Soccer: Auckland in trouble after Waitakere win

By Kris Shannon

Auckland City face an uphill battle to defend their O-League crown after being beaten 1-0 by Waitakere United at Kiwitea St today.

Captain Jake Butler's first-half goal was enough to seal the points for the visitors and leave their city rivals needing a win in Tahiti next week to progress to the semifinals.

That will be no mean feat. AS Dragon resemble a shadow Tahitian national team and they beat Auckland 3-1 in New Zealand earlier this week. If Auckland are unable to overturn that result, they will cede the title they have won in three of the last four seasons.

"It's a final for us,'' Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx said of Saturday's match in Tahiti. "If we want to be in the semifinals we have to win that game - it's as simple as that. We have to face that game as a final, it's the only way to go.''

If the defending champions are indeed knocked out, Waitakere would fancy their chances of keeping the trophy in New Zealand.

The west Aucklanders currently sit top of group B, just one point ahead of Auckland but needing only a draw from their final game against last-placed Mont Dore in New Caledonia to seal progression.

"All games are tough,'' Waitakere coach Paul Marshall said. "But I'd rather be going to New Caledonia than Tahiti where [Auckland] are going. And the pitch in Tahiti is poor, whereas we're going to a pitch that's not too bad at all.''

This is the first season the O-League - which determines Oceania's representative at the lucrative Club World Cup - has featured a semifinal stage, which would make Auckland's potential early exit even more surprising.

Having been beaten by Dragon on Wednesday, Auckland really needed to emerge with victory from the 41st Super City derby. But a flat performance on a rainy afternoon saw Waitakere's defence cope quite easily, ensuring Butler's 26th-minute strike proved decisive.

"Any win at Kiwitea St is a good win,'' Marshall said. "We've kept them scoreless and ... they don't go through too many games where they don't score goals. They're certainly struggling to break us down when we perform to our best.''

Auckland found that too difficult a task today and Waitakere were good value for the three points, though they also failed to create many clear-cut chances.

The first half was completely bereft of goalmouth action until Butler ran onto a clever flick from Roy Krishna and calmly slotted the ball just inside the right-hand post. Krishna then nearly made it two with an angled drive, while Auckland's attack were unable to penetrate the visitors' solid rearguard.

With their normal possession-based game getting them nowhere, Auckland played much more directly in the second spell, though Tribulietx said that was not a deliberate tactic.

"We probably should've been a little more patient on the ball, though it's difficult in the last 25 minutes when you're chasing and you want to bring the ball forward as quickly as possible.''

But route one was no more productive for the hosts, leaving Waitakere goalkeeper Danny Robinson relatively unoccupied in the closing stages.

Auckland City 0

Waitakere United 1 (Butler 26)

- APNZ

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