Backing up key for Southern United

Southern United Garbhan Coughlan heads the ball during his hat-trick game against Hamilton...
Southern United Garbhan Coughlan heads the ball during his hat-trick game against Hamilton Wanderers at Forsyth Barr Stadium in January. Photo: Peter McIntosh
There are two ways to look at Southern United's season.

On one hand, it finished 11 points outside of the top four and the national football premiership's elite.

But on the other it finished a more than respectable fifth place on 23 points, almost mirroring last year's performance.

Backing up is never easy.

It is not unusual for the little guy to cause an upset, or even overachieve for a season.

That is what makes sport so thrilling, the best team does not always win.

But over time quality will win out.

It is hard to overachieve a second time.

If you do, it is normally a sign of genuine improvement, rather than just a run of good form.

That is why a fifth-place finish was so key for Southern.

Having reached that spot last season after years of finishing in the bottom two, it would have been easy to relapse.

But Southern was able to solidify itself.

Its defence was, for the most part, hard to break down.

In possession, it was far more of a threat.

Garbhan Coughlan was sublime and the likes of Abdulla Al-Kalisy and Danny Ledwith were dangerous in creating opportunities.

It did a great job of developing youth too, giving plenty of youngsters opportunities throughout.

Southern was the only team to take points off Auckland City, in a 1-1 draw at Sunnyvale.

That was part of a seven-match unbeaten streak, which included three wins and a draw against Team Wellington.

However, it could have been closer to the top four.

Had it put its chances away at home against Hawke's Bay United it would have an extra two points.

Likewise a poor performance against the Wellington Phoenix Academy team left it with one point rather than three.

The most crucial one may have been the home loss to Canterbury United, in the middle of a four-match losing streak.

Southern had been on top before being reduced to 10 men.

A defensive lapse further up the field left goalkeeper Liam Little to come outside his box and handle the ball in a reactionary motion.

That is no knock on Little nor the defence, both having been very solid all year.

Defensive mistakes happen all the time and 99% of them do not result in red cards.

Unfortunately for Southern, this was one of the 1% that do.

Little was red carded and Southern found itself in a far more challenging spot.

A win was never guaranteed - although the chance for victory turned into a 1-0 loss.

That was a potential six-point swing in the top-four gap, as Canterbury finished alongside Team Wellington on 34 points to fill third and fourth spots.

Of course the season did not come down to one mistake.

But it does show the way one or two moments with a fortunate or unfortunate outcome can have a huge effect.

Either way, Southern has established itself as the best of the chasing pack.

Next season the goal has to be cracking the top four.

Bridging that gap will not be easy and the coming months may determine whether Southern is in a position to make the leap.

Southern United

Season at a glance
Fifth place, 23 points
Played 18, won six, drew five, lost seven
Best player
Garbhan Coughlan
The Irish striker was in a class of his own as he scored 13 goals and at times seemed capable of doing whatever he wanted. His three goals in 30 minutes against Hamilton Wanderers was a season highlight. Mentions also to Tony Whitehead, Conor O’Keeffe and Liam Little.
Most improved player
Ben Deeley
Returned south after finishing at Auckland Grammar School and did not make the match-day squad at first. He played his way into the starting XI and by the season’s end was looking genuinely threatening with the ball at his feet.
Best game
3-1 win v Tasman United
Southern was tremendous as it played 65 minutes with 10 men and walked away with a 3-1 win in the rain at Sunnyvale Park. Draws against Auckland City and Team Wellington also rate a mention.
Worst game
6-1 loss v Eastern Suburbs
Southern looked to press Suburbs, again in the rain at Sunnyvale, and it went horribly wrong. Suburbs was a class above as it piled on goals against a Southern defence which could not recover


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