Soccer: Paston out to erase painful memories

By Michael Brown

Mark Paston was heavily concussed inside the opening 53 minutes of New Zealand's first game at the Oceania Nations Cup and didn't recover in time to play any further part. Photo / Getty Images.
Mark Paston was heavily concussed inside the opening 53 minutes of New Zealand's first game at the Oceania Nations Cup and didn't recover in time to play any further part. Photo / Getty Images.

The Horror of Honiara conjures up painful memories for the All Whites, and it's something they are looking to redress when they meet New Caledonia on Friday night, but it was torturous for Mark Paston for altogether different reasons.

The 35-year-old goalkeeper was heavily concussed inside the opening 53 minutes of New Zealand's first game at the Oceania Nations Cup against Fiji and didn't recover in time to play any further part.

In fact, he was so groggy he wasn't allowed to fly home from the Solomon Islands and spent much of the remaining 10 days of the tournament in his hotel room.

His absence was compounded by the fact Glen Moss was still struggling with a torn adductor, leaving an error-prone Jake Gleeson in goal for the remainder of the tournament. Whether Paston, who would easily have been the best goalkeeper in Honiara, could have changed the outcome is impossible to know but he felt he could have made a difference.

"Every time I go out I feel like I can do a job," he said from Noumea where the All Whites are preparing for Friday night's match with New Caledonia. "I think any player should be able to make a difference.

"I don't remember a lot [about the incident]. All I can remember is getting one hand on the ball and then having lights out for a bit after that. And then I remember being helped off the pitch.

"Walking around, it felt like I was walking in space. The fact I couldn't play was the right decision but it was still very frustrating watching it. You feel helpless. You feel like a third wheel sitting there. I just had to sit it out. It wasn't an enjoyable experience."

It took another couple of weeks after returning to New Zealand to recover fully and in that time he also endured surgery to have screws removed from a knee. Paston is fully fit after a good pre-season but missed the Wellington Phoenix's recent four-game tour of India because his wife was expecting the couple's third child.

It might have allowed his long-time rival Moss, who has rejoined Wellington after three seasons in Australia, to convince coach Ricki Herbert to throw him the gloves for the match against New Caledonia.

Friday's game is an important one for many reasons, not least of all to redress the 2-0 defeat to Les Cagous and get New Zealand's final phase of their World Cup qualifying campaign off to a good start.

"I wouldn't say it's revenge but everyone is disappointed with how it went [in Honiara] and are looking to put it right," Paston said. "It was extremely disappointing and never nice to get knocked out of a tournament we should be winning. This game couldn't come around soon enough."

The All Whites will then return to Auckland to take on the Solomon Islands at North Harbour Stadium on Tuesday night before two games against Tahiti next month.

Whether New Zealand qualify for consecutive World Cups, combined with his fitness and game time at the Phoenix, where his contract expires at the end of the upcoming season, could go a long way to influencing Paston's future in the game.

Goalkeepers typically play a lot longer than outfielders and he still has some way to go before eclipsing former England keeper Peter Shilton who played until he was 47.

"I am pretty relaxed about how things are going," Paston said. "If I enjoying myself and feel like I can go another year, I will. But I don't see any point in just hanging around. You really need to want to be doing something."

- APNZ