HAMISH BIDWELL
It may have been a seven-goal local derby but it was the murmurings in the press box that were ultimately more exciting than Napier City Rovers' 5-2 win over Havelock North Wanderers at Park Island yesterday.
With Napier seventh and Havelock ninth in the 10-team Central Soccer League with one match remaining, there was little to play for other than the opportunity to impress the Hawke's Bay United brains trust huddled in the stand.
Armed with a clipboard containing the vital statistics of every potential New Zealand Football Championship signing from here to East Coast Bays, Perry Cotton and Charlie Howe were doing their best to dissect a myriad of players while giving nothing away to the newspaper guy with the flapping ears.
And while they succeeded in making sure those around them became none the wiser, they would have been left feeling a bit that way themselves after a fairly mediocre game of football.
Here's the things they knew already that were simply confirmed yesterday: In terms of Napier, goalkeeper Mitchell O'Brien is still a good shot-stopper, but a liability when it comes to crosses; Jason Hayne is an under-utilised talent on the right flank and Chris McIvor is outstanding in any position and will be a huge loss to the team come the summer league.
Also, Brendon Adema is solid, but lacks mobility at the back for Havelock, while Jakob Sinkora looks good when given plenty of space and time on the ball; Ben Murphy has ability, but isn't fit enough, while Nick Lucas remains an enigma in Hawke's Bay football.
In terms of pure athletic and technical ability, Lucas is easily the best player in the province, but his attention span and positional play may frighten Cotton and Howe from taking a punt on him.
If there was one thing that happened yesterday that the pair was not expecting, it would have to be the quality of the outfield performance from former Scottish international goalkeeper Jonathon Gould. Playing in the middle of defence, the 36-year old showed some nice touches and was terrific in the air, heading home from a corner in the 60th minute to put the match beyond Havelock at 4-2.
With big, physical defenders in extremely short supply in the province, it would not be entirely out of the realms of possibility to see Gould occasionally give up the gloves to don the number four shirt for Hawke's Bay United as well.
Aside from Gould's effort, Hayne bagged two for Napier, while captain McIvor and David Gearey scored first-half goals to give them a 3-1 lead at the break. Sinkora scored from the spot to give Havelock their only goal of the opening stanza, with Russell Groenveld adding a second in the 50th minute to briefly narrow the score to 3-2.