Cup final thriller
Gisborne United fell agonisingly short of completing a treble on Saturday.
They lost to Massey University 3-2 in the Federation Cup final at Harry Barker Reserve.
The United faithful came out in numbers to support their team, recently crowned Pacific Premiership champions and confirmed as off-season holders of the Challenge Cup contested by league sides playing at the home ground of the holders.
Spectators on Saturday witnessed a nail-biting final in which both sides played with pride and passion.
Massey University, coached by Donald Piper, had travelled to Napier on Friday and rested up overnight, completing the journey on Saturday morning.
On Thursday, two players were ruled out of Massey’s travelling party due to injury and two players from the club’s Manawatu Championship side were included in the 16-man squad.
Heavy Equipment Services Gisborne United had Gisborne Championship players Stu Cranswick, Aaron Graham and Jonathan Purcell playing in the midday match against Thistle Massive at Childers Road Reserve.
They arrived at Harry Barker Reserve minutes before cup final kick-off. All three were assigned to the bench.
Moments after referee Martin Roil blew for the 2pm start, United striker Josh Adams bore down on goal and hit a shot with such power that Massey goalkeeper Thomas Johnston was just a spectator as the ball crashed off the right post.
The game calmed down for 20 minutes as the sides tested each other out through the middle of the park.
The tempo was high but neither keeper was tested until the 21st minute when in-form University striker Joseph Freeman got a shot away on goal. United keeper Jack Faulkner thought it was safe, but it was caught in the wind and struck the crossbar.
On 25 minutes, midfielder Josh Harris found himself in the book for dissent after arguing a free-kick decision.
On 36 minutes United took a deserved lead when holding midfielder and captain Kieran Venema passed to attacking midfielder Dane Thompson, who carried the ball down the line and crossed to striker Jarom Brouwer. He took a touch, turned and buried his shot in the net to give United a 1-0 halftime lead.
In the second spell, both sides fought hard to dominate the middle of the park, with neither team gaining the upper hand.
On 57 minutes, United were awarded a free-kick on the right side of the University goalmouth. Dead-ball specialist Josh Adams curled the cross-cum-shot to the top left corner where rightback Robert Boot headed the ball off the line.
On 61 minutes, University produced a great piece of football. They worked the ball around the park until playmaker Reilly White put Freeman through on goal with a pinpoint pass. Freeman rounded Faulkner and slotted the ball home to level it at 1-1.
United coaches Chris Adams and son Corey decided to increase the tempo and bring on another striker. Youngster Lucian Nickerson was subbed for Cranswick, who joined Adams up front. Brouwer moved back to an attacking midfield role.
On 65 minutes, Josh Adams was unlucky not to put United ahead again when he had the ball in the net with a nice finish that was disallowed for offside.
Pressure was on . . .University kept applying the pressure as their fitness started to show. They had most of the possession in the last quarter of the match.
On 77 minutes, a powerful header by Massey’s Ryan Noble from a Michael Hislon corner struck the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Massey scored the goal of the match when their captain, Angus Preston, had a pop from 35 metres. With a strong wind behind it, the ball streaked past Faulkner, whose full-length dive could not keep the ball from going in at the top right corner.
In the 81st minute, Massey increased their lead when Noble hit a magnificent through ball for Rhys Galyer, who chipped the ball over the advancing Faulkner into the net.
Those on the Massey bench had a nerve-jangling five minutes of injury time as United mounted wave after wave of attack.
In the 92nd minute, Harris was brought down in the Massey penalty area and referee Roil pointed to the spot. Josh Adams scored with the penalty to close it to 3-2.
United wanted the game restarted as soon as possible but keeper Johnston tried to slow things down and was shown a yellow card for his efforts.
United continued to pile on the pressure. Harris had two last-gasp chances to tie it up. First, he fired a bullet of a header into the arms of Johnston, and just before the final whistle he guided a cross from Thompson on to the left-hand post.
At the final whistle, everyone on the Massey bench ran on to the field to celebrate a result that could have gone either way. United certainly came to play.
University Coach Donald Piper was almost lost for words.
“Coming from behind to win was magnificent,” he said.
“United have had a great season and were worthy opponents.”
Piper named skipper Preston as Massey’s man of the match, the award being a good send-off as Preston prepared for his OE.
United’s Corey Adams said the result was hard to take.
“Look at the emotion on the players’ faces; that’s what it meant to them.
“We have worked hard all season. They had a bit more luck than we did today but we’ll come back stronger next year.”
Corey Adams said he, his father Chris and the United team wanted to thank their supporters for their backing throughout the season.
United’s man-of-the-match award went to defender Kieran Higham.