Tauranga Old Blues striker Dion Bartosh calmly stroked the match winning goal in against a resolute Whakatane Town side to clinch a 2-1 win in a Federation One match at Wharepai Domain on Saturday.
It was a fitting reward for the hardworking Bartosh, who was a class apart from anyone else on the pitch. It is 20 years since Bartosh came up from Wellington to play National League football and he showed he has lost none of his close ball control and vision to pick out his team mates. His combination with Reuben Wood threatened the Whakatane defence throughout the 90 minutes and if it hadn't been from some errant finishing Old Blues could well have won in a canter.
Old Blues dominated the early stages with Andrew Cooper creating havoc along with Bartosh and Wood but they were unable to test Nigel Pryde in the Whakatane goal often enough. Whakatane won their first corner and made it pay when Old Blues did not mark up properly and Ben Wilde scored with a free header.
Old Blues won a succession of corners leading to some desperate goal mouth scambles but somehow Whakatane's defence held. Just before halftime Old Blues keeper Dale Schischka made a fine save to keep his team just a goal down.
Coach John Whitley asked for more patience and composure on the ball by his team and it paid dividends early in the second spell when defender Geoff Rickard played a good ball forward and Wood swooped past the Whakatane defence to equalise.
Bartosh hit the post and Wood nearly scored again before the match winner finally came with a good finish from Bartosh with 17 minutes left to play.
Schischka was called into action with a late Whakatane flurry but fittingly Old Blues were hot on attack when referee Andrew Lamberth ended the game.
Old Blues co-coach Whitley said it was satisfying to come back from 1-0 down and he thought his team worked well throughout the game.
"We played with a bit more intensity today and have to give [co-coach] Grant Turner credit for changing the game plan at training to a more expansive game plan when we had the ball and to tuck in a bit tighter when they had the ball.
"I thought we played some really good football today, held the ball up well and knocked it around. No complaints."
Tauranga Old Blues 2 (R Wood, D Bartosh) Whakatane Town 1 (B Wilde) HT 0-1.