Soccer: Gung-ho ref can't stop Bay machine

By Anendra Singh


It depends on what you're reading but the discerning spectators tend to draw their own logical deductions following reports of tempestuous soccer matches.

"Red card!!! [in bold letters]," states the ASB Premiership website report in the 75th minute of play between Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United and Otago United in Dunedin yesterday.

"Tom Connor and Fergus Neill [sic] were running side-by-side after a ball 15 metres in front of them. Neill has flung an elbow straight into Tom Connor's face. Ugly, ugly play and the red card was the least the referee could do," it says of the match at the covered Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Anyone who has seen the pint-sized Bay United defender play, let alone knows him, will tell you Neil doesn't do dirty.

Serene at the height of any given handbag situation on the field, the player who defies his stature to turn defence into attack with a turn of speed is the least likely bloke to dish out an elbow sandwich to an opponent breathing down his neck.

For his troubles, Neil, who turns 21 on Tuesday next week, will have to sit out this Sunday's crucial game against first-round slayers Canterbury United at Bluewater Stadium, Napier.

"No, Fergus just put his arm across and had no intentions to injure the guy but the ref showed him a card so it's frustrating and he'll be resting," coach Chris Greatholder lamented. "Fergus is a really good guy and the ref's made a bad decision so he'll regret that when he reflects on it."

But Neil's red card and the seven other yellow cards referee Mirko Benischke dished out - three to the visitors and one to Otago's Aaron Burgess as he was carried off the park in a stretcher in the third minute - detract from the bigger developments in the 3-1 victory Bay United registered over the hosts yesterday.

In a season to treasure and use as a yardstick for generations in the national summer league, the Bay are sitting in second place on the premiership ladder.

The Bill Robertson-captained side are now breaking new ground in just about every game they are playing this season. The quest to secure a maiden play-off berth, it seems, is just a mere formality despite two more tough matches at Park Island against the Dragons and table-topping Waitakere United before travelling to the capital city to play Team Wellington in the last round.

With Otago fans pre-occupied with the return of homeboy Harley Rodeka as enemy on familiar territory and his goal drought since leaving the blue and gold turf, the Bay simply focused on the 90-plus minutes ahead to eke out three points - something they hadn't done in the south since the summer of 2008-09 at Sunnyvale Park.

That day, reportedly, Otago picked up a red card with the Bay receiving two penalty kicks and scoring three goals in the space of five minutes for a 3-1 victory.

Yesterday, on a surface worse for wear because of Friday night's equestrian event, striker Jarrod Smith silenced the smattering of fans at the expansive venue with a penalty-kick goal in the opening minutes after Matt Joy tripped a Bay player.

Bay midfielder Stephen Hindmarch made it 2-0 in the eighth minute when he feasted on a defensive blunder to drive the ball past goalkeeper Liam Little to the bottom left corner. It was a lead the Bay kept intact into the breather despite Regan Coldicott prompting Bay goalkeeper Richard Gillespie to deny him a goal in addded time.

Not long after Bay striker Dakota Lucas and Jude Fitzpatrick came off an aerial battle with the former picking up a yellow card, Otago pulled a goal back to 2-1 in the 57th minute from Victor da Costa, curling a shot past Gillespie into the top left-hand corner although the goal hero picked up a yellow card for lifting his shirt in celebration.

The joy was shortlived for the hosts as seven minutes later Craig Ferguson gifted a penalty which Sean Lovemore planted safely for a 3-1 lead to the Bay.

Greatholder said it was definitely a physical encounter.

"In the first 15 to 20 minutes we were exceptional and Otago held in there," said the man who only a week ago graduated with his premiership level coaching course.

No doubt, he felt the first goal had set the tone for the rest of the game.

"We could have scored a few more goals but Otago were good and made it very hard for us at times."

Greatholder said the Richard Murray-coached Otago couldn't handle the Bay's ferocious pace.

While Robertson was the Rock of Gibraltar, he singled out Hindmarch as his man of the match for "bossing" the midfield with vision and crisp crosses that put the Bay on the front foot.

While Neil will be a loss, Greatholder will welcome back midfielders Cole Peverley and Conor Tinnion from serving a match suspension after picking up cumulative four yellow cards.

Murray rued his team conceding "two soft goals" early in the game.

"It was a close game and physical so it became an uphill battle from the start for us."

He felt the Bay's intensity in the first 10 minutes rattled Otago in a game where "two teams went out for each other".

"But it wasn't a malicious game. I must say the sending off wasn't warranted so he [Neil] was unlucky."

Murray said the referee had every right to maintain a semblance of control to ensure player safety was paramount.

"He probably let himself down a little by not being as consistent as he would have probably liked to have been."

He believed Otago United deserved to share the points with the Bay because they played with equal confidence and commitment.

Murray said his players were only into the second year of a five-year development plan to groom them for the big arena.

"We're done and dusted [in the premiership] so we're more likely to go out in our three remaining games to break a few hearts where possible."

The Dion Adams-coached Bay United Youth team lost 2-0 to Northern-based U17 side at Fred Taylor Park, Auckland after trailing 1-0 at halftime.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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