An Auckland City meltdown has thrown another twist into the playoff race after a blockbuster day in the Stirling Sports Premiership.
Auckland City had three players sent off as they crashed to a 4-1 defeat to Waitakere United, missing their chance to claim the minor premiership.
In the most bizarre game of the season, the league front-runners blew a lead, had an embarrassing goalkeeping howler, and conceded as many goals as they had in their prior 360 minutes of football.
The rot started in the 30th minute. Having gone ahead through Emiliano Tade, Auckland conceded a free-kick on the edge of the area. As their defence was setting up a wall, Keegan Linderboom took it quickly, slotting it in off the crossbar to howls of protest from the City defence.
The worst goalkeeping mistake of the season soon followed, with Auckland custodian Enaut Zubikarai losing Stefan Thelen's wayward cross in the sun. Under no pressure, he tried to punch the ball clear, succeeding only in flapping the ball into his own net.
Somehow, that was only the start of the madness. Just before halftime, Auckland striker Fabrizio Tavano pushed Waitakere's Ryan Cain in the head. An all-in skirmish followed, with Tavano being sent from the field, and challenging a vocal fan in the stands to a fight as he walked to the dressing room.
Things did not calm down for Auckland after the break, with Albert Riera sent off for a second bookable offence, and Darren White following him off the pitch for a rash two-footed challenge. With 30 minutes remaining and down to just eight men, Auckland predictably faded down the stretch, as Waitakere killed off the contest with goals to Julyan Collett and Scott Hilliar.
Auckland still lead the league on 33 points, two clear of Waitakere in second, with Team Wellington a point further back in third, but holding a game in hand.
Eastern Suburbs are in fourth on 30 points, after knocking Canterbury United out of the playoff race with a 2-1 win.
Goals to Moses Dyer and Fabien Kurimata overcame a consolation from Matthew Wiesenfarth to keep Suburbs in the thick of the playoff race.
Suburbs will now play a depleted Auckland in the final round to try and lock in a playoff spot, with Hawke's Bay United also a playoff threat, sitting on 26 points with two winnable games remaining.