One last task ahead in red-letter season

Southern United are on the road to the National League final tomorrow. PHOTO:PETER MCINTOSH
Southern United are on the road to the National League final tomorrow. PHOTO:PETER MCINTOSH
Southern United is on the cusp of the greatest footballing achievement to come from Dunedin, Kayla Hodge reports.

Nothing to lose, everything to gain.

It is a striking mindset from Southern United head coach Kris Ridley, and one that has helped his side get to where they are — lining up for the National League final against Auckland United tomorrow.

Southern has broken new ground this season, qualifying for their first grand final and creating a monumental occasion for football in the South.

They have been building since winning the South Central series in 2021, finishing fourth — and as the top team outside of Auckland — last season and now have laid a stake in the ground by making the final.

And while it will not be at the forefront of the players’ or coaches’ minds right now, if Southern wins the national title they will qualify for the Oceania Champions League, which was introduced this year.

Southern have had a remarkable run of seven wins, one draw and one loss this season, a big turnaround from winning only 17 games between 2009 and 2020.

They have scored 22 goals across nine games this season, and in every match apart from their opener — another contrast from last season, where they scored 19 goals across the longer 14-game round robin.

But their opponents Auckland United have had an almost identical season, sporting the same win-loss record, and a 1-1 draw against Southern. The Auckland side only qualified top on goal differential.

It makes for an exciting match-up at Mt Smart Stadium, with Ridley warning Southern were prepared to "throw everything" at Auckland.

"We’re a very tenacious team that obviously won’t give up until that final whistle’s blown," Ridley said.

"But I think that’s a really dangerous team for any opposition to face.

"Whether we get first, or second, we’ll be celebrating whatever medal we get just as much as the other one.

"That again is rather dangerous because we’re happy with either, but we’re going to give everything to get the top one."

After losing a chunk of class players from last season, the stack of new Southern players have made valuable contributions this year, with many lining up for their first final.

"The first grand final they’re [experiencing] is probably the best one you can in the country — what a way to start," Ridley said.

Alongside many of those new faces, Ridley only joined the team last year, returning home from Australia where he had been involved in several finals as the girl’s and women’s director at Broadbeach United Soccer Club.

Since joining Southern, he has built on the base of former coach Graeme Smaill — who is still involved — to play a positive brand of football.

"I do things a little bit differently to I guess your normal coach, but I still try and get the best out of the players to make sure that our vision is to play an exciting brand of football where we take risks ... we do leave areas exposed, but it’s all for a bigger cause of wanting to put the ball in the net and be a creative and exciting team."

New players had also bought into Southern’s culture, which added to their game, he said.

"Being involved in the massive culture we have in this group really improves and makes our style of play that bit more exciting, because you know the girl on your left is working just as hard as the girl on your right."

Their success this season has had a positive influence on the game throughout Dunedin.

"Especially [for] the young girls ... they now have a bit of a pathway ... there’s always been that top women’s team, but the top women’s ream is extremely competitive now and as it stands, one of the top two in the country."

The National League men’s final between defending champions Auckland City and Wellington Olympic will play at 1pm, followed by the women’s final at 4pm.

The finals will be streamed on the Fifa Plus App.