Dunedin clubs pipped by Selwyn on day of high drama

outh City Royals midfielder Olivier Cassidy (front) goes up for the ball with Christchurch United...
outh City Royals midfielder Olivier Cassidy (front) goes up for the ball with Christchurch United player James McClay during the Southern League football game in Christchurch yesterday. PHOTO: JULIE COLLINGS
Drama? You wanted drama?

The final round of the reinvigorated Southern League delivered more than anyone could justifiably have requested at the weekend.

There were lead changes, late goals and near-constant movement at the top of the table as five clubs jostled for the final qualification spot for the revamped national league.

When the dust had settled, regrettably, the two Dunedin clubs that had a chance of making the big show had just missed out.

The South City Royals and Otago University tied for third, on 12 points, with identical records: played seven, won four, lost three, goal difference of minus-one.

Selwyn United claimed the second national league spot — Cashmere Technical had locked up top spot on 18 points — by finishing on 13 points.

The table can only tell half the story, however.

At various points on Saturday, it looked certain Christchurch United would qualify. Then there was absolutely no doubt it would be the Royals. Then it seemed Otago University would get the gig. Then, sigh, Selwyn came through to spoil the party.

Much of the drama unfolded at the Christchurch Football Centre as the Royals produced a dazzling comeback to beat Christchurch United 4-3.

Christchurch led 2-0 for most of the first half until Will Turner scored on the rebound from a Ryan Fleming free kick to make it 2-1 at halftime.

Turner then levelled it at 2-2, before former Green Island talisman Eddie Wilkinson scored a second goal to give Christchurch a 3-2 lead.

The Royals responded on 69 minutes when a Callan Rothmets long throw fell to Kaleb de Groot-Green to tap in the equaliser.

A topsy-turvy game was settled in spectacular fashion in the 86th minute when Jared Grove sent in a free kick and de Groot-Green rose high to power a heading into the goal.

There was time for elder statesmen Tim Horner and Aaron Burgess to get on the field to shore up the Royals and see out a wild game.

"The game was all over the place with two teams with nothing to lose, really," Royals coach Richard Murray said.

"I think we deserved to win. We took our moments better and just kept battling, and we played ugly in the second half, which worked for us."

The Royals were briefly tied for second with University, and would have won that tiebreaker as they scored more goals in the league than the students.

But both Dunedin clubs were then overtaken by Selwyn, which trailed Nelson Suburbs for 86 minutes before equalising then, in the fourth minute of stoppage time, scoring a winner to seal second place.

"It shows how tight the league was. There wasn’t much difference between most of the teams," Murray said.

"We’re a bit disappointed because we were there or thereabouts, and we gave some points away, but we’re happy enough with third."

Green Island finished a tough campaign on a positive note, rebounding from a shocking start — it trailed 2-0 after five minutes — to beat Coastal Spirit 3-2. Adam Hewson scored a brace and Cam Anderson chimed in with the winner.

Cashmere Tech and Selwyn will join Auckland City, Auckland United, Birkenhead United, Eastern Suburbs, Miramar Rangers, Wellington Olympic, Western Suburbs and the Wellington Phoenix Academy in the national league.

It is scheduled to start on October 16 but schedule changes seem likely given the Covid restrictions in Auckland.

 - Otago University did the double in local cup finals at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.

The second-string students claimed the Chinese Charity Cup, a Jack Mawdesley penalty sealing a 1-0 win over Dunedin Technical.

In women’s football, Mandy Ross scored a hat-trick to lead the University thirds to a 5-0 win over Roslyn-Wakari in the Kiwi Panda Cup.

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