There’s more than one way to be successful at this sport they call football. That’s why we love it.
This match was a contrast of two defined styles. Birkenhead, new to the division and already top of the table, are a tidy footballing side. They have some good technical players who play the ball on the deck and with the sort of pace that stretches sides. During the first 20 minutes or so of this match they put Wanderers to the sword. They scored once through Dylan Windust, forced Vladislav Frank into a couple of great saves and pulled Wanderers into all sorts of new and interesting shapes.
Then Eder Franchini lashed out, received a red card and the game changed. More or less. Wanderers suddenly had the rocket they needed to get going, lumped the ball into the box and Ricky Broderson bundled the ball home for what, at the time, seemed like an unlikely equaliser.
A man down, Wanderers went back to what they are clearly good at. Defend strongly, run hard, then go direct and on the counter when pushing forward. That is Wanderers football and it became a far more even match, whereas before they seemed to be chasing around after 13 players.
Both sides were guilty of missing virtual open goals before the break, while a couple more players went in the book. Things were shaping up for a classic second half, with just the right amount of skill on show to balance out the aggression and feeling.
And then the fricken rain came down and turned what had been a good surface into a sticky morass.
The second half had the life sucked out of it as the players did their best to wade through a heavy and terminally ill playing surface. Not that they would have planned it, but this helped Wanderers’ game even more. Michael Built, recently returned to NZ, had come on at the break and looked lively down the left, while Mark Jones on the right became more decisive going forward.
Wanderers’ coach, Mark Cossey, found himself sent to the stands midway through the second half. It looked like he said something the linesman didn’t agree with. That probably aided Wanderers’ bubbling sence of injustice and gave them the impetus to push on for the rest of the match. Chances came at both ends, with Frank marginally the busier keeper after a thoroughly testing first half. He pulled off a third great save of the afternoon to deny David Parkinson, before Wanderers substitute, David Smith steered a Jones cross wide with the goal yawning in front of him.
That looked like being it, but there was a final twist. One last Birko thrust led to some desperate defending before Jack Hobson-McVeigh slid home the winner with less than 90 seconds left. That left Wanderers defenders sprawled all over the ground while Birko players piled on top of each other behind the Wanderers goal, including keeper Fletcher who had sprinted the length of the field. They knew they’d finally got what their performance deserved.
Only they hadn’t.
One last Wanderers bomb up field saw Jordan Shaw, somehow drawn forward from left back, get in front of Fletcher (was he puffed?) to nod home another equaliser. And that, this time, seriously, was finally it.
Both sides probably deserved something from this match, but for different reasons. Birkenhead were on top for much of it and created more clear cut chances. The conditions in the second half didn’t help their style of play but they fought through it and put in a different type of Birko performance. They’ll be disappointed they didn’t win, but I think Wanderers also deserved a share of the spoils for the energy and courage they displayed after going down to ten men.
Well done both sides. Despite the weather, I enjoyed my afternoon out before racing across town to rescue my wife who’d been accommodating the kids at Chipmunks Playland all afternoon. She deserved a drink after that. Thankfully there was a pub, with a cosy fire, right next door.