The Wellington Phoenix reserves have made free-scoring Christchurch United work for their second win to start the men’s 2023 National League Championship.
The Chatham Cup winners have beaten the Phoenix reserves 2-0 in their round two match at United Sports Centre, eventually breaking the reserves’ resistance in the second half.
United averaged four goals a game on their way to claiming the 2023 Southern League title, but were frustrated by the well-organised young Nix rearguard for large periods on a blustery afternoon in Christchurch.
Southern League golden boot Sam Philip broke the deadlock in the 54th minute before Irish defender Aaron O’Driscoll doubled the hosts’ lead 12 minutes from fulltime.
Chris Greenacre made two changes to the Phoenix reserves’ starting XI, with teenagers Anaru Cassidy and Gabriel Sloane-Rodrigues named to make their first national league starts after returning from international duty with the New Zealand U-17 team. They replaced Dan McKay and Daniel Makowem respectively.
The reserves’ back four were well marshalled by goalkeeper Alby Kelly-Heald, who only had to make one save of note in the first half, despite Christchurch United looking the more dangerous of the two sides.
Sloane-Rodrigues, 16, came closest to threatening United’s goal before halftime when he shot wide of target in the 16th minute.
Philip pounced on a rare reserves’ mistake nine minutes into the second half and picked out the bottom left-hand corner of Kelly-Heald’s goal.
Right back Lewis Partridge attempted to draw the Phoenix reserves level moments later but he pulled his shot wide of target.
The hosts continued to look the more threatening of the two sides, without really troubling Kelly-Heald.
They eventually took advantage of countless corners in the 78th minute when O’Driscoll headed home a set piece from the right wing.
Greenacre responded by clearing his bench with Athan Thompson, Fletcher Pratt and Alex Braakhuis joining Sloane-Rodrigues in making their national league debuts.
Fellow substitute Makowem had arguably the reserves’ best chance of the match in the 89th minute, when he got in behind the United backline, but his left-footed shot was narrowly off target.
After playing two of the competition favourites in the opening two weeks, the Wellington Phoenix reserves will head to south Auckland on Sunday week to play Manurewa AFC.
Wellington Phoenix reserves: 1.Alby KELLY-HEALD (gk), 2. Xuan LOKE, 3. Lewis PARTRIDGE (19. Athan THOMPSON 79th), 4. Seth KARUNARATNE, 5. Anaru CASSIDY, 7. Ryan WATSON (29. Daniel MAKOWEM 62nd), 10. Charlie BEALE (c), 15. Hayden THOMAS (24. Joseph CORNILLE 79th), 18. Ben WALLACE, 22. Marco LORENZ (12. Alex BRAAKHUIS 79th), 25. Gabriel SLOANE-RODRIGUES (11. Fletcher PRATT 79th).
Christchurch United: 1. Scott MORRIS (gk), 5. Riley GROVER (3. Nicholas MURPHY 83rd), 6. Aaron O’DRISCOLL, 9. Daniel MACLENNAN (25. Eric IMACHI SUGAHARA 79th), 10. Eoghan STOKES, 11. Sam PHILIP, 16. Cameron LINDSAY, 22. Matt TOD-SMITH (c) (12. Mason STEARN 79th), 23. Benjamin LAPSLIE, 24. JAGO GODDEN, 26. Edward WILKINSON (7. Haris ZEB 63rd).
Unused substitutes: 13. Frewen WATTS (gk).
11. Sam PHILIP (Christchurch United) – 54th
6. Aaron O’DRISCOLL (Christchurch United) – 78th
3. Lewis PARTRIDGE (Wellington Phoenix reserves) – yellow – 3rd