Rovers 3 Suburbs 4
WAS IT a trip or a shove or both that changed the dynamics of the Central League soccer game yesterday?
Frankly the game was a humdinger even though Bluewater Napier City Rovers were reduced to nine men when referee Robert Scholes eventually blew the final whistle for Western Suburbs' 4-3 win over the defending champions in Napier.
While the Blues won the respect of opposition coach Lloyd O'Keefe and his men with a courageous display to threaten to share the points, it begs the question: "If nine blokes can pull back two goals in the space of 10 minutes what should they be doing every time there are 11 on the paddock?"
The turning point came in the 53rd minute when defender Aaron Jones became a spectator on the players' stand at the Bluewater Stadium after collecting a red card from referee Scholes for shoving or tripping - depending on who you ask although the shots from Hawke's Bay Today photojournalist Duncan Brown (right) offer some insight - a charging Darrell Hannah in the 18m box.
O'Keefe at first thought it looked like a goal-saving tackle but Hannah later confirmed "it was a definite push" although Blues coach Grant Hastings said the ref told him it was "for tripping".
Take a look at the two photos again?
Hawke's Bay-born Wellington Phoenix talent Tom Biss skied the ensuing spot kick rather than simply placing it past goalkeeper Matt Gould after Rovers captain Bill Robertson also collected a yellow card for remonstrating with the ref.
The visitors drew first blood against the run of play in the 18th minute when left winger Patrick O'Keefe took the ball to the corner before putting in a deft cross to the far post inside the top edge where striker Harry Edge, with father Declan Edge watching from the main stand, drove to the bottom right corner as goalkeeper Gould got his fingers on it but couldn't stop it rolling into the net.
In the 32nd minute, striker Fane Morgan made good on earlier misses when he equalised 1-1 following a through ball from left-mid Josh Stevenson although charging Surburbs keeper Mitchell Stuart-Hill made the grave mistake of missing the tackle.
However, after the penalty skirmish, Jesse Edge in the 57th minute put a ball through to Sean Morris who ran into the 18m box to drill it past a diving Gould for a 2-1 lead.
In the 81st minute, substitute midfielder Josh Finch extended Suburbs' lead to 3-1 after a through ball from Biss.
Three minutes later, a moment of madness took over when substitute Rovers midfielder Rudi Bauerfeind picked a straight red for a studs-up tackle on Stefan Gilding to leave Rovers two shy of 11.
In the 88th minute the game came alive when striker-cum-defender Danny Wilson latched on to a cornerkick, spectacularly hooking the ball past the keeper with his back to the goal to narrow the lead to 3-2.
As the ref glanced at his watch, in what ended up with almost eight minutes of added time, the Rovers came to a standstill after a deft back heel from Morris saw Biss make it 4-2.
But the Blues weren't done, as Wilson struck again from the far post to make it 4-3 from a cross on the right flank.
Crunching the stats, Hastings said his men had enough fisrt-half chances to put the game away.
"When certain things happened then those chances started disappearing a little bit but we showed a lot of character to grab two goals back but when you're throwing numbers up front to score goals then you'll leave gaps in the back for them to exploit.
"We are not going to apologise for having a go at them because I'd rather lose 6-1 and have tried with nine players then be satisfied to get beat 2-nil," he said, adding the Rovers played decent football against a team who would pass the ball rather than attack so he wasn't unhappy with their approach.
Suburbs coach O'Keefe said: "Missing the penalty was pretty costly but if we had put it away it would have killed the game, I guess.
"That allowed them to come back at us and they were absolutely fantastic working really hard out of possession and causing us all sorts of problems."
O'Keefe felt the nail-biter would have been great for neutral fans.
"It was almost like a Chatham Cup [national knockout] game than a league one."
In other mostly one-sided matches, Petone thrashed Tawa 7-1, Miramar beat Wellington 3-1, Lower Hutt thumped Wairarapa United 5-1 and Olympic walloped Upper Hutt 9-2.