City burst into fifth-straight grand final
Auckland City have advanced to the Stirling Sports Premiership final on the back of an archetypal effort against Hawke’s Bay United.
They won 1-0 at Kiwitea St on Saturday, holding on to the ball for long periods and slowly wearing their opponents down through a weight of chances, while looking extremely secure at the back.
Micah Lea’alafa did the honours in the 64th minute, combining with Ryan de Vries to get free in the box before firing past Josh Hill in Hawke’s Bay’s goal, and he might have had a second in the same fashion in the 81st minute, but for an offside flag.
Hill was the hero for the visitors for the first hour, denying City on several occasions, but could do nothing about the Solomon Islands forward’s left-foot rocket.
Lea’alafa has had a quiet second season in the league - this was his second goal in his eighth appearance, the other coming against the same opposition prior to Christmas - with Futsal commitments and injury to blame.
He got a chance here because City were without three regular starters, with Fabrizio Tavano and Joao Moreira suspended, and Clayton Lewis on international duty with the All Whites.
The home side dominated possession throughout, with Hawke’s Bay happy to sit back in two banks of four and look to play on the counter.
Last time these two sides met, Hawke’s Bay came back from a one-goal deficit to win 2-1, but their heroics at home that day never came close to being repeated here, with City keeper Enaut Zubikarai largely untested.
Hawke’s Bay’s volatile midfielder Cory Chettleburgh was sent off in the 75th minute after picking up two yellow cards in quick succession for rash challenges, which didn’t help his side in their quest to mount a comeback.
City now move on to next Sunday’s final against Team Wellington, a rematch of last year’s final, which will be played at QBE Stadium in Auckland.
Team Wellington beat Waitakere United in one of the games of the season on Sunday, winning in a shootout 3-2 after they drew 4-4 in regulation and 6-6 after extra time.
Team Wellington are the defending champions, and will be looking to upset Auckland City again next week.
Micah Lea’alafa celebrates scoring the only goal of the day.