Auckland City 1
Originally scheduled for December 20, it was postponed until City arrived home from their outstanding fifth place at Fifa's Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
With the NZFC minor premiership already done and dusted and with a crucial away first-leg semifinal against Canterbury United tomorrow, City coach Paul Posa understandably rested many of the players who had turned out in their 2-2 O-League draw with Waitakere United last Sunday and who would be required in Christchurch.
For 75 or so minutes, City were right in yesterday's game at Kiwitea St. Locked 1-1, the hosts had the chance to become the first team to end a regular NZFC unbeaten but the young players, while relishing their chance to play at this level, succumbed as the visitors banged in three late goals in nine minutes to win 4-1.
"I was very proud of the young guys," said Posa. "I thought for a long time we were the better team. The pressure told but they did very well.
"We achieved what we wanted to - maybe not in the result - but in resting the players who will play on Sunday and in giving young players an opportunity. Probably only four or five of the players involved today will travel to Christchurch."
For debutante Tim Payne, of Sacred Heart College, it was a memorable day. In snatching the 56th minute equaliser he, at 15, became the youngest goalscorer in the six NZFC seasons.
For Manawatu coach Bob Sova, the result was a godsend.
"We wanted to win for a number of reasons," said Sova. "Three points took us above Hawkes Bay into sixth place. To finish just two points out of the semifinals, as we have now done, is a lot better than being five points back.
"I can now go to the board and point out what we've done. With just an ounce of luck and a result or two going our way, we could've been in the semifinals."
One player making the most of his chances was Vanuatu international Seule Soromon.
He travelled north with a share of the golden boot lead - locked on nine goals with Hawkes Bay's Leon Birnie. By the time he left Kiwitea St, he had the title to himself.
Goals in the 77th and 86th minutes took Soromon's season tally to 11 and continued the run by non-New Zealand players in claiming the Golden Boot.
The 25-year-old follows South Africans Keryn Jordan and Grant Young (2004-05), Jordan (2005-06), Solomon Islander Benjamin Totori (2006-07), Uruguay's Gonzalo Nieres and Scottish-born Graham Little (2007-08) and Costa Rican Luis Corrales (2008-09) as the top scorers.
In tomorrow's other NZFC semifinal, Waitakere United are away to Team Wellington.
In yesterday's Lion Foundation National Youth League semifinal, Waitakere beat Team Wellington 6-2. Waitakere will play the winner of tomorrow's game between Canterbury United and Auckland Manukau in next week's final.
By Terry Maddaford | Email Terry