Christchurch United VS Auckland United: As It Happened

In a match that had been eagerly anticipated, it certainly lived up to the expectations for Christchurch United. However, in a week filled with thrilling football encounters, this game was no exception. Auckland United had previously kept things tight in their encounters, and luck had eluded them last week due to a late deflected equalizer from Eastern Suburbs. Christchurch United, on the other hand, had secured 1-0 and 2-0 victories in similarly closely contested matches, with a perfect defensive record intact. The stage was set for a closely-fought battle at Keith Hay Park.

Christchurch United reverted to their customary 3-4-1-2 formation, welcoming Haris Zeb into the fold as one of the wingbacks. Known for his impactful appearances off the bench in prior games, Zeb seized the opportunity to start. Although Eddie Wilkinson was absent this time, there was a fresh addition to the squad in the form of Tauranga City striker Jonty Bidois, younger sibling of former Welly Nix striker Riley Bidois, and a current NZ U23s talent. Bidois, who clinched the golden boot title with an impressive 22 goals during Tauranga's promotion campaign to the Northern League, brought a stealthy dimension to the Rams' lineup, making his presence felt with a spirited twenty-minute cameo.

The teams mirrored each other with their formations, boasting formidable defensive trios, and pushing their wingbacks forward to exploit wide spaces. Both sides displayed a measured approach, effectively nullifying each other's advances. The Rams missed some of their customary counter-attacking sting without Wilkinson, yet they could rely on Eoghan Stokes. As the game settled into its rhythm, it became evident that the number tens, Stokes and Vollenhoven, held significant sway over its outcome. Advantage tilted in Stokes' favor after a spectacular goal. A shot from Matt Todd-Smith, deflected wide off Sione Fa’apoi, came close to doubling the lead just before half-time. Despite a commendable display from Auckland United, they found no chinks in the formidable Christchurch United defense, a streak spanning 2.5 games without conceding.

The second half kicked off with an exceptional run and cutback from Sam Philip led to an unfortunate own goal, with Atkinson's clearance ricocheting off Fa’apoi and into the net. With this, Christchurch United surged ahead 2-0 at the 51st minute mark. In response, Jose Figueira introduced two additional strikers, Josh Redfearn and Ishveer Singh-Dhillon. Their impact was almost immediate, but not before Zeb missed a golden opportunity, narrowly missing the near post with only the keeper to beat. This chance could have put the game to rest.

Auckland United fought back. Vollenhoven, having been substituted, passed the torch to his brother Al-Kalisy, who emulated Stokes' earlier brilliance. With twenty minutes remaining, the game hung in the balance. Noah Billingsley, making his 2023 MNL debut, joined the fray for Auckland Utd, facing his former club from the previous season.
Singh-Dhillon's shot was parried, but Xavier Green capitalized on the rebound, securing a crucial 86th-minute equalizer. The match ended in a 2-2 draw, marking a monumental comeback for Auckland United against a resolute defensive force.

United maintained their undefeated streak, a statement that echoed in both directions. Although Christchurch United dropped points, frustrating given their position after 70 minutes, they remain on track for a shot at the grand final. Notably, they've showcased timely flashes of attacking brilliance from various sources in each game: Eddie Wilkinson in the first, Sam Philip in the second, and Eoghan Stokes in the third.