “screamer”, and Travis White scored two goals, one from the penalty spot.
Flank player Merlin Parsons was Thistle's man of the match, for his tenacity.
Itman said the Boys' High first-half performance was encouraging, as they had experienced a bit of a lull folowing an exceptional performance at the Super 8 tournament.
After a 4-0 opening loss to Tauranga Boys' College, they had a tense 3-2 loss to Palmerston North Boys' High, a 1-1 draw with Napier BHS, a 2-2 draw with Hastings BHS (and a loss on penalties) and a 3-3 draw with Napier (and a win on penalties).