Time for your weekly edition of the ASB Premiership Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. Today, the Premierships' most handsome man, the O-League contenders and, er, Sally Ridge.
From Irene, Ngaruawahia
Great to see Auckland City wrap up the Minor Premiership last night with their win over Southern. They have been far and away the best team in this year's competition. But who will come second?
Second place in the ASB Premiership often comes with great reward. For the past three years, the team that won the Minor Premiership has won the playoffs too, meaning the league's second place finisher automatically qualifies for a spot in the next edition of the O-League. Assuming Auckland go on and win the playoffs, the last two games of the season for Team Wellington, Hawke's Bay United and Canterbury (3) are high stakes.
Here's how the top four looks:
Auckland City P12 Pts32
Team Wellington P12 Pts24
Hawke's Bay United P12 Pts24
Canterbury United P11 Pts22
And here are their remaining games:
v Hawke's Bay (H)
v Phoenix Reserves (A)
v Wellington (A)
v Waitakere (H)
v Waitakere (A)
v Auckland (H)
v Southern (H)
This weekend's game between Team Wellington and Hawke's Bay is huge. I pick Wellington to win it and to also beat the Phoenix Reserves, leaving them on 30 points. Canterbury should beat both Waitakere and Southern pushing them to 28 points, which could leave a mid-week, season defining match against Auckland City (who may rest and rotate players) to determine their fate. My money is on Wellington to pinch second.
Now that Zoolander 2 has come out I am again reminded of former ASB Premiership goalkeeper Mark Fulcher and his resemblance to Ben Stiller. Is he the best looking player in Premiership history? Or even the best looking keeper?
Holloway: No on both counts. Doctor Mark Fulcher has quietly established himself as a real pillar of the game in this country, after making it to the dizzy heights of the NZFC as a Waikato FC goalkeeper and now fronting New Zealand Football's medical team, but most handsome man he is not.
Don't get me wrong, Fulch is a good looking dude - but he's not really built to cut it with the pros.
And of course by pros I mean former professional model, All White, Auckland City keeper and now Dutch professional footballer Tamati Williams.
I played with the sultry stopper for two seasons at Glenfield and there was a worryingly high correlation between games Williams would play and WAG numbers in the clubrooms after matches.
Williams wins Best Looking Player and Goalkeeper at a canter, though Fulcher would probably win Best Catch.
Real Politics, Albany
In an online forum, Bruce Holloway wrote this in regard to the goals of the proposed revamped national league:
...a flagship domestic competition relevant to the communities we live in, something that can promote the code at domestic level, to prime the pump for development of facilities, to allow the best players to play the best players, to allow our referees to develop, to provide a representative capable of being competitive at the World Club Champs etc.
Does Southern United deserve a spot in the national league? They are certainly not there on "best with best" criteria and anyone any good leaves; James McGarry springs to mind - he left when he was 12! Good young ballers in Dunners will always head north; and, for a host of reasons, Southern are unlikely to ever be competitive. Would the national league be better served by a Wellington or Auckland club replacing Southern?
Anderson: While I am somewhat receptive to the geography argument, the question really becomes whether the best Southern players would still be able to make it to the next stage of their careers without playing national league level competition.
When you consider the list of young Otago/Southern United players who have gone onto a professional contract consists of Joel Stevens and .... well, it's hard to think of any others, the argument becomes solely about geography, and it is not a very strong one.
To wit, here are some facts about the Southern United franchise.
1. They've never made the top four.
2. They have finished with more points than games played on just two occasions.
3. In the club's history, they have gained 150 points in 197 games.
4. Their historical goal difference is -242.
5. Things aren't getting any better - they've taken 13 points from their last 29 games, and 29 from their last 57 games.
If NZ Football see Southern as an important geographic footballing base and believe they can be financially sustainable, I have no problem with keeping them and exposing more players to a higher level of competition. (It would be a shame for no football to be played at Forsyth Barr)
But if they don't deem location important, a quick glance at the on-field resume could see Southern easily disposed of.
Is it true that English comedian Russell Howard is Danny Robinson's long lost brother?
