The New Zealand Knights scored a richly deserved first-ever home win in the Hyundai A-League at North Harbour Stadium on September 2, outplaying Pre-Season Cup winners and last season's Premiership champions Adelaide United to record a 1-0 win which delighted the 4,100 fans in attendance.
Perhaps it was the early kick-off time, or maybe the in parts treacherous playing surface, but Adelaide rarely looked like cutting mustard against a Knights combination which looked and played with a great degree of organisation and authority.
This was easily the best-ever display by the New Zealand combination in the fledgling history of the A-League, and arguably the best by a Kiwi team in the last five seasons in which this country has had a team participating in Australia's shop window soccer competition.
From back to front, the Knights looked the business. Che Bunce and Neil Emblen impressed in defence, while Sean Devine's selfless running in attack was matched by the quietly influential figure of Scot Gemmill in central midfield. Alongside him, Jonas Salley was rock-like, particularly in the first half, while Malik Buari was a constant threat on the flank, and it was he who scored the goal which delighted the masses.
A tame opening twenty minutes was highlighted only by two Knights' attacks, the second of which saw a great chance go begging. In the ninth minute, Danny Milosevic threw the ball out to Salley, who executed a delightful curling lobbed pass over the defence and right into the stride of Buari, as he steamed down the left at pace.
The Ghanain-born flyer got to the by-line before pulling the ball back for Devine, but before he could pounce, Michael Valkanis stepped in to clear the danger. The defender was somewhat less decisive ten minutes later, and was forced into an error by Richard Johnson, who had chased a Gemmill ball forward. The midfielder swooped to set up a shooting chance for Devine, one he directed straight at Robert Bajic.
Devine's frustration was evident for all to see, but nine minutes later it was Jonti Richter's turn to grimace with dismay, the speedster having been released down the right by Johnson, who had pounced on yet more inept play by Valkanis. The defender made up for it on this occasion, however, getting back to prevent Richter's cross from reaching Devine.
Adelaide had only launched one raid to this point, and Carl Veart was at its heart. Valkanis and Aaron Goulding combined to send the midfielder surging downfield at a great rate of knots, Veart playing a one-two with Shengqing Qu, only to find Milosevic anticipating the return to foil at the feet of the midfielder in the 24th minute.
Seven minutes on, the visitors launched a sharp counter-attack. Buari's corner was headed clear by Robert Cornthwaite, and Fernando and Travis Dodd were instantly into the action, the former laying the ball off to the latter before storming forward down the left.
Dodd, meanwhile, raided down the right before playing the ball inside for Qu, whose deft dummy paved an opening for Fernando. He slipped a pass back to Qu, but before the Chinese import could pounce, Emblen intervened to restore order in the Knights' rearguard.
After Devine had rounded Bajic and pulled the ball back from the by-line, only to find white-shirted defenders and not black-shirted attackers homing onto the ball, United finished the half strongly, twice going close to opening the scoring in the shadows of referee Peter Green's half-time whistle.
Veart headed a Dodd cross over the bar, after Fernando had launched the raid, while a long-range free-kick from Valkanis warmed the gloves of Milosevic, who instantly launched a Knights counter-attack which ultimately came to nought.
The visitors began the second spell in like manner, Cornthwaite only just failing to get on the end of a Valkanis free-kick three minutes after the resumption. But in between Ross Aloisi blazing over following an interchange featuring Aaron Goulding and Qu, and Dodd had grazed the roof of the Knights' net with a snapshot, the home team were buoyed by the sight of Devine forcing a good save out of Bajic, after Salley had forced Qu into erring.
This effort rejuvenated the Knights somewhat, and they began to take charge of the game again, Gemmill and Salley proving a more than combative central midfield combination. Indeed, the former it was who engineered a 57th minute opening, working a one-two with Darren Bazeley before crossing for Buari, whose fifteen yard header flashed past the post.
Then followed the amusing sight of Adelaide substitute Angelo Costanzo standing on the touchline waiting for a break in play to enter the fray - incredibly, a full ten minutes elapsed before he was able to do so, the ball being constantly in play during this time, without a foul being committed or the sphere going outside the playing perimeter.
Once he made his appearance, the pony-tailed midfielder had to look on as Gemmill orchestrated another Knights move of consequence, the midfield general putting Devine into the penalty area on the right.
The striker slipped inside a challenge before letting fly towards the bottom left-hand corner of Bajic's net, the shot looking to be in for all money until the ‘keeper got across at the last second to turn it to away for a corner, Buari's delivery of which was headed over the crossbar by Salley.
A moment of defensive hesitancy by Bazeley threatened to undo all the Knights' good work as he failed to deal with a cross from Adelaide's best-performed play, Richie Alagich, who was soon to lash a quickly-taken twenty-five yard free-kick narrowly past Milosevic's right-hand post. That was the destination of this opportunity also, Fernando pouncing on Bazeley's error but finding himself unable to hit the target in the circumstances.
The departure from the fray of the tiring figure of Devine with fifteen minutes to go saw the Knights playing without a target man up front for the remainder of the match, and it looked like a second consecutive scoreless draw was going to be on the cards for the home team.
Buari, however, had other ideas, and in the 87th minute, unleashed an absolute snorter of a goal to delight the local faithful, not to mention the much-maligned team and their management. Gemmill, inevitably, was involved, working his way down the left before steering the ball inside to the Ghanain.
He stepped inside and let rip with a twenty-five yard rocket which arced into the top far corner of the net, rendering Bajic a helpless spectator en route - the ‘keeper didn't even move! Buari had tried the same shot in the first half, but it went for a throw-in, so you can imagine his delight upon getting it right!!
Stunned, Adelaide sought a riposte, with Cornthwaite heading an Aloisi free-kick past the far post in the 89th minute. But in truth, the visitors got what they deserved from this match, and while the final scoreline could have been doubled in stoppage time - Johnson rattled the side-netting after pouncing on a poor Costanzo clearance - the 1-0 victory was just reward for a solid all-round performance by the Kiwi entry, and you can be assured that under Paul Nevin's stewardship, it won't be their last success.
The astute managerial newcomer to New Zealand football has recruited wisely, as opposed to locally, structuring a squad which, defensively, will prove difficult for opponents to break down over the coming months, something to which Newcastle Jets and now Adelaide United can well testify.