Auckland City showed no sign of a New Year hangover, easing to a 3-0 win over Canterbury at Kiwitea St today in their first game in three weeks.
The victory saw Auckland open up a six-point gap ahead of city rivals Waitakere at the top of the ASB Premiership, with the West Aucklanders away to YoungHeart Manawatu tomorrow.
Daniel Koprivcic notched the first with a classy finish in the 17th minute, and once Manel Exposito doubled the lead on the hour the three points seemed safe. Emiliano Tade added gloss to the scoreline in the dying moments with his sixth goal of the season, meaning last year's runner-up made it a perfect six from six in this year's competition.
A late stoush saw both sides finish with 10 men, when City's Luis Corrales and Canterbury's Cole Peverley saw red after clashing following a tackle.
Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx declared himself content with the result, considering the long lay-off and the pesky opposition who were unbeaten at Kiwitea St in their last three games.
"It was pretty tough - it's been a long break for us and coming back with a win is great," he said. "We knew it was going to be difficult because they are a very good team and they know how to play against us.
"And with the break, you put it together, and it's a difficult combination."
Auckland's task appeared anything but difficult in the opening 10 minutes. Chance after chance was created by the home side, with a only a collaboration of classy goalkeeping from Adam Highfield and erratic shooting from Auckland's attackers keeping the game scoreless.
But the Canterbury rearguard was eventually breached when the ball broke to Koprivcic on the edge of the area. Rather than attempting to blast one past Highfield, Koprivcic took a touch, composed himself and picked his spot just inside the right-hand post.
Instead of attempting to add to their advantage, Auckland seemed to sit back and allow Canterbury into the contest, something Tribulietx put down a change of tactics from the visitors.
"They pressed us slightly higher and maybe more intensive...we didn't play as well as we did in the beginning," he said. "But you've got periods of differences in the game and we overcame those periods as well as we could."
The Dragons were unable to fashion many clear-cut chances during those periods, and Auckland's latin connection remained dangerous throughout. And it was a danger Canterbury didn't heed, as Exposito and Tade made them pay.
"It was good to get away with the three points," Tribulietx said. "We put away three good goals and hopefully we've started the year on a good roll."