HB Utd 1 Auckland City 3
Auckland City are undefeated on the top of the ASB Premiership table for a good reason.
Yesterday they showed why when they beat Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United 3-1 in Napier.
Employing a deft passing game, the visitors starved the hosts of a lion's share of the game at Park Island even though the Bay drew first blood in the 14th minute and led until an added minute into the first half.
In fact, the Bill Robertson-captained hosts matched and frustrated the visitors and tried to catch them on the counterattack with imminent threat.
If anything, Auckland often got too cute with the ball, instead of someone taking the responsibility of shooting at the goal.
They also fortified the engine room and, on attack, failed to find wingers willing to stretch the Bay defence.
"I think they are very professional in what they do. They are well-drilled and they do keep the ball well," Bay coach Chris Greatholder said, claiming that on another day they could have got the points.
"They squeeze everything they can out of the game. I'm pleased with the boys' effort because we went out toe to toe with the best side in the country. We believe we were as good as them today."
The rookie coach felt referee Nick Waldron should have sent off centreback Angel Vina Berlanga in the 14th minute for hacking down Bay striker Sam Margetts, who had pounced on a defensive blunder at the edge of the 18m box and was in full cry for the goalmouth.
Instead, Berlanga collected a yellow card before centre-mid Conor Tinnion curled the ball over the Auckland wall for a cracker set-piece goal past a diving Tamati Williams for a 1-0 lead.
"That should be a red card in my opinion and he [Berlanga] should be sent off as the last man on the ball, but the referee had a different view.
"A red card should also have been given when we had a roll on and we were pulled down, so the big calls went against us today.
"It seems to be the story of what's happening recently, so we're not really getting the rub of the green," Greatholder said, believing his players gave as much as anyone could have asked.
It seems the Bay find a different level of energy against the favourites, having beaten Waitakere 1-0 at home and high flyers Canterbury United 3-0 last November but, bar YoungHeart Manawatu, they have come up shy.
Greatholder didn't think so, insisting they weren't complacent in any way.
"You can judge us at the end of the season if you think we try more against the harder teams," he said.
He felt they would be underdogs when hosting Otago United this Sunday, having lost 2-0 to them in Dunedin. The sides are level on 10 points but the Bay sit a rung above them in fifth place, eight points adrift of Waitakere but with a game in hand.
Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx said they had expected a difficult game yesterday.
"Losing 7-0 [to Canterbury on Saturday in Christchurch] they probably wanted to come back with a win," Tribulietx said.
His side had played on Saturday, too, and he revealed his O-League troops weren't relaxed or fresh.
"It was a dangerous game but I think we played well and dominated the game."
He lauded Tinnion for a superb goal but emphasised his defender had gifted it.
Because they were protecting the middle third, City didn't feel the urge to venture out wide.
"We were going to get tired. It is a beautiful surface but [the grass is] too long for our [flowing] game," Tribulietx said.
He commended his side for playing a patient game and not panicking although a goal down for most of the first half.
Striker Manel Exposito found the net in the 16th minute, latching on to a through ball before lofting it over a charging Peta, but was ruled offside.
The ref booked right wing Corrales for diving in the 38th minute. Five minutes later the winger had a tantrum after losing his shoe in a tackle while the Bay defenders thwarted a goalmouth raid.
A minute into added time in the first half, Robertson gifted a penalty after using his shoulder to bring down Andrew Milne as he surged into the 5m box in a one-on-one with keeper Peta.
Midfielder Emiliano Tade was clinical as Auckland drew level 1-1.
A minute into the second spell, you could hear a pin drop as Exposito chipped a ball from outside the 18m box to leave Peta diving in vain for a 2-1 lead.
Veteran midfielder Leon Birnie, more in the game this time than against Team Wellington, came close to levelling in the 67th minute with a sliding kick at the near post from a Sam Margetts cross on the left flank, but keeper Williams prevailed.
Robertson had a chance with a header from a corner kick in the 79th minute but it went past the far post.
Tade increased Auckland's lead to 3-1 from the penalty spot after the ref adjudged keeper Peta to have taken out Exposito in a 50-50 tackle inside the 18m box.