Waikato Utd 2 HB Utd 0
Rudderless. All at sea. Ship in distress. Men overboard.
Those are some of the terms that come to mind after Waikato United on Saturday made a mockery of Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United with a 2-0 win in Taupo during their White Ribbon Cup match of the ASB Premiership, a mini-league for the first time within the regular league while table toppers compete in the O-League.
Not surprisingly stand-in coach Chris Greatholder, in just his second game at the helm on Saturday, is about to throw some of the cargo overboard to ensure the franchise board's "mother ship" doesn't rock any more violently than she has done for fear of capsizing unceremoniously at the deep end further down her shaky journey of well-charted waters this summer.
Again bereft of ideas, Greatholder agonised over how the hosts dictated terms at a cool, windswept Crown Park where the visitors couldn't catch enough breeze in their sails to save themselves in a mediocre performance devoid of cohesiveness and rapport.
The salt in the wound of a second consecutive 2-0 defeat was that coach Declan Edge's Waikato were predominantly a group of youngsters with an average age of 18.
Showing urgency, the boys used pace, dexterity and passion to make the Bay men look like chumps in what can best be described as sublime footy in the first 45 minutes.
Former All White striker Edge is showing what is possible if franchises are prepared to invest in youth at the expense of quick-success schemes based on experience and reputations.
While some Waikato players appeared physically daunted facing men, they gradually grew in confidence as the game transpired.
"They have a group of young lads who are quite mature and put on enough muscle to make it a really hard day for us so that's pretty disappointing," Greatholder said, bemoaning missing a few key players and picking up three more injuries on Saturday.
For the record, the much-talked about injured East Coast Bays striker Milos Nikolic is surplus to requirements now after failing to play a single game.
Addressing playing a few men out of position was a telling factor but Greatholder wasn't going to argue with the result.
His hopes the 2-0 loss to Otago United the previous Sunday in Dunedin was a one-off were dashed on Saturday.
"I don't know. I can't put my finger on it again on the field. I think we've let ourselves down again and we haven't done what I know we're capable of doing."
A despondent Greatholder was looking to a week off to reassess things although he has earmarked bringing in two players to tweak the squad's constitution, which is contrary to what board chairman Peter Grant said would happen in handing the reigns to Greatholder to ensure the interim coach wouldn't "rock the boat to upset players" former coach Matt Chandler handpicked before leaving abruptly after three rounds last month.
The "Chandler template" and its productivity has since been part of a lively debate on the HB Today website in the past week.
Grant has also denied there's any player-power issues in the squad although skipper Bill Robertson made it unequivocally clear they didn't want a coach who would upset their configuration.
Greatholder said one of the new recruits was from outside the Bay and "we're in advanced talks with them".
Asked if the players were going to bolster the defence, midfield or strike power, he replied: "Every area we can get our hands on, I think."
Competition for places, he felt, was lacking.
"There's two to three areas on the field now where people feel they own the shirt and that's not right.
"I think everybody needs to put a little bit more pressure. So we need someone up front and we need someone in the midfield. We'll also need someone to cover us in the back after we see how Fergus Neil and Danny Wilson are," he said after Neil, nursing a rib injury, came off at halftime while Wilson aggravated a foot injury in the final few minutes.
A versatile Adam Cowan, who played up front in the last 20 minutes and has played attacking/defensive midfielder as well as centreback, is an option but the coach concedes not an ideal one.
"We've got to show a little bit of resilience now and a little bit of feeling," Greatholder said, adding players' talk before kick off was becoming cheap.
"We're as bad as we can be at the moment so we can only get better," he offered, emphasising the need to freshen up and to slip on a shirt to represent the Bay with some pride.
"At the moment we don't even show that we care."
The break down on the field amused rival fans as senior players turned on their youth, yelling at them for making blunders under pressure.
In the 75th minute, Robertson hollered at youth substitute defender Reilly O'Meagher who, in a desperate attempt to clear the ball, smashed the ball into the captain to concede a corner.
"Can't you hear the keeper shouting for the ball?" Robertson barked.
Three minutes later, substitute midfielder Matt Hastings vented his spleen at keeper Peta for a lack of vision.
Greatholder put that down to frustration.
"We've got higher standards than that. I'm amazed we're letting each other do some of the things we're doing out there," he said, feeling they lacked "ownership" and "leadership" on the park.
"There are a lot of people who are quiet and playing their own game and we're lacking a bit of organisation on the field, which is what we're trying to address," Greatholder said, reiterating the need for mature players with a "higher game intelligence".
But hadn't Waikato outplayed us with an average age of 18?
"I don't want to disrespect them because they are a good group of talented kids who have been together for three or four years through their academy," he said, wishing Waikato well on training six times a week and playing some "very attractive football".
His men, he felt, measured up after halftime but Edge revealed his youth were in protection mode for their first victory.
"It appeared as if we'd just turned up and didn't know how to play or didn't even know each other well," Greatholder said.
"I can't put my finger on it now but we've got a couple of hours on the bus to reflect on where we went wrong and where we go from here.
