From Ben, Titirangi
I missed last night's ASB Premiership action due to pre-season Northern League training, but what did I miss from Auckland City's win?
Auckland v Wellington has quickly overtaken Auckland v Waitakere as the fiercest, and most entertaining, rivalry in the ASB Premiership. These two teams hate each other, emphasised by the all-in brawl following Auckland's O-League final win last year.
Here's what we learned from last night:
Auckland will comfortably win the Minor Premiership, but they are not dead certainties to win the playoffs.
Auckland are five points clear at the top of the league with five games to go. The league is in the bag. But their lucky 2-2 draw against Wellington two weeks ago (Wellington missed two penalties), and their 83rd minute win last night, shows that head to head against Wellington, the gap is small.
Over two semi-final legs, Auckland would be very difficult to beat, but this year the nutty league professors have reverted to one-off semi finals. Wellington can rattle Auckland's cage over one game.
Auckland were worthy of the win
Wellington set out to disrupt Auckland's smooth possession game. They aggressively pressed high, scrapped for everything, dominated physically and put Auckland under the most pressure they have seen all season. But the defending champions prevailed. In the second half, as Wellington tired, Auckland's sick passing and pacy front men opened Wellington up on a number of occasions and only some sloppy finishing from Emilano Tade and Ryan DeVries kept Wellington in the game.
The quality of the surface is getting better, but the crowd is getting smaller. With winter football training starting at clubs across Auckland this week, a Thursday night trip to Albany is becoming a harder and harder sell. You could almost individually count the crowd off the TV, and I would guesstimate only about 150 were there last night. But the TV coverage and commentary was once again fantastic.
Considering what qualifies for big news in the ASB Premiership, the report that over $50 million was bet on the competition in overseas markets last season nearly knocked my socks off.
Such big money being gambled is tied in with pitch-siding, which as Friend of the Funbag Andrew Voerman wrote is:
Having someone provide live play-by-play information using their cellphone, which can then be used by bookmakers and gamblers to react to major events in games fractions of a second before they are broadcast on TV.
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And for the games which aren't on TV, all the bettor (geddit?) for pitch-siders, who can give their corporations or employers an even bigger edge.
As for the how-to guide, important distinctions to becoming a good pitch-sider include...
1) Sitting mysteriously far away from all the other fans
2) Bring way more equipment to the game than lackadaisical journalists like myself
3) Inanely chat away into an earpiece/headphone for the whole game, to a point where the fans closest near you can hear what is going on
4) Eventually get approached and claim you have no idea what is going on, say you got the job via Student Job Search and sit and chat the rest of the game
Sorry, number 4 was something which happened when a court-sider was approached at a Waikato Pistons game. My mistake.
Anyway, debates will be had over whether the whole pitch-siding process is acceptable, and NZ Football are apparently looking in regulations surrounding it, but I would encourage everyone to look around to see your friendly local pitch-sider at the next live game you attend. They won't be hard to spot.
From Shaun, Manurewa
So last week you guys asked for an ASB Prem player to dab while celebrating a goal, and then Joao Moreira did so. Coincidence?
As funny as it would be for me to be
, I don't peg Joao as a regular Funbag reader.
The most likely scenario is that he hadn't scored since November, and this celebration was kept on hold for a while until he got back on the scoresheet (three times) last weekend.
But shoutout to the City striker for a different celebration, even if he does need to work on his dabbing form a little bit.
From Gazza, Hawkes Bay
How good was it to see Paul Ifill scoring the winner for Hawke's Bay last weekend? Is he the best player (in terms of his career) to have ever played in the ASB Premiership?
Holloway: This question is tough because you have to compare some guys who have already completed their careers to others who are still climbing the mountain. But here goes:
Best players to have played in the ASB Premiership
1. Terry Phelan (Leeds, Swansea, Wimbledon, Man City, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Sheffield United, 42 games for Ireland and six for Otago United)
2. Ki-Hyung Lee (47 caps for South Korea, nearly 200 professional games in the South Korean top flight and three years at Auckland City between 2007-2010)
3. Jonathan Gould (Coventry City, Bradford City, 157 games for Celtic, 10 games for Hawkes Bay from 2005-2007)
4. Paul Ifill (Wellington Phoenix's greatest ever player, also played for Team Wellington and Hawke's Bay)
5. Chris Wood (West Brom, Barnsley, Brighton and Hove Albion, Birmingham City, Bristol City, Millwall, Leicester City, Ipswich Town, Leeds, 39 Caps for NZ, five appearances for Waikato FC)
6. Ivan Vicelich (129 games for Roda JC, New Zealand's most capped international and still going, kind of)
7. Marco Rojas (The 2012-13 A-League Player of the year, signed at Stuttgart, now on loan at FC Thun, still only 24)
8. Neil Emblen (Millwall, Wolves, Crystal Palace, Norwich, Walsall and Waitakere United)
9. Darren Bazeley (Watford, Wolves, Walsall, and Waitakere United)
10. Ryan Thomas (49 games for PEC Zwolle, played for Waikato from 2011-2013, now 21. Prediction: In five years Ryan will be No.2 on this list)
The Phoenix are currently short on strike power, and potentially a decent centre back with Siggy injured and retiring.... Are there any stand outs in the ASB Premiership who could potentially make the step up?
Anderson: The interesting thing about the ASB Premiership is that most of the standout players are guys who have already been closely looked at by the Phoenix, and evaluated as being not up to standard.
As we wrote about, the centre back standard in the league is rather poor, with the best players either being foreign (requiring an import slot) or too old to realistically take the big leap to the A-League level. That leaves young talents as the most realistic players to step up - one of who we've already seen in yellow and black - Dylan Fox. Could the currently injured Adam Mitchell make the grade?
Up front, it's more of the same - Micah Lea'alafa is the popular name, but if the Phoenix believed that he was a significant upgrade on their current strikeforce, he would probably already be with the club.
The other standouts have either been around the traps long enough for the Nix to know what they are about (Emiliano Tade, Ryan De Vries, Hamish Watson) or recent additions who would take up a valuable import slot which the Nix could probably use on a player with a greater pedigree (Ben Harris, Joao Moreira, Stephen Hoyle).
Quite frankly, the best talents in the ASB Premiership seem to be in positions where the Phoenix already have solid depth or standout talents, and that's one of the many quandaries they face at the moment.
From Gareth, Wellington.
Auckland City were comfortable in beating the Phoenix Reserves 4-2, but how do you think they would go against that other Phoenix team on current form?
Anderson: Ah, the never-ending City v Nix debate which is rarely discussed rationally. City fans point to the Club World Cup and random friendly wins; Nix fans enjoyed it when their Reserves beat Auckland last season.
As always, you can never be absolute about these things - I will plump for the team in the more competitive league, but in the state the Nix are in at the moment, no result would surprise me in a hypothetical clash
Tweets of the week
Friend of the Funbag Dale Warburton has been on fire this week with his exciting Twitter series #WhyIlovetheASBP.
Here are some of his best efforts.