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These teams were third and fourth last year, and produced some of the closest matches of last season. This time was no different.
The Taieri side seemed to start the stronger and had the best of the first quarter, but never really threatened to break open the scoring. Albany made best use of the new quarter time break and came out firing for the second.
A breakdown in communication at the back left the Taieri keeper out of the net, and a simple tap-in for Flynn Marshall meant Albany went 1-0 up. Just minutes later, a slick attack and then a nice baseline dribble by Ethan Booth doubled the lead as Booth was able to slide one in from a tight angle.
James Nicolson then produced a nice piece of individual skill to close the gap just before halftime.
The Tuataras came out and piled on the pressure, and something had to give; unfortunately for them it was a full field breakout goal for Albany when a Taieri penalty corner broke down and there was a huge overlap at the other end. There was nothing the Taieri goalie could have done as Jason Dungey slotted it home.
At 3-1 up now, midway through the third quarter, some on the Albany side may have relaxed, and it came back to bite them.
The fourth quarter was played at a rapid pace for this early in the season, and Taieri pushed hard to get back in the match. Tom Jolly found himself in a great position and slotted one home to get the score back to 3-2, and with 4 minutes to play a lovely piece of interplay lead to a Matt Deller deflection into the backboard to equalise.
Everything broke loose now, as both teams were desperate to get the win outright and take home full points from round one, but no side was able to score and 3-3 it finished.
In the shootout, Albany were able to go three from three with some expert finishing, while Taieri's first attempt hit the inside corner of the post and bounced out, meaning the Alligators took the bonus point.
In the other matches defending champions Kings United laid down an early season marker, spanking Southland 10-0 (6-0 in the first quarter), and University A survived a huge scare, coming back from 4-2 down at half to win 5-4 in the last minute of their Uni derby against University B.
In the premier women's competition, the rematch of last weekend's pre-season final was the match of the day in round one on Saturday.
University came through last weekend winning all four of their matches, and look to have found a good combination of experience and new firepower. Taieri would have been hoping to avenge last weekend's defeat and get their season off to a flying start. The Huskies came out stronger and looked the more dangerous of the sides in the early stages.
The game settled into more of a pattern, and Taieri seemed happier to hold the ball and move slowly up the pitch. However they were turning it over a little too often, and University were pushing hard on the counter attacks. Quarter time came just at the right time for the Tigers, who were just holding on.
The game resumed as an even battle in the second quarter, but eventually the mistakes in dangerous spots from Taieri told, as Lucy Simpson opened the scoring for University. The Huskies looked to press their advantage and nearly scored again, but were kept out by Taieri keeper Mia Nevill. Taieri were able to create some chances late in the half, but University captain Emma Simcock-Smith was having a solid game at the back and snuffed them all out.
The third quarter played much like the second, with both teams looking to move the ball around and create gaps in the defence; however, neither defence was giving anything away from structured play. It was another turnover in midfield that eventually lead to a break down and a second goal for University, another of the Huskies new players in Santi Tyson managing to get the ball over the line after a slight scramble in the circle.
The fourth quarter was more even, with both sides having several attempts on goal as the early season fitness levels let a few players down and the game got somewhat scrappy, but University did not look in danger of letting this one go near the end, and were able to finish off with a solid 2-0 win to start the season.
In the other games, defending champs City Highlanders stamped their mark, cruising to an 8-0 win over University B, while runners up Momona also had a win, 3-0 over Kings United.
- Matthew West