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At 2-1, with 90 minutes on the clock and the Otago crowd baying for a home result, Waitakere striker Milos Nikolic broke away and scored, then Ryan de Vries slotted his third goal, as referee Isaac Trevis slipped down the popularity stakes when he awarded a second penalty to Waitakere for the final 4-1 result.
Referee Trevis had earlier awarded a penalty on the hour after a ragged tackle by Craig Ferguson. Otago keeper Liam Little brilliantly saved the spot kick, and possibly ignited Otago's thrilling fightback in the last 30 minutes.
In a classic mix of inspiration and perspiration, Otago United kept champion side Waitakere more than honest for nearly 90 minutes with an inspired battling performance in the stadium's green house atmosphere. And at 2-1 coach Richard Murray's side played its best attacking football, and looked capable of grabbing a draw.
Otago started limply, conceding two soft early goals, allowing space for Dylan Stansfield to set up De Vries for a simple chance in the ask minute, then it was Allan Pierce sliding a perfect through ball for De Vries to make the score 2-0 after 37 minutes. Clearly, Waitakere is a classy unit, unbeaten this season, and aiming at Oceania League competition.
Coach Paul Marshall's side cranks up ball speed and one-touch football that reduces opposition to near meltdown, and Sunday's temperature did not help an Otago side determined to apply pressure and try to close down the visitors. But Otago accepted the challenge and harried and tackled Waitakere with unremitting energy, battling the visiting side's style.
After some good attacking combinations with striker Regan Coldicott leading the attack, in front of some hard running from Sam Mepham, Aajay Cunningham, Victor da Costa and Seamus Ryder, Waitakere started to make errors.
Former Otago captain Tristan Prattley, who recently transferred to Waitakere, got in a muddle with Tim Myers and the ever alert poacher Coldicott swooped in to steal possession and drill the ball past keeper Danny Robinson for a 49th-minute goal that had the scoreboard read 2-1.
Ryder wriggled free to deliver a near-post cross that skiffed past Coldicott's boot, then Ryder beat Prattley to roll an inviting pass in front of Tom Connor who switched play for Cunningham to arch backwards and head the ball on to the roof of the visitors net.
Not that Waitakere did not have its share of attacks, but Myers and his defence were forced to scramble away a series a Otago free kicks and corners that landed in Row Z. However, the late goal and penalty settled Waitakere, and coach Marshall admitted that the result probably did flatter Waitakere.
'' We have had a few injuries which meant striker Roy Krishna and some others could not play, so it was a good opportunity to give Dylan [Stansfield] a run. He is just 17, and both Ryan [De Vries] , who got a hat trick, and Milos [Nikolic] are just 20-years-old.''
Otago coach Murray was again mixture of pride in his team's performace, and frustration at some refereeing decisions.
''You can't give a top team like Waitakere a two-goal start, but on the plus side, we had spells of good attacking play that on another day might have got us a draw,'' he said.
In the curtain-raiser, Otago United's youth team continued its strong form with a 2-1 win over Manawatu youth side. Goals by Matt Webb and Taylor McCormack did the damage while Rhys Gaylor scored for Manawatu.
In the Futsal National League in Auckland, Queenstown's Futsalsouth striker Carlos Hermann took his personal goal tally to eight when his team beat Auckland 1-0, Northern 4-2, and WaiBOP 1-0, to remain mid-table.
Otago United 1
Regan Coldicott 49
Waitakere United 4
Ryan de Vries 31, 37, 90+3 pen, Milos Nikolic 89