Canterbury United and Team Wellington knocked over ASB Premiership powerhouses Waitakere United and Auckland City to put one foot each in the Grand Final mix today.
Team Wellington kicked off a day of double upsets in the early kick-off, toppling minor premiers Auckland City by 1-0 in the capital courtesy of a Johnny Raj header from a Luke Rowe free-kick on 33 minutes.
In a match where both sides created gilt-edged chances, goalkeepers Phil Imray and Jacob Spoonley both made crucial saves. The introduction of Ivan Ruiz Diaz briefly sparked Auckland City into life in the second half and Albert Riera hit Imray's upright on the hour mark. Seven minutes later, Solomon Islands international Henry Fa'arodo almost doubled the home side's lead when his long range shot was tipped away by a full stretch Spoonley.
Imray showed his class when he kept the Wellington goal intact with a brilliant save to deny Manel Exposito and Auckland City a vital away goal in the last minute.
Wellington's 1-0 victory is their first win over a top four rival this season and sets up a mouth-watering showdown at Kiwitea Street next Sunday where an away goal for the visitors would leave the minor premiers needing three goals to advance to their sixth ASB Premiership Grand Final in eight seasons.
Elsewhere, there was real drama at Fred Taylor Park where defending champions Waitakere United fell 1-0 to Canterbury United with one player from each side sent off in the second half.
Russell Kamo notched Canterbury's winner just eight minutes into the match and George Slefendorfas hit the post before half time, but the pendulum swung momentarily in Waitakere United's favour when influential midfielder Darren White was sent off five minutes into the second half for a reckless challenge on Ross McKenzie.
That numerical advantage was short-lived when referee Matt Conger showed Waitakere United defender Tim Myers a red card after a clash with Kamo just five minutes later. In a frantic second half peppered by four yellow cards it was Canterbury United who finished stronger with substitute Michael White forcing two last ditch interventions from Aaron Scott then goalkeeper Danny Robinson in the final moments.
Of further concern for Waitakere coach Neil Emblen are injuries to key players Ryan de Vries and Jason Rowley who exited the match after just nine minutes.
Canterbury's 1-0 win is their fourth consecutive victory over Waitakere United stretching back to last season's semi-final second leg and also registered the defending champions' ninth loss in all competitions this season. With a crucial away goal locked in, and Waitakere United's inconsistent form, Canterbury starts next week's return leg in the unusual position of favourites.
Both Auckland City and Waitakere United have recovered from semi-final, first leg defeats in the past and will need to repeat those heroics next Sunday.
In 2010, Waitakere United lost 3-2 to Team Wellington away before winning the second leg 2-1 to take the tie out on the away goals rule. Waitakere went on to win the Grand Final.
In 2009, Auckland City lost their semi-final first leg to YoungHeart Manawatu 3-1 away before triumphing in the return leg 3-0 to advance 4-3 in aggregate. Auckland City also won the Grand Final.
- Herald Online