Soccer: Young guns quick on uptake

By Anendra Singh

Have the boys come of age?

The jury's out on that one right now but suffice it to say they are pretty quick on the uptake after tasting defeat a week earlier.

A youthful Promotem Napier City Rovers had their coach, Terry O'Neill, tearing his hair out in the last 15 minutes of the Federation Cup (knockout) soccer final on Saturday, but they showed the best elixir to soothe the pain of defeat is to triumph.

The Nick Matheson-led Rovers bounced back at Marewa Park, Napier, on Saturday when they beat Geon Taradale 5-3 to avenge the previous Saturday's 5-3 loss to the same opposition in the HB Knockout Cup final.

It was arguably one of the best displays of knockout soccer in the Bay in recent times with both sides locked 2-2 at halftime before Dean Johnston broke the deadlock with the goal of the match when he volleyed a pin-point cross from captain Chris McIvor on the right flank, rocketing it past stranded goalkeeper Chris Penny on the far post.

"We've been behind before and we've always known we can come back to score goals against these guys," a jubilant Rovers midfielder Matheson said after the match as both sides produced 16 goals in back-to-back knockout cup games.

"The boys showed the heart and passion to score goals and that's what you need to do to win games."

The Blues had tightened their defence, albeit not foolproof, but conceding five goals in the previous Saturday's loss at Petane Domain, Eskview, was their worst defensive effort this season.

The return of defender Josh Anstis from the Central League age-group tournament the previous weekend helped the Rovers' cause.

"Third in the league [Pacific Premiership], second last week and to win it today is pretty good," Matheson said.

With the Rovers' prize-giving ceremony at the Park Island clubrooms on Friday night, he said their youngsters were well behaved.

Coach Terry O'Neill said the ceremony was held on a Friday night because Central League player Matt Hastings had his stag do the following night.

"When I gave Josh Anstis the MVP award about quarter to 10 last night [Friday] I told the boys it was their last drink and they had to go home to their beds and they listened," O'Neill said.

The Rovers club, which won the Central League title under coach Grant Hastings and the inaugural Federation Cup tournament in Wellington the previous weekend, will have to acknowledge Saturday's Federation Cup feat in next season's ceremony.

It's the club's first Federation Cup title in the competition's fledgling four-year history.

Matheson, who scored two goals after having come off an injury layoff, said the older legs of Dale probably gave way because substitutes such as Josh Stewart made the difference.

"Terry's just been amazing this year coaching," he said, also saluting ill club stalwart Roy Stanger who was on the sideline supporting them.

O'Neill, who has coached several Taradale ex-National League players in thier teens when at that club, said his troops' exuberance of youth and pace got them the gold medals.

"Again they showed great mental fortitude and will to fight because when they were 3-2 down they could have dropped their heads," he said of his maiden knockout cup victory as coach.

O'Neill paid tribute to his team, claiming they brought the right attitude to the park during training and were devoid of prima donnas.

"We won 14 games on the trot in the league [Pacific Premiership], including a draw against [champions] Gisborne City," he said of his team who are primarily a feeder squad for the Central League campaign.

Saturday's game in ideal conditions on the best soccer park in the Bay would have kept everyone tuned in for the entire game, which the referee let flow at least four minutes over the 90-minute allocation.

Taradale, who probably wilted in the last 15 minutes to youth and pace, should take a bow for playing to the end.

"It was an entertaining game and both teams were playing well so it was going to go one way or the other," McIvor said, adding it wasn't going to dampen their club prize-giving ceremony that night.

"They really came out and took it to us so good on them," he said, agreeing Rovers were tighter in defence than the previous weekend.

While they might have run out of legs a little at their age, McIvor said it was an open game and they were delighted to make two cup finals and still be going out hard into September at their age.

Dale lost their Pacific Premiership title to Jennian Homes Team Gisborne this season, finishing runners-up.

They are predominantly veterans who have played in the now-defunct National League competition for the Rovers who are the flagship soccer club for the Hawke's Bay with numerous National and Central League titles.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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