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United, Thistle share honours

Gisborne United and Gisborne Thistle went at it for 90 minutes, and in the end were happy with a 3-3 draw.

United keep their one-point lead at the top of football’s Pacific Premiership and retain the Challenge Cup they’ve held for over a year. It’s on the line at every home league match.

Thistle, meanwhile, stay on their heels in second place, one point back with a game in hand.

The Harry Barker Reserve stand was almost full for this match on Saturday.

It started later than usual, at 3pm. The curtain-raiser was the Poverty Bay Cup final between Heavy Equipment Services United (3) and ITM Thistle, and the possibility of a penalty shoot-out had to be taken into account. (At 3-3 it went to penalties, and United won the shoot-out, 8-7.)

In the second game, the action started within two minutes.

Thistle goalkeeper Mark Baple made a stunning save, low to his right, to keep out a glancing header.

United seemed to have gone ahead in the 14th minute when Malcolm Marfell’s left-wing corner went in off the far post but Hawke’s Bay referee Mike Ju ruled Baple had been fouled.

In the 25th, Thistle went one up, and the Pulse Academy trio from England featured.

Rightback Jay Matthews hit a free-kick from around halfway across to the left flank, where leftback Ander Batarrita controlled it and passed to left-flank midfielder Brandon Josling. His cross was headed home by striker Liam McMenamy.

Matthews, Josling and McMenamy are all from the Pulse Academy and made telling contributions. McMenamy was Thistle coach Garrett Blair’s man of the match.

United’s equaliser, in the 33rd minute, was like getting two for one. First we had Josh Harris’s curling shot to the far post. Then, when the ball struck the upright and bounced clear, we had the power of right midfielder Jarom Brouwer’s volley from 12 metres. Baple had no show.

Back came Thistle. Three minutes later, McMenamy hustled his way into the penalty area and pulled a right-footed shot across the goal. United keeper Jack Faulkner, at full stretch, could only palm the ball away and Josling followed up to sidefoot it into the net for 2-1.

In the 37th minute, Thistle left midfielder Sam Patterson was shown the game’s only yellow card, for raising his arms in a challenge.

For two teams so keen to beat each other, they played the match in remarkably good spirit.

Corey Adams nearly made it 2-2 in the 48th minute, when he made a good run from midfield into the box and clipped the ball over the advancing Baple, then watched it bobble past the goal.

A minute later, the equaliser came. Brouwer crossed to the far post from deep on the right, and Josh Adams came steaming in to head home.

In a game of fine margins, United had started the second half with more intent, and in the 57th minute they went ahead for the first time.

Josh Adams was in the penalty area on the right, looking to chop back on to his favoured left foot, but the defender kept shepherding him on to his right.

Adams simply adjusted and took the shot with his left. Baple got his arm to it, but the power beat him.

The goal stung Thistle into renewed vigour. In the 60th, McMenamy chased down a loose ball but Faulkner came out well and blocked.

With 30 minutes to go, Thistle’s Davie Ure moved forward from his attacking midfield role into all-out attack, and five minutes later Patterson and Josling were playing like out-and-out wingers.

But the Jags made most of their attacks at this stage through the crowded centre.

Chances came at both ends, Ure firing one from 20 metres just wide in the 66th and Josh Adams being foiled again by Baple in the 69th.

Then in the 71st minute Thistle equalised, and it came with a “down-the-guts” run from McMenamy, who muscled his way into the box and was brought down.

Batarrita put away the penalty without fuss.

Jake Theron had come on for Patterson a minute before the goal and, just after it, United brought on Aaron Graham in midfield, rightback Matt Adams went off and Kieran Venema dropped into the back three.

Thistle brought on Brad Reynolds for Ure with four minutes to go in a last throw of the dice but a 3-3 draw was about the right result.

Corey Adams named defender Mal Scammell as his man of the match for his strong play and good distribution.

Fellow defenders Kieran Higham and Matt Adams gave no-nonsense displays, often anticipating trouble and darting in to neutralise it.

United’s midfield of Corey Adams and Harris in the middle, in front of Venema, with Marfell on the left and Brouwer on the right, might just have shaded their Thistle counterparts, although the middle of the pitch was hotly contested throughout.

Up front, the belligerence of Cranswick added spice to the menace of Josh Adams.

For Thistle, McMenamy deserved to be named man of the match, but the strength of the side was at the back.

Baple behind fullbacks Matthews and Batarrita, and centrebacks Andrew Brott and George Andrew would be as good as any defence in the league. And they still found Josh Adams and Cranswick a handful.

Max Logan was clever and feisty in the middle of midfield. Skipper Matt McVey did his best after a week of illness, but came off at halftime and Fabio Senna went on in his place and put in a good shift with some nice touches.

PENALTY INCIDENT: Thistle striker Liam McMenamy is challenged by Gisborne United’s Kieran Venema and Jarom Brouwer (right) as goalkeeper Jack Faulkner waits. Thistle scored from the resulting penalty to make it 3-3. Picture by Paul Rickard