Western Suburbs not only ended Napier City Rovers' purple patch in premier winter league soccer but also hit the highway with the O'Brien Challenge Shield in Napier today.
The Advanced Electrical-sponsored defending champions dazzled with a fresh and crisp brand of game to beat the Thirsty Whale Blues 2-1 in round four of the Ultra Football Central League at Bluewater Stadium.
It turned out to be a wicked weekend for the big boys. The Blues' unbeaten run came to an abrupt end a day after Wellington United lost 3-2 to Wairarapa United, leaving Western Suburbs as the only unbeaten team in the league.
Trailing 1-0 at halftime, player/coach Bill Robertson's troops' mind set was transparently obvious as they sat back in defence to let the Wellingtonians dictate terms.
Western Suburbs striker Matthew Garbett predictably opened the scoring, 1-0, in the 14th minute after a couple of nice deft touches on the edge of the 18m box between Alexander Clayton and Henry Just from the right flank to find the striker on the left side of the upright for a decisive finish.
Two minutes later Just went down in the 18m box, arms raised and vociferously appealing for a penalty kick but referee Jason Marshall instead gave him a lecture in the middle of the park.
The visitors kept asking the Blues' defence questions. The hosts, including captain Joshua Stevenson, hung back for fear of conceding goals to the speedy boys in black. That defensive stance only left a gaping vacuum in the midfield which the speedy opposition players exploited to deprive the Blues of possession and territory.
At the 25th-minute mark, Western Suburbs players reached out for their drink bottles during an injury break on a sunbathed pitch.
Rovers left winger Martin Bueno gave the home side their first shot at goal after the Uruguayan's free kick sailed precariously over the wall as well as the crossbar in the 30th minute.
Western Suburbs centreback Erik Panzer made a deceptively quick run to gain ground before finding Xavier Green but the latter had left his shooting boot behind in the 36th minute.
The Blues came back after the halftime break with a little more zest and intent to play up the park.
English import defender Jamie Wilkinson collected a yellow card for clipping Just in the shin in the 51st minute, in what was a classic case of what happens when the left winger is too quick for a right back.
Western Suburbs coach Declan Edge replaced goal-scorer Garbett with Marko Stamenic in the 60th minute.
Edge injected Mohamed Awad in the 67th minute and pulled out Green but that stoppage got the controversial coach more than he had bargained for.
Assistant ref Liam O'Rorke called over referee Marshall and, after a brief discussion, the official in the middle gave Edge the marching orders.
As Edge made his way up the grandstand from the coaching arena, the Bluewater Stadium faithful sang Steam's song, Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.
All that was the result of Edge having a slanging match with Rovers assistant coach Stu James before the former finished off loudly with an audible expletive the crowd had taken exception to.
But the salt in Edge's wound came in the 71st minute when Wilkinson rose above the black-and-red defensive wall to nod in the ball past Suburbs goalkeeper Isaac Tetteh to level terms, 1-1.
However, the soothing balm for Edge came in the 78th minute when Just took on three Blue shirts from almost the halfway mark to beat them all with guile and pace and plant the ball past a diving Ruben Parker Hanks to wrest back the lead, 2-1.
Just as Edge had stood up in the stand to applaud the goal, his troops had responded, mounting waves of attack that saw Awad and Just miss golden opportunities after shooting wide from inside the 18m box.
James replaced Sho Goto in the midfield with veteran Chris McIvor in the 87th minute, not long after teenager Zac Madsen came in for Wilkinson at right back.
Panzer said Suburbs expected a tough affair, in keeping with a demanding road trip.
His mainly young teammates came out to play with some discipline.
"We struck first and didn't even let up when we went down one because we always knew we had the firepower to come back," said the lanky centreback, who wasn't shy to leaving his post to turn defence into attacks.
Panzer agreed had they had more lacquer in their finishes, after numerous one-on-one chances with Hanks, they would have scored more goals.
"In the end we held strong from No 1 to 11 so we'll take the three points and the shield home with us," he said of the challenge shield that the Rovers claimed in their 3-1 victory away against Wellington Olympic at Wakefield Park in the previous round.
Panzer said Western Suburbs had drawn two games but that was expected with a young team comprising some new players in the equation.
"With the first two results the first was probably deserved and the second wasn't but now we're going to keep getting stronger and stronger every week."
A grinning Panzer said they were aware their coach had been banished to the stadium.
"We know what Declan's like. We do the job on the field and he does that off it and that's football so we'll just kept doing our thing on the field to keep our discipline."
He said Western Suburbs were slowly becoming accustomed to playing games with a tag on their backs now.
"We're just a bunch of young lads who enjoy playing a good brand of football and we'll continue doing that all season," he said, adding it was always a great day in Napier.