Birkenhead United have claimed the first Chatham Cup title in their history after earning a 3-2 extra-time victory over fellow Aucklanders Waitakere City in a dramatic final at QBE Stadium this afternoon.
In one of the most vociferously-supported finals of recent years, a double from ex-All White Jarrod Smith and an eventual winner from former youth international Ethan Galbraith proved enough to get Birkenhead home, despite the sending off of Ryan Cain in the first period of extra-time.
With the raucous atmosphere clearly raising the adrenaline levels of both sets of players, the match started off in feisty fashion with three cautions handed out straight away in the space of as many minutes – to Waitakere’s Jordan Hearn and Birkenhead pair Godwin Darkwa and Jack Salter respectively. But, after those early confrontations, the crowd had little to cheer about in the first 20 minutes with both sides adopting a cautious approach and failing to carve out any clear goal-scoring chances.
That all changed on 23 minutes though when Smith received a Cain pass and teed himself up to sweetly strike a low volley home from just inside the area. It was exactly what the Red-and-White army had been waiting for and Smith immediately sped towards them to soak up the adulation.
Waitakere, whose attack had been firing on all cylinders in the 6-1 semi-final win over Three Kings United, had yet to be seen as an offensive force at this stage and their first sight of goal arrived in the 28th minute when Anthony Hagan curled a free kick just wide of the post.
That was about as close they came though as Birkenhead went on to double their lead in the 38th minute, the cool finishing of Smith again coming to the fore.
The speedy Darkwa started the move by breaking down the right and pulling the ball back for David Parkinson to knock into the path of Smith, who side-footed past fellow former All White Ross Nicholson in the Waitakere goal.
The west Aucklanders tried to respond as the break approached and had their best opportunity of the half when Dylan Manickum got in behind the Birkenhead defence and rounded goalkeeper Damien Hirst before seeing his shot cleared off the line.
That left NRFL Premier League outfit Birkenhead well in charge of their Division One opponents at 2-0 as the sides went into the sheds.
Waitakere looked to get a foothold in the contest straight after the break as Hearn charged down the left and cut inside but got his effort all wrong and it was more of a threat to the corner flag than the goal.
Despite being in control on the scoreboard, Birkenhead did not look like adding to their advantage in the first part of the second half though and it was Waitakere that again created an opportunity, some neat interplay giving Futsal Whites international Dylan Manickum the chance to shoot.
But he was at a tight angle and dragged his attempt agonisingly wide of the far post.
Three-time winners Waitakere were doing all they could to make a mark on the game but Birkenhead were not going to let the chance to finally claim a title slip out of their grasp without a fight.
With Manickum proving the main threat, Waitakere launched a string of attacks but Birkenhead were equal to anything they could throw at them and, aside from having to deal with a couple of dangerous situations, goalkeeper Damien Hirst was not regularly forced into action.
But Birkenhead were also finding chances hard to come by themselves as they looked to make the game safe and had to wait until the 84th minute for their best opportunity of the half, substitute Ethan Galbraith striding clear of the defence before smashing a shot into Nicholson’s post.
It still appeared as if Birkenhead had done enough to bring the cup to Shepherds Park but Waitakere had other ideas, dramatically scoring twice in the dying stages to send the match into an extra-time period that none of the 4,200-plus crowd would have been expecting.
Unsurprisingly, Manickum was the man to give Waitakere a lifeline after showing real determination to pounce on a loose ball in the Birkenhead goalmouth and hold off the challenges of Hirst and a defender to force it over the line.
The goal proved to be more than a consolation when referee John Rowbury ruled that Steven MacDonald had been fouled in the box soon after and pointed to the spot, allowing Keegan Linderboom to tuck away the penalty and send the Waitakere fans delirious. Extra-time proved an open affair and both sides had chances to win it while a potential game changer arrived early on in the added period as Birkenhead’s Cain received his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
All bets would then have been on Waitakere as they had their tails up against the ten men, who looked dead on their feet as Cain trudged off.
But Birkenhead somehow found the energy to get them through and finally scored the match winner when Nicholson couldn’t hang onto a cross under pressure and substitute Galbraith was on hand to turn it into the net.
The North Shore side still had to survive one more scare though as Manickum drove a shot across the face of goal with one of the last kicks off the game.
There was time for little more in the remaining seconds than the sound of the final whistle, the arrival of which was greeted rapturously in the Birkenhead section of the stand.
It was a cruel way for Waitakere’s season to end but they will have plenty to look forward to next term after earlier earning promotion to the NRFL Premier League.
Birkenhead United 3 (Jarrod Smith 23’, 38’, Ethan Galbraith 111’) Waitakere City 2 (Dylan Manickum 86’, Keegan Linderboom pen 89’)
Birkenhead United: 1. Damien Hirst (GK), 3. Tom Davis, 4. Sam Burfoot, 7. Jack Salter, 8. Ryan Cain, 10. Tom Boss, 12. Dan Morgan (c) (17. Emmanuel Darkwa 98’), 14. David Parkinson, 16. Christian Gray, 18. Godwin Darkwa (13. Rossi Nkoy 72’), 22. Jarrod Smith (9. Ethan Galbraith 75’)
Substitutes not used: 19. Danny Robinson (GK), 20. Daniel Mulholland
Cautions: Godwin Darkwa 3’, Jack Salter 4’, David Parkinson 31’, Tom Boss 69’, Ryan Cain 74’ Red card: Ryan Cain 98’
Waitakere City: 1. Ross Nicholson (GK), 2. Harrison Sage (6. Frank Belt 70’), 3. James Olausen (11. Joshua Armitt 117’), 5. Jackson Gibbons, 7. Jordan Hearn, 8. Paul Rhodes (c), 10. Dylan Manickum, 15. