Depleted City gallant in derby defeat
Battered side rely on injured players as they push Athletic
IT SEEMS passion trumps adversity in derby football. Despite a frustrating buildup for both Versatile Wanganui City and GJ Gardner Wanganui Athletic, the two sides put on a riveting Lotto Federation League showdown at Wembley Park on Saturday.
Athletic, who hadn’t played for 21 days thanks to a Cup round and bad weather, held off a late challenge for a 3-2 win over a City side backing up from Monday’s extra-time Federation Cup loss which left them physically and mentally battered.
City coach Kelvin Francis worked a miracle to field a squad, relying on injured players, players out of position and one who hadn’t played all year.
“Really, when you look at the players we brought in, it’s a really stellar job and that group of guys can be really proud of that,” Francis said. “Considering we are so injury depleted and guys patched themselves up and took painkillers to play.”
Adrian Ngaau, who was sitting out the season to recover from knee surgery, even offered his services.
“He was in the club this morning when I was scratching my head about what we were going to do and he said ‘I’ll play if you need me’,” said Francis.
Even Athletic coach Jason King was impressed.
“I said to [Francis] ‘if that’s what you call a depleted squad, mate, you’ve done well’.
“But that just shows what a derby is all about. They had guys stepping in, guys who were carrying injuries, but it meant something, and that came through.”
It was a below-par performance from Athletic from which King was happy to bank three points to restart their campaign.
“I think for us you could tell we hadn’t had a game for a couple of weeks,” he said.
“That’s why I was really gutted about that rained-off week, it really broke our momentum.”
His side began well and went up in the 13th minute through Quinn Mailman, with his powerful shot slicing through a traffic jam of bodies after the ball spewed out from a set piece.
Josh Smith doubled the lead seven minutes later, gliding along the byeline to score from a sharp angle, the goal helping Athletic shift up a gear.
A signature City goal narrowed the gap with Anthony Bell running on to assist through the middle of the park and using his pace and accuracy to beat Athletic keeper Matthew Calvert.
Athletic reclaimed the buffer just four minutes later when Scott Burney scored from close range when City again failed to clear their lines.
City managed to grind away in the second half and were rewarded when super-sub Jake Lockett came on in the 23rd minute to score, despite the attention of a scrambling
Calvert and defender Jake Symcox.
Athletic had a poor second half but managed to cling on for a win, which was needed to keep them in touch with the league leaders.
“We lacked a bit of fight which we’ve got to get back before we play Rangers next week otherwise it’s going to be a repeat of the start of the season,” King said.
Athletic beat City 5-2 in the opening round but then lost 1-0 away to Rangers the following week.
King will also need to address how City managed to get Athletic to move away from their usually disciplined structure.
“That’s good in a way, it’s good for us because it challenged us in different ways,” he said.
“It gives me something to think about to make sure that we can counter those sort of things because while we don’t have to play them again, until maybe Charity Cup, we’ve got other teams that will try and break us down so tactically we can look at things to see how we can change things to overcome these situations.
“Overall I’m really happy. We just need to make sure we lift that intensity.”
Athletic can’t afford to drop too many more points in a title race with North End and Palmerston North Marist.
“Then we’re starting to rely on others and I like to be in control of my own destiny,” King said.
“Today it’s still one more on the goal difference which I think is going to be important at the end of the season and it’s another three points. In the grand scheme of things, it’s still moving forward for us.”
What will help is mid-table Massey’s 3-2 win over North End on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Francis was just proud City were able to be competitive ahead of a trip to North End next week.
“That bodes really well for us, I suppose, that we can field a side with four guys out and the other guys back-up,” he said.
“I’m pretty proud of them, to be fair. We could’ve hung our heads after having a few early goals but we stuck in there.
“It would’ve been nice to have got a point. I think we probably deserved a point, the way we played, but that’s how football goes.
“In the first half we probably needed to get to that second ball and we didn’t open up enough. We did that better in the second half.”
Francis said it was an improvement on round 1 for them.
“We’re really proud of their effort today and Athletic will know that they’ve had a game
. . . I feel that they maybe feel a little thankful that we didn’t manage to finish another chance or two.”
In other Federation League matches, Marist beat Hokowhitu 2-1 and New Plymouth Rangers beat Red Sox Manawatu 3-2.
The Horizons Premiership saw the GJ Gardner Homes Wanganui Athletic Reserves hammered 5-1 away by the Hokowhitu FC Reserves.
Athletic goalscorer Quinn Mailman watches the pass of City’s Alex JuddNuttall.
Wanganui City’s Alex Judd-Nuttall leaps above Wanganui Athletic’s Ross Kinnerley (6) and Scott Burney during Saturday’s derby at Wembley Park. PHOTOS / BEVAN CONLEY