No one has blinked yet
Gisborne sides United and Thistle both won on Saturday and will take their race for football’s Pacific Premiership title down to the wire.
United lead the competition by a point from second-placed Thistle. They are the only teams left in the title race, and both will be in Hawke’s Bay for their last league game of the season on Saturday.
Gisborne Vehicle Testing Thistle beat last-placed Hastings Western Rangers 4-1 at Childers Road Reserve on Saturday, while Heavy Equipment Services United beat Napier Marist Reserves 3-1 in Hawke’s Bay.
Thistle and Western Rangers were level, 0-0, at halftime, but four second-half goals gave Thistle a comfortable three-goal margin by the end.
Rangers coach Dave Hobden had said his side would be fired up for the match. They loved the trip to Gisborne for the atmosphere on the team bus.
Both sides had chances in the first half. Rangers went close twice, but the talking point of the half was the no-goal decision on Thistle striker Liam McMenamy’s effort.
Referee Ben Chisholm, after consulting his assistant, ruled that McMenamy had obstructed the goalkeeper.
Just before the break, striker Davie Ure provided a moment of magic when he turned his marker and drove the ball through the defence. However, it was too powerful for winger Brandon Josling’s attempt at a header on goal.
By halftime, neither side looked as if they had an edge.Rangers, with just a win and two draws to go with 12 losses this season, looked as if they were a new side starting out on their campaign, and did their best to take the game to Thistle.
But Thistle came out pumped after the break, and two minutes into the second half had a penalty awarded when centreback George Andrew was brought down in the Western Rangers penalty area.
Ander Batarrita made no mistake from the spot.
Five minutes later, referee Chisholm flashed three cards in a minute — one each for both sides and one for Thistle manager Fletcher Stewart-Hill.
In the 59th minute, Rangers did not clear their lines from a Thistle corner. Second-half substitute striker Sean Morrison drove the ball through the defensive line and rightback Jay Matthews directed it into the net at the far post.
Thistle had hardly finished celebrating their goal when, a minute later, Rangers were awarded a corner. The ball was sent in, chested down and volleyed home, and Thistle keeper Mark Baple had no chance of stopping it.
In the 65th minute, Thistle regained their two-goal cushion. Josling was brought down in the box and this time Davie Ure scored from the penalty spot.
Thistle saved the best goal till last. Holding midfielder Andy Brott — winner of Thistle’s man-of-the-match award — sent a left-footed curler from 35 metres into the left side of the goal.
Coach Garrett Blair said his team had kept possession of the ball well.
He was pleased with the way they had increased the tempo after halftime and delivered in the end.
Blair said the pace of Morrison, who came on for McMenamy, had changed the way Thistle were playing.
In Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne United faced a strong Marist side that fielded three players from their Federation League team.
Two goals from attacking midfielder Josh Harris and one from striker Josh Adams provided a victory that pleased United player-coach Corey Adams.
United took the lead in the 15th minute, when Harris scored with a volley from 17 metres.
United doubled their lead 15 minutes later, when Josh Adams took a free-kick quickly, supplying a killer ball to Harris who, one on one with the Marist keeper, smashed the ball into the bottom-right corner of the goal.
Marist pulled a goal back five minutes after the break, from a free-kick on the edge of the box.
The icing on the cake for United came in the 70th minute, when Josh Adams got one on one with the Marist keeper and calmly placed the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal.
“The boys played really well against a good side today,” coach Corey Adams said.
“We kept the ball well and held a perfect defensive line.”
With only one game to go, United are pumped for their away game against Eskview on Saturday, knowing victory would bring home the 2019 Pacific Premiership title.
Adams gave the man-of-the-match award to centreback Mal Scammell, who impressed with his marking and challenging.
For their final league games of the season, both in Hawke’s Bay, United will play Eskview and Thistle will play Napier Marist Reserves.