Take out the gambler's fallacy for hapless goalkeepers in the penalty shootout and you'll find the biggest thing with any football knockout cup match is upsets and underdogs.

But the problem isn't so clear-cut when Melville United kick off at 3pm against Thirsty Whale Napier City Rovers in the Chatham Cup final at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland tomorrow.

No doubt if you ask Melville United — in the hunt for their maiden national knockout cup bragging rights — they'll tell you they are the bookies' favourites.

So who should assume the mantle of underdogs to do the unthinkable if the Blues are four-time champions?

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Therein lies the magic of a cup final on what is a neutral venue, although a fair percentage of Rovers are quite familiar with it.

History will count for nothing any more than the two roads that forge to the final.

Both teams featured prominently in their respective league campaigns but neither prevailed — player-coach Bill Robertson's Blues brigade finished runners-up defending their Central League crown, while the Aaron Scott-skippered red army from Hamilton had to be content with fifth place in the Northern Premier League, although they could have
finished as high as third had they not lost their last game 3-2 at home to Central United.

Napier City Rovers goalkeeper Joshua Hill has silenced opposition crowds but brought untold joy to the Blues faithful but will he be required to the extra hand span tomorrow? Photo/file
Napier City Rovers goalkeeper Joshua Hill has silenced opposition crowds but brought untold joy to the Blues faithful but will he be required to the extra hand span tomorrow? Photo/file

Excluding penalty shootouts, the Blues have conceded four goals in their Cup campaign, while Melville have the edge by virtue of one fewer, although they have lost their No 1 keeper, Jamie Searle, to English Premier League club Aston Villa.

Like any code, there's ambiguity in playing number crunching games. For argument's sake, do the goals conceded or scored — Melville 24 and Rovers 15 — reflect their ability to put up the storm shutters smartly and forage with a killer instinct, or perhaps offer more a snapshot of the strengths of the Northern and Capital catchment area competitions.

Retired Chris McIvor, who has taken over as ground announcer at Bluewater Stadium, recalls lifting the Cup with Rovers at North Harbour after beating Central United 4-1 in the 2000 final.

Two years later, McIvor was pouring bourbon into the silverware when they beat Tauranga United 2-0 in the final, the last time the illustrious Napier club got their mitts on the most sought-after bling in the beautiful game.

"It was a pretty strange feeling that day because we won but the game didn't hit any great heights," he said of the Jimmy Cudd-captained side under the tutelage of Charlie Howe and assistant Perry Cotton.

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Blast from the past Chris McIvor in the halcyon days of having claimed his second Chatham Cup medal with Napier City Rovers at the turn of the century. Photo/file
Blast from the past Chris McIvor in the halcyon days of having claimed his second Chatham Cup medal with Napier City Rovers at the turn of the century. Photo/file

The irony was the 2002 game was again scheduled for North Harbour but was unavailable so New Zealand Football deemed Park Island an appropriate alternative venue, no doubt owing to the province's balmy weather, too.

"After that, they drew the names from the hat and Tauranga won, making them the 'home' team, so we had ended up playing in our away red strips as they wore blue," says the bloke now carving a niche as Basketball Hawke's Bay general manager.

Man-of-the-match Leon Birnie, now the highly acclaimed national age-group women's coach, had inadvertently scored the opening goal halfway in the first spell when a free kick from Rovers centre back Jonathon Taylor had clipped the back of the striker's head to leave the Tauranga goalkeeper flat footed for a 1-0 lead.

McIvor says Brad Scott, a Whanganui player, had come off the bench to extend the lead to 2-0 late in the second half for the crown.

Now juxtapose that with the euphoria of homegrown talent Karan Mandair wanting to help the Blues add another chapter to history in his maiden Cup final tomorrow.

"It's pretty exciting to make the final," says Mandair, who scored a goal in the 2-1 semifinal victory over Onehunga Sports here but hopes to end on a high note before he embarks on a journey early next year to earn a business degree at an American university after securing a scholarship.

The 19-year-old says when Rovers were establishing goals at the start of the season, claiming the double (league and Cup crowns) was the mantra.

"The league got away, so it was the Chatham Cup that everyone wanted."

Mandair suspects the gloss and glamour of the cup had become a distraction during the league campaign for the Blues, who had lost only a couple of players from last season.

"Having won the league already [in 2018], I think the Chatham Cup was the one that everyone wanted," he says. "We still wanted to win the league but I don't think it was a priority."

The former Lindisfarne College pupil, in his third season with Rovers, says the excitement of Cup campaigns is crossing the boundaries of catchment areas to gauge one's worth against relatively unknown quantities.

