The Loaded WaiBOP Premiership's title race took an unexpected twist on Saturday as Taupō capitalised on a Papamoa slip up to move to the top of the table.
Taupō had what looked like a relatively straight-forward task, a match against second-bottom Mercury Tokoroa, and they duly dispatched their nearest league rivals 3-1 at Strathmore Park to keep their good run going.
Anything other than a comfortable Taupō victory would have been a major shock and while the margin was probably slightly closer than expected, serial goal-scorer Fin Smith's hat-trick ensured there would be no misstep from the Lakesiders. Jevan Eady scored a consolation goal for the strugglers but that was as good as it was probably ever going to get for Tokoroa.
At this stage of the season it's all about results rather than victory margins for the title contenders. That was never more obvious than on Saturday evening as both Papamoa and Tauranga Boys' College lost, which allowed Taupō to move two points clear at the top of the table.
Papamoa were level at halftime in their match with fifth-placed Melville United, but a second-half red card to Dave Molloy helped the Hamiltonians in lifting three vital points out of their visitor's pockets. Sok Ven, Hamish Utteridge and Josh Nooijen did the goal-scoring damage for Melville who, even though they were well out of title contention, were keen to have a say in the Premiership trophy's ultimate summer destination.
Fellow Hamiltonians Waikato Unicol all but finished Tauranga Boys' season, and kept their own top-three hopes alive, with a 2-1 win at Southey Field. Tom Wright and Reuben Henderson goals helped secure the narrow win for an enterprising Unicol side that may well end up cursing several inexplicable stumbles during the season for their second consecutive failure to mount a sustained title challenge.
Mid-table sides Comag Matamata Swifts, Te Awamutu and Otumoetai all picked up wins to remove any faint, lingering worries of relegation. Goals from Jamie Baxter, Brayden Lissington, Chris Walker and Mike Smith gave the Swifts a closer than expected 4-2 win over pointless Hamilton Wanderers, while a Steffan Foulkes second-half goal was the difference for Te Awamutu as they snuck past West Hamilton 1-0 at home.
Otumoetai scored all their goals in the first half as they beat local rivals Tauranga Blue Rovers 4-1 at Pemberton Park. Nicholas Barnes struck twice for Otumoetai, and was joined on the score sheet by Benjamin Jackson and Sam Flatt. Thomas Crane scored the game's only second-half goal, a consolation one for Rovers.
The WaiBOP Championship's last match of the season ended due to Cambridge defaulting their final home game against champions Ngaruawahia to ensure they narrowly avoided the wooden spoon.
Only one match was played on Sunday as the WaiBOP Women's Premier League nears its end. McKay Tokoroa and Papamoa fought out an entertaining 2-2 draw in a result that ensured Tokoroa finished third in the league. Tauranga City Bay SportsMed were crowned champions last weekend.
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Papamoa and Taupō will now come up against each other at Gordon Spratt Reserve on September 29 to determine the winner of the premiership title.