All Whites midfielder Cam Howieson has proven to be the difference between Auckland City and the Wellington Phoenix reserves in their National League Championship match at Kiwitea St.
The Auckland City captain has found the back of the net late in each half to lead the quadruple-chasing hosts to a 2-0 win over the young Nix.
Howieson’s first goal came deep in first-half stoppage time, with his second following with just a minute remaining in the 90.
His match-clincher will be a leading contender for the goal of the season, with the midfielder scoring from well inside his half.
The result moves Auckland City to the top of the National League Championship for the time being, while the Phoenix reserves remain sixth in the 10-team competition.
Head coach Chris Greenacre made four changes to the XI which was lost 3-2 at home to Miramar Rangers last weekend. Callum Kennett got the nod in goal in place of Alby Kelly-Heald, while defender Lukas Kelly-Heald, midfielder Fin Conchie and striker Josh Rudland replaced Isaac Hughes, Dan McKay and the suspended Riley Bidois respectively.
First-team players Finn Surman and Lucas Mauragis again started for the reserves, with Surman wearing the captain’s armband.
The young Nix held their own for the first 20 minutes, with Kennett only forced to make one regulation save to deny Howieson.
The reserves also looked impressive going forward, with their best chance falling to Charlie Beale, who blazed a shot narrowly wide.
Auckland City got stronger as the first-half progressed and Emiliano Tade found the back of the net in the 45th minute after being picked out by Joe Lee. However, Lee was deemed to be offside and the goal was ruled out.
Moments later the Oceania champions had their breakthrough, with Howieson slipping in between Surman and Kennett and poking the ball into the back of the net.
City camped themselves in the reserves’ half after the break, with Kennett forced to make a couple of smart saves to prevent the hosts from doubling their lead.
Greenacre responded by making a triple change on the hour mark, with Joseph Chiari, Charlie Beale and Mauragis making way for Riley Manuel, Ben Wallace and Adam Supyk.
The fresh legs made an immediate impact, with the young Nix getting more touches inside the hosts’ half and stemming the flow of Auckland City pressure.
The reserves defended resolutely and kept themselves in the game.
Wallace then had a great opportunity to level the scores in the 79th minute. Unfortunately for him and the young Nix he wasn’t able to head a pinpoint Supyk cross on target from eight yards out.
Ten minutes later Howieson put the result out of doubt with a wondergoal. He took one touch deep inside his half, looked up and, making the most of the wind behind his back, unleashed a shot that cleared Kennett and nestled into the back of the net.
The reserves return home to Fraser Park on Sunday week to host Central League champions Wellington Olympic.
Wellington Phoenix reserves: 20. Callum KENNETT (gk), 2. Joseph CHIARI (17. Riley MANUEL 61st), 3. Finn SURMAN (c), 5. Lukas KELLY-HEALD, 6. Fin CONCHIE, 7. Noah KARUNARATNE, 9. Josh RUDLAND, 10. Charlie BEALE (18. Ben WALLACE 61st), 11. Kaelin NGUYEN (14. Daniel MAKOWEM 86th), 12. Lucas MAURAGIS (15. Adam SUPYK 61st), 13. Matthew SHERIDAN
Unused substitutes: 1. Alby KELLY-HEALD (gk).
Auckland City: 1. Conor TRACEY (gk), 3. Adam MITCHELL 7. Cam HOWIESON (c), 8. Gerard GARRIGA, 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 11. Ryan DE VRIES (9. Angus KILKOLLY 86th), 12. Sam BROTHERTON, 14. Jordan VALE, 16. Joe LEE (2. Mario ILICH 90+2), 20. Emiliano TADE, 22. Adam BELL (17. Reid DRAKE 77th).
Unused substitutes: 24. Cam BROWN (gk), 4. Christian GRAY.
7. Cam HOWIESON (Auckland City) – 45+3
7. Cam HOWIESON (Auckland City) – 89th
9. Josh RUDLAND (Wellington Phoenix reserves) – yellow – 54th
17. Riley MANUEL (Wellington Phoenix reserves) – yellow – 62nd
8. Gerard GARRIGA (Auckland City) – yellow – 67th