Rovers have had a propensity to start a little late in their games, almost calculatingly to see what the opposition could throw at them before taking ownership. Pivotal to their blueprint has been the ploy to bring in elusive foragers Andrew Abba and Martin Bueno at crucial times to create havoc.

"On our day, when we play well, I think we can beat any team in the country," says Mandair, reflecting on Onehunga as a classic example because they are a feeder club to the country's flagship A-League team, the Wellington Phoenix.

"We didn't beat them comfortably but we did [beat them] and it was close."

With Onehunga having a go at Bueno for allegedly diving, Mandair says the Uruguayan golden boot from last season has a penchant for getting under the skin of players, so he's not sure where that assertion comes from.

"He gets fouled quite a lot," he says.

Uruguayan striker Martin Bueno is fouled too often, if you ask the Rovers, but he knows how to get under the skin of the opposition teams. Photo/file
Uruguayan striker Martin Bueno is fouled too often, if you ask the Rovers, but he knows how to get under the skin of the opposition teams. Photo/file

Ask him if the cup campaign has taught them one season-defining lesson, the teenager says it's all about having a steely resolve.

"Just don't give up," says the former Mahora School and Hastings Intermediate pupil who is still nursing a broken wrist he picked up in the last league game against Wellington Olympic. "It doesn't matter if we're down."

He suspects Melville have a tendency to play "quite direct" as well, although the Blues will stick to a mixed brand of play that has paid handsome dividends so far.

The weather forecast is 17C but possible heavy rain in the morning will set the tone for the brand of footy.

Mandair says the Blues are adequately prepared for the conditions because playing in the Central League hasn't just got them used to soggy pitches but also the ritual of travelling to Wellington.

However, Rovers will leave this afternoon for a motel overnight before the game.
McIvor is taking a minivan of 10 fans but says the club has organised numerous transport methods, including a bus, to take the Blues faithful in the quest for a fifth crown.

Those unable to go will watch the game on a big screen at the clubrooms as well as the sponsors' tavern at Ahuriri.

Karan Mandair (centre) celebrates his goal with teammates against Onehunga Sports in the semifinal at Park Island but he would love nothing more than to do it in the Chatham Cup final. Photo / File
Karan Mandair (centre) celebrates his goal with teammates against Onehunga Sports in the semifinal at Park Island but he would love nothing more than to do it in the Chatham Cup final. Photo / File

MATCH DETAILS

When: Tomorrow, 3pm kickoff.
Where: North Harbour Stadium, Auckland.
Live: Sky Sport.
Referee: Antony Riley (Manawatu).
Ast referee 1: Isaac Trevis (Christchurch).
Ast referee 2: Gareth Sheehan (Hawke's Bay).
Fourth official: Cory Mills (Auckland).


MELVILLE UNITED: 1. Max Tommy (GK), 2. Luke Searle, 3. Aaron Scott (c), 4. Josh Galletly, 5. Flynn O'Brien, 6. Campbell Brown, 7. Mark Jones, 8. Leslie Kivolyn, 9. Josh Davies, 10. Marc Evans, 11. Craig Pritchard, 12. Joel McMullan, 13. Federico Marquez, 15. Liam Steffert, 16. Gabriel Jhang, 17. Harry Christensen-Rose, 18. Logan Wisnewski, 19. Liam Hayes, 20. Neil Mouncher (RGK).

Co-coaches: Michael Mayne, Sam Wilkinson.
GK coach: Neil Mouncher.
Team manager: Steve Bettis.
Ast team manager: Seamus Marten.
Physiotherapist: Joel Armstrong.

NAPIER CITY ROVERS: 1. Joshua Hill (GK), 2. Nick Yorke, 3. Liam Schofield, 4. Bill Robertson, 5. Kaeden Atkins, 6. Jamie Wilkinson, 7. Sho Goto, 8. Karan Mandair,
9. Martin Bueno, 10. Patryk Misik, 11. Jonny McNamara, 12. Sam Wall, 14. Josh Stevenson, 15. James Hoyle (c), 16. Ethan Clarke, 17. Fergus Neil, 18. Gavin Hoy, 19. Andrew Abba, 20. Zac Madsen, 21. Kyle Baxter (RGK).

Coach: Bill Robertson.
Ast coach: Stu James.
Team manager: Greg Wall.
Ast manager: Aiden Doran.
Physiotherapist: Alex Gairdiner.
Video analayst: Tim Motu.

Andrew Abba (left) and Josh Stevenson have been the game changers for Napier City Rovers during their Chatham Cup campaign this season. Photo/file
Andrew Abba (left) and Josh Stevenson have been the game changers for Napier City Rovers during their Chatham Cup campaign this season. Photo/file