The Football Kingz woeful start to the 2003-4 National Soccer League campaign continued unabated at Ericsson Stadium on November 8, as they slumped to their sixth defeat from as many matches, this time a 2-0 reversal at the hands of Northern Spirit.
While pretty possession football may be their forte, penetrating opposing defences and attacking at pace - two components vital for any side worth their salt on a soccer pitch - remain the Kingz major failings this season, along with a tendency to lose concentration when under the cosh defensively. Sure enough, those deficiencies were the difference between the teams in this match.
Spirit themselves are no great shakes, and the top three position they occupy after this result, two games into this eighth round of NSL action, rather overstates their true ranking in this seasonıs competition - they are fringe top-six material at best.
But itıs a reflection of their opponentsı uninspiring play that they barely had to extend themselves to claim their second three-point haul in as many matches from this drab encounter, the Kingz first fixture in three weeks.
A tame twelfth minute shot at Ross Nicholson by Dylan MacAllister, after the striker had turned past Espen Schjerven, was the only noteworthy incident in the opening stages of the game, which sparked into life in the twentieth minute when the home side produced the best move of the match thus far.
Schjerven and Glen Collins teamed up to play the ball wide to Jeff Campbell, whose lovely angled cross to the far post found Mauro Donoso ghosting in beyond Spiritıs static rearguard. The wing-back could have gone for goal himself, but instead opted to head the ball across goal towards the incoming Harry Ngata - sadly for the Kingz, the ball went behind their leading scorer, and the chance was lost.
Spirit surged upfield immediately, Wayne OıSullivan releasing the well-performed MacAllister down the right. His teasing cross had Stewart Petrie as its target, but Nicholson pawed the ball to safety to prevent Spiritıs hat-trick hero of a week ago finding the net yet again.
Visiting goalkeeper Paul Henderson produced a similar save to thwart Ngata in the 26th minute, as the striker looked to get on the end of a Mark Burton cross, following good work by Donoso and Paul Harries, who was later to succumb to a recurrence of the shoulder injury which forced his premature departure from the Kingz last NSL fixture.
Ten minutes before the interval, MacAllister spurned Spiritıs best opening of the first half when directing an unchallenged header over the crossbar, after OıSullivan and Matthew Osman had combined to pick out Petrie on the far post, the striker having headed the ball back into the path of his untended team-mate.
Immediately, the Kingz counter-attacked, with John Tambourası early ball forward releasing Aleksander Midtsian through a square Spirit defence. But the one-paced playmaker was too ponderous to make the most of the opportunity, Julian Watts and company being able to get back and cover before Midtsian could unleash a shot straight at Henderson, who pawed a rasping twenty-five yard drive from Chris Jackson over the crossbar seconds later.
Henderson ensured the 1662 faithful who turned up for this fixture wouldnıt see a goal before the half-time whistle when spectacularly turning a Midtsian corner to safety, as Schjerven came roaring in to meet his countrymanıs perfectly flighted delivery to the far post.
Soon after the resumption, Ngata directed a header wide of the mark following a fine move involving himself, Collins, Tallan Martin and the supplier of the cross, Donoso. But in the 56th minute, the Kingz suffered one of those defensive lapses which have been the hallmark of their campaign to date.
An Ian Ferguson free-kick appeared harmless enough, until Donoso and Schjerven both went to head clear, each oblivious to the otherıs intentions until it was too late. Looking on was the unmarked MacAllister, who gleefully latched onto the dropping ball and slammed it past Nicholson to open the scoring.
After Watts had sent a diving header wide of the mark on the hour, following a John Hutchinson cross, the Kingz sought an equaliser through Midtsian and Donoso. But both spurned the changes engineered for them by Ngata and Jackson respectively, and their misses were to prove costly.
For, in the 67th minute, Spirit made the game safe. Another Ferguson free-kick was flicked back by Petrie for MacAllister, who was instantly upended in the penalty area by Collins when he had no chance of unleashing a shot on goal. Ferguson duly gave Nicholson no chance from the resulting spot-kick - 2-0 Spirit, who effectively shut up shop for the rest of the match following this goal.
The Kingz managed to penetrate their ranks on a couple of occasions, but not before Spirit were reduced to ten men, following sixty seconds of sheer madness from Petrie. Booked for a late tackle on Burton, the striker then scythed through Jackson before charging on and leaving Collins in a writhing heap.
Referee Brett Hugo had no option, and flourished the yellow card for the second time before brandishing the dreaded rouge, eleven minutes from time!
The home team were quick to endeavour to take advantage of this potential lifeline, producing their best move of the match by some distance in the 81st minute.
A flowing move involving Tambouras, Midtsian, Jackson, Donoso, Ngata and Jackson again eventually culminated at the feet of Midtsian, whose second involvement in the attack saw him darting inside from the right flank before curling a left-footed twenty-yarder which Henderson was forced to turn round the post at full stretch.
But that was as close as the Kingz got to maintaining their goal-a-game average, and after Henderson plucked the ball off Ngataıs head in stoppage time, after Tambouras, Jackson and Campbell had teamed up, the final whistle sounded to extend the Kingz winless streak on home turf to eleven months.