- Williams, J. Woods, M. Wood, H. Piper, C. Foulds, B. Kelly, R. Wynne, J. Benbow, D Mitten, J. Olivier, L, Wilson
- Scopas, A, Al-Majumei, J. Scott, E, Tessadri, B. Old
Half time score – 1-0
Full time score – 1-0
Scorer – Ronan Wynne
As the sun shone on a cloudless Auckland day, a sense of anticipation and excitement hung in the air, as the First XI made their first foray into the 2017 season. Head coach Neil Emblen had embarked on an extended pre-season, that saw over 45 players take part in training and trial games. The newly appointed coach settled on a squad that blended experience and youth, the former in the shape of some loyal Year 13 stalwarts and the latter being a talented group of Year 10 and 11 Academy of Sport students, that show significant promise for this, and future seasons.
Traditionally, Auckland Grammar School has proven to be a difficult place for Westlake to win games, having lost or drawn fixtures from winning positions there on numerous occasions. With this in mind, the stage was set for an intriguing encounter that all players and staff were very much looking forward to.
The game started at a rather frenetic pace, with Westlake winning the majority of midfield battles in the opening exchanges. Combative captain, Bronson Kelly set the standard for the team with some robust tackles and challenges in the midfield engine room.
As the game settled a little, Westlake had the first genuine chance of the game. A cross field pass from the diminutive debutant, Ronan Wynne, released Daniel Mitten down the left hand side. The left winger’s first touch was good and took him into the box, where his shot at the near post, flashed into the side netting. The Westlake side were well into their rhythm at this stage and some good passages of play were on show. However, it was the home side who were the next to register a genuine goal scoring opportunity. Some indecision from the Westlake defence saw them fail to win an early challenge for an aerial ball, thus putting the Auckland Grammar forward in on goal. A slip from Goalkeeper, Bradley Williams, had the Grammar player comfortably get to the ball first. It was only a great recovery run from Daniel Mitten and subsequent last ditch tackle in the box that prevented the home side taking the lead.
It was not long after that, that Westlake scored a goal that came directly from the training ground. From successfully defending a corner, with Bradley Williams claiming a good catch in the air, a Westlake counter attack sprang into action. With lightning fast speed and some accurate interplay between Jordan Olivier and Daniel Mitten, the ball was delivered to the feet of Joe Benbow who crossed the ball to find a waiting and very grateful, Ronan Wynne, the midfielder slotting home a cool finish from six yards out.
With Westlake taking the lead, the onus was now on Auckland Grammar to try and attack with a little more intent for the remaining 25 minutes of the half. They could only fashion some half chances in the form of some set plays and long range efforts. The Westlake back four looked calm and composed, winning the majority of their duals with a quiet confidence.
For the rest of the half, Westlake’s superior endeavour and efficient work rate was the most notable feature of their play and as the referee marked the end of the half, the visitors could rightly feel that they were in the ascendancy.
The second half began with some fragmented play from both sides and neither team could find any passing rhythm. The tireless running of the youngest player on the field, centre forward Levi Wilson, ensured that Westlake always had an outlet and a chance of threatening the opposition goal. The striker showed copious amounts of application and resolve, as he hassled and harried defenders into mistakes, thus not allowing them to relax on the ball.
Again, as the second half wore on, Auckland Grammar only looked a real threat when they had free kicks in attacking areas and corners. However, the centre back pairing of Harrison Piper and Matt Wood were dealing with Auckland Grammar attacks with aplomb, looking like they could have the capacity to develop a good understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities.
As the clock ticked in the 60th minute, Westlake still had the lion’s share of possession, but hadn’t created any meaningful chances of their own. The dynamic Jordan Olivier looked lively and physical, playing behind Levi Wilson but, (not for a lack of effort) couldn’t find the key pass to unlock the stubborn Auckland Grammar defensive line.
Westlake were nearly caught with a sucker punch on 65 minutes. Against the run of play at the time, the Auckland Grammar left sided attacking player managed to squirm his way into the box. With a little back lift, he hit a snapshot that cannoned off the near post; a collective sigh of relief was evident as the ball went out of play, off the upright.
Coach Emblen was forced into a substitution when midfielder Wynne, struggled to shake off a knock from a previous heavy tackle. Enter another Westlake player on debut, Enzo Tessadri, into the fray. The Brazilian went about his work with intent and was quick to get into the thick of the action with some vigorous tackles and blocks.
With around 25 minutes of the game remaining, it was Auckland Grammar who were looking the more likely to score; a few shots had cleared the cross bar and a couple of corner kicks had been scrambled away by the Westlake defence.
Coach Emblen looked to the bench once again to freshen things up. Off came Joe Benbow, who had worked hard for his team all day and on came another debutant, the adroit wide man, Jayden Scott. He was keen and eager to get on the ball and passed his marker a couple of times with ease. Westlake were looking comfortable once again, as they looked to play some effective, percentage-based football in the Auckland Grammar final third.
With ten minutes to go however, it looked like Westlake may be destined to share the spoils. From a rudimentary clearance in the Westlake box, the referee had spotted an alleged off the ball infringement between Matt Wood and his marker. The result was a penalty and despite neither side understanding why, Auckland Grammar were suitably pleased to take their chance from 12 yards out.
A hush descended amongst the crowd as the Auckland Grammar player stepped up. He struck the ball to Williams’ left, but the Year 13 Goalkeeper was equal to it, excellently parrying away for a quality save. The ball fell to the feet of a Grammar player but Williams was equal to this as well and blocked the rebound to send the ball out for a corner.
Auckland Grammar pushed hard for an equaliser from this point on and the game was delicately poised for an interesting climax. Of the two teams, it was Westlake that successfully navigated this final stage of the game, prevailing with some stoic defending and footballing nous to keep Auckland Grammar at bay, pinning them into their final third for the majority of the remaining minutes.
As the final whistle blew, the Westlake side could feel rightfully proud of a tenacious performance that showed much determination and desire. However, much can be taken from the manner in which they ground out a 1-0 win, away from home. With eight players in the squad on debut, a performance such as this bodes well for the team.
The next game will pose a different set of problems for Coach Emblen’s cohort, as they face reigning Auckland and National Champions, Sacred Heart College.