"We can't keep going on because I've got higher standards and I can't accept that," said Greatholder, who will meet the board this week to look at how to pull the mother ship out of the doldrums.
Play by play
Hawke's Bay United have the wind behind them but a youthful Waikato United kick off:
3rd minute: Waikato coach Declan Edge gives ref's assistant, Mike van der Sar, ironically also of Waikato, an earful on offside interpretation after Alex Barlow gets away with one.
4th: Centre-mid Adam Cowan charges the shot of goalkeeper Danyon Drake inside the box and almost scores from the deflection that rockets a metre outside the upright.
11th: Striker Tyler Boyd has Waikato's first strike at goal but keeper Shaun Peta is equal to the occasion, smothering it on the ground despite the ball deflecting off a defender's foot.
12th: Bay's Josh Margetts, roving on the right flank, forces a corner kick from centreback Tyler Lissette. Centreback Danny Wilson's ensuing header lacks mark and impact as it sails over the crossbar.
16th: Margetts floats a speculator from an acute angle on the right edge but that too would have made All Black Dan Carter proud.
17th: GOAL! 1-0 after Lissette heads a ball into the net from captain/centremid Adam Thomas' corner kick. Where are the Bay's tall timber?
19th: Bay midfielder Conor Tinnion fakes a shot, beats a defender and fires a wormburner from 30m out but keeper Drake is on his game.
25th: Jessie Edge drives a crisp ground shot from the edge of the 18m box and beats Peta but not the far upright. The ball rolls back to Boyd who butchers the shot over the crossbar from point-blank range with a gaping goalmouth.
27th: Waikato skipper Thomas collects a yellow card for obstructing Tinnion.
28th: Referee Chris Kerr, of Auckland, then flashes Josh Greene a yellow card for advancing from the defensive wall before Tinnion took the free kick.
29th: GOAL! 2-0Waikato left winger Ryan Thomas puts a crisp ball across to right winger Jason Hicks, who draws and beats Peta in the 18m box before coolly pushing it into the net.
30th: Ryan Thomas deftly works the left flank but Tinnion hooks him from behind to concede a free kick.
35th: Edge pushes a pass on the right flank to Boyd but Edge mistimes the ensuing return chip from a header.
39th: The referee gives Ryan Thomas a dressing down for abusive language.
41st: Referee Kerr then pings Bay striker Hamish Watson for allegedly holding a defender.
42nd: Lissette and Tinnion question each other's pedigrees and throw a few handbags on the sideline before defender Jesse Smith charges in with a chest hit on Tinnion. The ref gives Tinnion and Smith a yellow card each.
43rd: It's Mike Kramer (Waikato) and Wilson's turn for a spat on the other side of the field but this time only Kramer collects a yellow card.
46th: Ref Kerr's not done with the yellow card - Ryan Thomas becomes the beneficiary.
HALFTIME: 2-0 Waikato Utd.
50th: Corner kick but Bay skipper Bill Robertson mistimes his header as goalkeeper Drake gathers the ball to hold up play for an injury. Robertson vents his spleen but the referee allows injury time.
54th: Bay start applying pressure as Waikato lose structure and resort to the oh-so-old-and-familiar kick-and-chase affair.
55th: Halftime substitute Rudi Bauerfeind drives a crisp shot from just inside the 18m box but keeper Drake smothers it.
57th: Smith makes use of a through ball on the left flank after two of his teammates' persistence in keeping possession. He takes the ball to the corner flag and turns it to an unmarked Boyd in front of the goalmouth but the ability to trap the ball doesn't do justice to the cross. The Bay let off a collective sigh of relief.
59th: Matt Hastings comes into the engine room, Cowan moves up to strike and Watson leaves the field.
60th: Robertson heads a ball from a corner kick to fellow centreback Wilson, whose header beats the keeper but Ryan Thomas appears from nowhere to clear the ball off the line. It's the Bay's first geunine attempt at goal.
61st: Italian import Matteo Ballan replaces Waikato centre-mid Harry Edge.
63rd: Mohammad Anwar comes on for Ryan Thomas in the engine room.
67th: Bay coach Chris Greatholder takes off Alex Barlow and puts youth rep Reilly O'Meagher at left back.
68th: Wilson brings down Boyd 30m out on attack so the ref shows the centreback a yellow card and awards a free kick.
71st: The ref warns Bauerfiend for an ankle tackle on Jessie Edge.
75th: O'Meagher loses the ball not far from the corner flag but runs back to thwart a Waikato offensive but in clearing it, smashes the ball into Robertson to concede a corner.
77th: Jessie Edge's shot from the edge of the 18m box beats Peta but ricochets off the upright.
78th: Boyd's shot to the face drops Robertson to the ground like a boxer out for the count on the canvas in the 18m box. Play stops briefly.
79th: Hicks drives a shot but Peta is equal to the occasion. The defence seem to be out at sea again.
85th: Hicks beats the offside trap amid howls of protest but Peta saves in a one-on-one situation.
90th: Anwar leaves the Bay defence in sixes and sevens but his finish is feeble in a one-on-one with Peta.
93rd: The ref puts the Bay out of their misery.