Soccer: Lower Hutt find edge in thriller

By Anendra Singh

Not long before kick off, Birkenhead United soccer manager Simon Parkinson walked up to the Napier City Clubrooms bar, ordered a stiff double scotch whisky before sculling it.

That, my friends, sums up how jangled the nerves must be of team officials, let alone players, after three days of intense back-to-back games of the "Football Central"-sponsored Under-19 Youth Championship at Park Island.

After 35 minutes each way, the Brendan McIntyre-coached Lower Hutt City (Wellington) defended their title with a 1-0 victory at a Bluewater Stadium that had more crowds than any match from the Central League competition over winter.

Yesterday's semifinals and finals were a superb display of passing intermingled with slick individual skills and a modicum of sixth sense from teenagers who will no doubt grace their respective elite leagues when their time is right.

Perhaps more heartening was the presence of several senior elite coaches at the helms of their teams during the Labour Day weekend.

Needless to say they have a finger on the pulse of their budding youth who coaches will anoint before they venture on to bigger and better platforms of the beautiful game.

For example, Birkenhead defender/captain Bill Tuiloma, playing striker in the annual tournament, jets off to play in the United States after securing a full three-year contract as a rightback for LA Galaxy, the team David Beckham made famous.

But the day belonged to the Canaries yesterday, as the familiar foes faced off in their third consecutive finals in Napier. Auckland's Birkenhead were victors in 2010 and Lower Hutt last year.

Yesterday's game hinted extra time with both sides thoroughly deserving of the bragging rights, but someone had to lose.

With not even a yellow card for a lion's share of a game devoid of goals, both sides had their chances to break the deadlock earlier.

Birkenhead striker Elijah Neblett kicked wide from one-on-ones with Hutt keeper Charlie Morris twice in the first half before duffing again three minutes into the second spell as he left five yellow shirts stranded.

Makaii could have been a hero earlier but his shot from bullying range five minutes into the second spell hit the crossbar.

Lower Hutt's Kade Schrijvers headed in a goal in the 62nd minute but, glaringly, the culpability was undeniable when he shouldered Birkenhead keeper Lewis Caunter in the challenge as the Canaries celebrated prematurely.

Seven minutes later the Paul Hobson-coached Birkenhead should have equalised with two chances in one passage of play but fatigue seemed to reign.

The duffed cornerkick from the Aucklanders in the last minute was further evidence of lethargy.

Glaswegian McIntyre said it was a tough weekend, lauding their rivals and counterpart Hobson for another gripping final.

He said bringing the youth side was part of his job and something the club intended to carry on doing while blooding talent.

"We've got a number of kids who will continue to do well and if we can keep doing that then success will come," he said, praising their guest player, Nathaniel Hailemariam, of Auckland.

McIntyre said wind wasn't a factor until yesterday, drying the field that became a little bumpy but he thanked the Rovers club for a fantastic job of organising the tourney.

Hobson, who will coach in the (Northern) Premier League, said it was a poor goal to give away.

"It's a mistake that often loses a final so we just have to cop it in the chin, eh," he said, adding Neblett, for instance, was only 16 and would learn from the errors.

"It's a great tournament and long may it continue."

Hutt beat Christchurch United 3-1 in extra time in the semifinals after the sides were 1-1 at full time.

Birkenhead were 2-2 at full time with Three Kings and extra time but went through 3-1 on penalty kicks.

In the satellite grade final, Eastern Suburbs pipped Hamilton Wanderers 2-1 but both sides won promotion to the main grade next year. The two teams demoted from the top level were not known.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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