New GJ Gardner Homes Whanganui Athletic coach Tex von Kwiatkowski came away with everything he wanted from his side's belated start to the 2020 Lotto Central Federation League campaign today.
A big scoreline, a defensive shutout, and still plenty for the squad to work on after the 5-0 win over an eager but underdone Levin AFC at Wembley Park.
It was the 'Josh & Josh' show in the second quarter as Athletic got the momentum to turn their midfield breaks into repeated chances in front of goal, with both veteran Josh Smith and former City club member Josh Ngapeka combining to put deft touches past the Levin keeper.
The Levin defensive screen cracked further early in the second half as Athletic put together back-to-back goals through both the final defender and the keeper through Perry Stewart and Smith again, with a lapse contributing to the latter score in what von Kwiatkowski coined a "slap stick" moment.
Smith and Stewart combined again on a breakout from the midfield for Stewart to likewise add his own double in his return to the club, although there was plenty of grumbling from the Levin bench about potential offside.
At the other end, Athletic's vaunted defence from season 2019 still seemed very much up to scratch, led by exuberant keeper Matt Calvert, towering defender Shaan Stuart and club president Peter Czerwonka with some solid challenges.
There were only three real occasions when they were stretched, twice by Levin forward Dylan Vine — who got free to put shots over and around Calvert's diving hand, only to strike the crossbar with the first attempt and push his left-to-right strike past the outside post with the second.
In the second half, reserve Cody Stewart created a good turnover on attack and managed to draw Calvert out and away from the box, but Tesco Grunwald had sprinted back to hack the travelling ball away from the open goal mouth.
Von Kwiatkowski was pleased that while the execution was not always perfect, Athletic kept up a high intensity for 90 minutes, especially given there had been a high speed first quarter which just had one injury break for Levin but very little whistle stoppage otherwise.
The coach made some tactical substitutions with Scott Burney replacing Ngapeka at halftime to combine with Smith up front, while new Englishman Martyn Freestone showed some nice touches in the midfield.
"What we have to work on is our passing accuracy," said von Kwiatkowski.
"Patience when necessary, and passing when necessary.
"We are fit like fiddles.
"5-0 is a great start. Even our Reserves won 5-0. I've got 21 in my squad."
The goals aside, Athletic had 5-6 other opportunities where they worked the ball into the "cutting edge", so the coach wants to see more "combination football" in coming weeks.
This will be especially important as the club now embarks on a very challenging road game schedule - five straight matches separated in the middle by a bye week.
"I love it - the excitment is always higher when you're on the bus," said von Kwiatkowski.
After the non-stop opening minutes, which had a brief spell of rain, Athletic opened their account as Smith and Ngapeka made good on their latest chain in front of goal, with Ngapeka guiding the ball through the diving keeper.
Jordan Candish tried a spectacular bicycle kick attempt on a corner kick to put the ball over the top, but Athletic soon had their break on the scoreboard when Smith broke free and was able to tip-toe round the sliding keeper to tap his shot home.
Both Burney and Smith created or found themselves on the end of good scoring chances in the second half, the latter being unlucky to strike the left-hand post after he beat the keeper.
The dam broke after Ryan Holden was felled and following buildup from the free kick, a chip over the top came to Stewart who slid down on one knee to clear his marker and put the ball away from the keeper for 3-0.
Just moments later, Athletic got a turnover up front and Stewart looked for Smith, who took advantage of Levin blinking to put his side out of reach.
Stewart was hungry for his own brace, and it came late in the match when Smith got a perfect header to run onto and set it up for Stewart to punch it in the back of the net.