Holloway: Let me be clear here, Gary sent in both of these photos for the Robinson gag. A good effort, but not really my style. I personally prefer look-a-likey gags where the subject is embarrassed by the likeness to the doppleganger. Robinson to Howard seems like a big step up, whereas I'm looking for a big step down....maybe a compressed Peter Crouch, Gareth Keenan from the Office on roids or a manic Johnny Bravo. But we do appreciate the effort, keep em coming.
In a Funbag first, N Silver from Auckland has oddly sent in a question, along with its answer. We normally like to do the answering here at the Bag, but we have decided to let this one slide.
From N Silver, Auckland
With the implosion of Waitakere United this season, the question needs to be asked: If Auckland can't produce two competitive teams in the ASB Premiership, how will they go with three clubs next season?
Silver: It is an unfair question, insofar as it pre-supposes results and performance are primarily intrinsically linked to geographic considerations, rather than coaching input, form variance, player management, and all the other subjective factors which are at play in a competitive league.
From Fred, Upper Hutt
What will happen if WaiBop somehow miraculously qualify for next year's O-League, given they are planning to unplug themselves at the end of the season? Would Oceania allow a replacement club? If so, who would it be?
Holloway: With two games left to play, WaiBOP sit seven points outside the top four, so a spot in next year's O-League seems about as likely as Waitakere keeping a clean sheet. ZING.
In conclusion, WaiBOP were kind of decent this year but not good enough to make the playoffs, so we don't need to worry about O-League complications and Waitakere are really bad at defending.
Very little in the Herald these days about Sally Ridge. Is the Sally Ridge reporter on holiday?
Holloway:I'm really struggling to find a link between Sally Ridge and the ASB Premiership, but I'm sure it's there, and the Funbag doesn't shy away from the big questions. Unfortunately for Sal fans, the NZME Ridge reporter has recently been reassigned to the Max Key round. And business is booming..
From S Holmes, Napier
Given Hamish Watson's encouraging performance when thrust straight into the starting lineup for the Wellington Phoenix last weekened (on the back of his form with Hawke's Bay) is the gap between the ASB Premiership and the A League closing?
Anderson: I wouldn't be too quick to presume that. Firstly, I don't like making absolute statements based on one game, and secondly, I would propose that the gap between the current Phoenix side and the average ASB Prem team has closed, rather than the A-League as a whole.
If the Phoenix were completely healthy and had made better import choices/NZF knew how to operate the transfer system, we wouldn't have even got a chance to see Watson in action.
So is the gap between the ASB Prem and A-League closing? I don't think so. But the gap between the Phoenix and the ASB Premiership has (temporarily) contracted.
Also - Now that the Phoenix fans have enjoyed their deserved glee over the win, we need to talk about how that win was the most unsustainable victory of all time. Five goals on five shots on target??? I wonder if that has ever happened before.
It is also the joy of football - days where the shots find the top corner are always delightful, but I'm not sure it points to anything more substantial than a glorious one-off performance, and perhaps the deserved result of some positive regression to the mean.
SECONDARY TANGENT: Games like that one show how discussing "form" for strikers can be silly. Someone can score four goals in three games and be "in form", and then not score for four games and be "out of form". It's like pundits expect every striker to score in a linear pattern - once every second game. Things don't always happen in a regular fashion, and often it's nothing to do with a player's form - just pure variance.
That had nothing to do with Hamish Watson but I have hot takes, and they will be heard. Back to regular programming.
Email of the week:
From Kris, Royal Oak
This is more a story than a question so don't know if that fits in with the Funbag ethos. But it's probably my favourite NZFC memory.
My friends and I were regulars at Waikato FC games in 2005 when they played at Waikato Stadium, taking advantage of the sparse crowd to secure seats on halfway. Our favourite player was striker Colin Gardyne because, for about half a season, he was terrible but seemed to be trying so earnestly. His haplessness became a running gag and, as Gardyne walked down the tunnel after one particularly appalling performance, I sarcastically applauded and called out, 'Well done, Colin.' He looked up briefly, acknowledged me and seemed to really appreciate the gesture, which made the whole thing funnier. Then, the next game, he started playing out of his skin, and it continued as he stormed up the golden boot charts. I think his goals even earned him a call up to an All Whites training squad. I don't really have a question but feel like I deserve some credit for that scoring spree.
Got a question you want answered next week? Email Steven.email@example.com or Niall.firstname.lastname@example.org.