Auckland City to face Team Wellington in final as a national football league era ends

Auckland City will play Team Wellington in the last grand final of the current era of national mens football league after beating Eastern Suburbs 2-1 at Kiwitea St on Sunday.
Dylan Manickum put them ahead after five minutes at their storied home ground in suburban Auckland, pouncing on a loose ball in the box and firing into the back of the net from an acute angle.

Logan Rogerson then forced Christian Gray into conceding an own goal six minutes into the second half, after making a storming run down the left-hand flank and sending the ball across the face of goal, and while they conceded one, Suburbs couldnt find an equaliser.

Auckland City and Team Wellington will now meet for the fifth time in a grand final, having each won two previously City in 2014 and 2018 and Team Wellington in 2016 and 2017.

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City have also won the title on another six occasions beating Waitakere United three times and Canterbury United and Hawkes Bay United once apiece, as well as finishing first last season, where the Covid-19 pandemic meant no final was played and will be part of the decider for the 12th time in the leagues 17-season existence.

Suburbs were up against it, having played Hawkes Bay United in Napier on Wednesday in the final match of the regular season, which was postponed by 10 days due to the recent Covid-19 lockdown, where they needed a win to finish fourth and advance to the semifinals.

And they made life hard for themselves by conceding almost straight away, after Mohammad Awad did well to keep the ball alive down the right and get it into the box, where Manickum did the honours.

The closest the visitors came to scoring in the first half was midway through it when right back Kelvin Kalua found Stafford Dowling, who sent himself flying as he let off a shot that smashed into the crossbar and out.

Goalkeeper Danyon Drake had been called on on several occasions to keep City at bay and made his best save at the start of the second half pushing a Brian Kaltak header from point-blank range onto the crossbar, then away from the danger area.

But it was only minutes later that City struck again, leaving Suburbs who will finish without a win in 11 national league matches against the competitions perennial frontrunners with a mountain of work to do.

They continued to fight, however, and pulled one goal back in the 73rd minute, when Ryan Feutz wiggled past several defenders and the box and shot into the far corner from the right-hand side, while City missed a chance to hit back immediately when Manickum fired a shot into the left-hand upright after Drake had come off his line.

Suburbs were emboldened after going ahead and pushed forward as the clock ticked towards the 90-minute mark, but couldnt find an equaliser, even in the six minutes of added time that followed, as their hosts held strong.

City will head into next Sundays final at North Harbour Stadium as the favourites to beat Team Wellington and claim a ninth title, but regardless of how it turns out, it should be a fitting send-off for the summer-centric, franchise-based national league, featuring two teams that have consistently been the top performers during the second half of its existence.

Suburbs, like Hamilton Wanderers, who beaten 4-1 by Team Wellington on Saturday, will now turn their focus to the Northern League, one of three regional leagues feeding into the new National League Championship, which begins on March 27.

ISPS Handa Premiership semifinals​

Auckland City 2 (Dylan Manickum 5, Own goal 51) Eastern Suburbs 1 (Ryan Feutz 73). HT: 1-0

Team Wellington 4 (Hamish Watson 12, 36, 70, Sam Mason-Smith 51) Hamilton Wanderers 1 (Tommy Semmy 60). HT: 2-0

Auckland City to play Team Wellington in the grand final at North Harbour Stadium on Sunday, March 21.


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