Soccer: Aucklanders start with victories

By Terry Maddaford

It was not pretty, but the old firm of Auckland City and Waitakere United have struck first in a low-key opening to soccer's new-look showpiece competition.

City eventually got home 3-2 over a spirited Waikato FC with two late David Mulligan freekicks while United also needed a late strike to seal their 2-0 home win over Team Wellington and claim the early ASB Premiership lead.

Waitakere's initial domination of yesterday's game at Fred Taylor Park earned them a ninth-minute lead when Jack Pelter got his head to a Martin Bullock freekick. In his attempt to clear, Jamie Duncan contrived to put the ball into his own goal.

Any hope that would lay the platform for a decent game of football quickly foundered as the game deteriorated and produced few phases of decent football.

"At halftime I said to the boys they could either hang on and take an ugly 1-0 win or try and do something better," said Waitakere coach Neil Emblen, who had entered the fray after 65 minutes and provided the final touch to a superbly worked stoppage time match sealer after good build-up play from Roy Krishna and substitute Mike Gwyther.

It was, almost throughout, a stop-start affair with very few passages of flowing football.

Referee Mirko Benischke contributed to the jerky nature of the game, ruling with an iron fist. While some of his calls - including the red card for Neil Sykes following a nasty two-footed tackle - were justified, at other times he appeared well out of his depth and struggled.

His reluctance to book players for some dubious tackles on man-of-the-match Krishna was unfathomable.

Team Wellington coach Stu Jacobs, understandably upset at losing, took some positives from a difficult first-up assignment.

"Against a team like Waitakere you have to kill them off earlier or they are likely to come back and hurt you," he said. "That's what happened out there."

In Hamilton 24 hours earlier, former City striker Milos Nikolic gave Waikato their lead. The visitors got back to 1-1 through a Daniel Kopricvic penalty but again fell behind when Nathan Palmer scored just before halftime. With 20 minutes to play, Mulligan, in his first outing for City, netted two classic strikes from set play to seal the win.

- NZ Herald

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