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Friday, November 03 2023
Napier City Rovers rue National League points that got away

For a second week running Napier City Rovers have been left to look at the National League points table and reflect on how close they have been not to have broken into its top four.

Back-to-back losses have the only provincial-based club in New Zealand domestic football’s top-flight in eighth spot going into this Sunday’s clash with Cashmere Technical in Christchurch.

Last Sunday in Christchurch they went down 2-1 to Southern League and Chatham Cup champions Christchurch United on a frustrating turf surface at United Sports Centre, a result which coach Bill Robertson left his players feeling “gutted”.

But as it was a week earlier, in the 1-0 loss to Manurewa – who now sit in fourth spot – they could have found themselves in the top four had they been able to secure victory.

Robertson said the successive losses – and how tight the National League points table was – showed the fine line between success and defeat in the competition.

Robertson said the successive losses – and how tight the National League points table was – showed the fine line between success and defeat in the competition.

“We lost here to Manurewa in a game I thought we could have won,” he said.

“We’ve gone to Christchurch United, Chatham Cup winners and champions of the Southern League, and lost narrowly in another game that I thought we could have won.

“We had some big chances and their keepers have made some big saves. I think two weeks in a row, the opposition goalkeepers got the man of the match, which usually tells a bit of a story. It’s fine margins.”

While both he and his players were “gutted” by the two defeats, Robertson said he was still “proud” of the way his team were competing at the national level.

Wins were what the side had targeted in all of their six National League games to date.

Two had been recorded to date; against Petone FC in the opening round, and then last month in a gutsy 1-0 triumph away to the Wellington Phoenix Reserves when Napier City Rovers had been hit hard by injury and suspension.

“We’re competing really well, but we’d obviously like to find ways to get over the line in those games,” Robertson said.

“Against Christchurch United I thought we were the better team, however, they scored two goals. So yeah, really frustrated . . . gutted. The lads have worked tirelessly and I thought we probably did enough to get something out of the game.”

There were positives for Napier City Rovers despite the result last weekend.

Jonny McNamara provided a nice finish for his side’s goal in his return from a three-week suspension.

Midfielder Ta Eh Doe had a strong game after missing the loss to Manurewa due to unavailability, providing plenty of mobility in the middle of the pitch.

At the back, captain Jim Hoyle put in another immense performance. Despite suffering a painful ankle injury early in the match he was both outstanding in his defensive role and also in his leadership.

And, goalkeeper Oscar Mason pulled off several fine and crucial saves.

For the second year running in the National League, Napier City Rovers face travelling to Christchurch to play both of the Southern League qualifiers in the domestic top-flight.

Ahead of the match, Napier City Rovers continue to count the cost after injuries suffered in the very physical 1-0 loss to Manurewa two weeks ago.

Christian Leopard is expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the National League due to a knee injury he suffered in the opening minute of the clash.

The injury is a bitter blow for him, and the club, after the former first-class cricketer had impressed throughout his second season of top-flight domestic football, with Robertson describing him as being a “key player for us”.

Midfielder Alex Mort is also an uncertain starter against Cashmere Technical after suffering a concussion against Manurewa.

Mort missed last weekend’s clash match against Christchurch United after failing to return from concussion protocols.

The good news is that veteran defender Fergus Neil will return to the line-up.

Neil – who played his 200th league game for Napier City Rovers – was sidelined last weekend as the match was played on turf; a surface that medical specialists have told him he shouldn’t play on due to previous serious knee injuries.

Napier City Rovers sit in eighth spot with six competition points so far in the National League; the same amount of points they registered in the 2022 competition when they also finished eighth.

Robertson said the side was hugely motivated to do even better this year; something that would cap off a season where Napier City Rovers are celebrating their 50th year in existence.

“The goal is always to improve, so it would be great to pick up another couple of wins and see how high we could finish,” he said.

“As it stands we’re in the top 10 teams in the country.

“All we can do is continue to put in good performances and hopefully those fine margins we spoke about fall in our favour in the next few games. There’s no easy games at this level . . . but we’re trying to finish on a high and continue representing the region and the club as best as we can.

“I’m really proud of the players and of the club overall.”

Neil Reid is a Napier-based senior reporter who covers general news, features and sport. He joined the Herald in 2014 and has 30 years of newsroom experience.


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