Football: Otago tastes sweet success

Joel Stevens.
Joel Stevens.
Otago United's drought has broken, with a valiant 1-nil away win over Wellington at Dave Farrington Park in their ASB Premiership football match in Wellington yesterday.

A splendid start had Morgan Day hammer a weak clearance 25m back past keeper Scott Basalaj, only for the ball to rebound off Wellington's right upright. It was just the injection Otago needed, and while Wellington fought back and mounted some well-built attacks, Otago created other chances that could have increased the scoreline. Otago's winner came after 83 minutes of toil and endeavour, harnessing the pace of Joel Stevens, who latched on to a headed clearance by Tim Horner, and as Alec Solomons - under pressure from Otago's Jude Fitzpatrick - mis-headed, young Stevens raced clear and calmly took a touch before sliding the ball past Basalaj.

Yet it was not a match for the faint-hearted, and both coaches, Wellington's Matt Calcott and Otago's Murray, prowled about in the technical area like caged lions. Wellington worked the flanks well, as Tom Biss and Cory Chettleburgh buzzed around the unpredictable talent of Solomon Islands striker Henry Fa'arodo. But immense games from Matt Joy, Craig Ferguson, Thomas Connor and Tristan Prattley - despite an injury from a fierce clattering - closed down chances, and a combination of brave tackling and blocking frustrated the home side.

Horner never missed a challenge or header, and it was his booming 30m headed clearance that set up Otago's breakaway that led to the goal. Both sides were guilty of giving away possession cheaply, but in the absence of Ant Hancock, Stevens added the element of pure pace around strike partner Aaron Burgess.

Having said that, Wellington's tall centreback Solomons revelled against the many high balls Otago pumped forward, and might have been man of the match but for that contested mis-header that allowed Stevens to race away and score before performing his victory roll. Burgess had a headed chance go wide in front of goal, while Victor da Costa was buried in the midfield boiler room for much of the game but wriggled free at one stage and only a strong recovery tackle stopped the Frenchman from shooting. Seamus Ryder zipped around plugging gaps and launching threatening runs that demanded full attention and some tough tackles from Wellington - one by Tom Doyle looked a certain yellow card.

Murray's substitutes also put in worthy shifts. Benjudah Fitzpatrick replaced Burgess with 20 minutes to go, and Sam Mepham ably took over from Day in the 51st minute. A delighted Murray praised his side's performance.

''Let's hope this is the start of our season now. We have deserved better but now have the taste of success."