All this week I have been running a poll on my Twitter page. I asked whether, after the 3-0 drubbing at Kiwitea Street the previous Sunday, anyone felt that Team Wellington could realistically overturn the deficit in the second leg. 100% of the votes said that wouldn’t be the case. Now it may not have been the most testing of polls – not many would have been rushing to their local TAB to put a bet on Wellington coming back from the dead – but it does show those folks who voted as very prophetic.

Darren White (left) v Andy Bevin

In short, this two-legged affair was as one-sided as you’ll find (click here for highlights). Auckland absolutely dominated Wellington at Kiwitea Street last week and the return at David Farrington Park was not a whole lot different. Yes, Wellington did actually create some chances this time around, but Auckland looked so comfortable in the main, that it’s clear they still are the benchmark for other New Zealand clubs. This comes despite the fact they were pipped to the Stirling Sports Premiership title by, none other than, Team Wellington.

Tactics

After last week’s game, I posted an article on this site as an analysis of what I’d witnessed (click here). In it, I predicted that Wellington would need to drastically alter their tactics for the second leg. Being 3-0 down, it was obvious that the men from the capital needed to attack Auckland with gusto but while still trying to retain a modicum of discipline when not in possession. To achieve this, I suggested a back three for Wellington which would then turn into a back four when Auckland had possession. However, Jose Figueira decided to stick with the 4-3-3 system that he had employed from the first leg.

At this point, I don’t claim to be a better coach than Figueira. Let’s face it, we all know better than the coach, right? But it surely made sense that the side would need a Plan B in the face of such a heavy deficit? And I dare say I’m not alone in believing that Auckland City’s squad is of a far higher quality than TW’s as a general rule. Wellington have players who will graft but lack the flair and fluidity of Auckland’s extremely gifted squad. Up front, Ben Harris is a player who will cause problems for defences and aggravate opposition players, but he lacks the pace or clinical finishing ability of Emiliano Tade or João Moreira. At the back, Bill Robertson is Mr Reliable and a good leader but lacks the finesse of Angel Berlanga.

It was always going to take something special for Wellington to therefore overturn Auckland’s commanding lead but chances were again at a premium for Figueira’s side in the second leg, and it looked increasingly as though any goals Wellington did manage were going to come from set-pieces. Indeed, the “something special” actually came from Auckland when Emiliano Tade curled a superb effort from the edge of the box and into the top-right corner to make it 2-0 on the day and give Scott Basalaj no chance. It was a goal worthy of winning any game.

A Good Season

At this point, Team Wellington fans are probably hating my very being for my criticisms. I admire Team Wellington in a massive way. I am certainly not meaning to sound ultra-critical but simply calling it as I watched the two legs.

The fact is it’s been a very promising first season under Jose Figueira’s leadership. The side has won the league title and that is a massive achievement. It gives Figueira and the franchise a real platform to build on for the 2017-18 campaign and subsequent OFC Champions League programme. They have matched Auckland City in the league and both finished on 36 points. But the record between the two sides this season (4-1 in Auckland’s favour) and the two OFC Champions League Final games in particular show that there is still a gulf.

Auckland City Still The Benchmark

Only the most one-eyed Team Wellington fan would refuse to admit that Auckland City are still the benchmark for clubs in New Zealand. The squad oozes quality and big names and the setup is second to none. Aside from Moreira and Tade up front, there is the young Kiwi talent of Clayton Lewis who has a very promising future in the game on his recent performances.

One area of the two legs where Auckland were vastly superior to Wellington was in midfield. Cameron Howieson has experience of playing professionally in Scotland while Albert Riera was a mainstay of the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League. There is pace and discipline there and Wellington’s midfield looked too often overrun by that. Figueira will surely want to have more of a presence in the middle of the park next season.

Some good news for Wellington fans is that their side can certainly compete with Auckland on one level – goalkeeper. Enaut Zubikarai has been a brilliant signing for City, coming from Spain and an illustrious professional career with Real Sociedad and also Tondela in Portugal. But Wellington have recruited superbly in this role too by bringing in local boy Scott Basalaj.

Scott Basalaj

The former Partick Thistle man was superb in the first leg of this tie, sparing Wellington from what could and should have been an even more comprehensive beating. In fact, looking around at various fan forums online, there have even been calls for the Wellington Phoenix to look at him for next season’s A-League campaign. He certainly wouldn’t look out of place should Glen Moss decide to depart for South Africa as is rumoured.

Conclusion

Champions! – Auckland City

It’s been a great ride this season for Team Wellington and very fruitful too. The trophy cabinet is better stocked and the basis of a good squad is there. But, for me personally, there is a long way to go before they can knock Auckland City off of their pedestal as the best side in New Zealand.

And so on Auckland City go to the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup in the UAE. Few will deny they deserve it or that they might, just might, cause an upset along the way. Roll on 2017-18!

Team Wellington – 0
1. Scott BASALAJ – 2. Justin GULLEY, 5. Bill ROBERTSON (C), 6. Taylor SCHRIJVERS (4. Guillermo MORETTI 43′), 7. Leo VILLA, 9. Tom JACKSON, 11. Mario BARCIA (21. Niko KIRWAN ’78), 12. Andy BEVIN (17. Sam BLACKBURN ’88), 15. Joel STEVENS, 16. Ben HARRIS, 19. Joshua MARGETTS
Unused Substitutes: 23. James McPEAKE (RGK), 10. Nathanael HAILEMARIAM, 14. Billy SCOTT, 18. Nicolas ZAMBRANO
Coach: Jose Figueira

Auckland City – 2 (De Vries ’63, Tade 76′)
1. Enaut ZUBIKARAI – 3. Takuya IWATA, 4. Mario BILEN, 5. Angel BERLANGA (C), 6. Cameron HOWIESON, 8. Albert RIERA, 9. Darren WHITE, 14. Clayton LEWIS, 16. Daewook KIM (23. Marko DORDEVIC ’84), 17, João MOREIRA (10. Ryan DE VRIES 40′), 20. Emiliano TADE (11. Fabrizio TAVANO ’87)
Substitutes: 18. Danyon DRAKE (RGK), 7. Reid DRAKE, 13. Alfie ROGERS, 19. Micah LEA’ALAFA
Coach: Ramon Tribulietx

Auckland City win 5-0 on aggregate

My Man of the Match: Emiliano Tade

Highlights of the 2nd leg can be found on the official OFC channel here.

 

by Paul Gellard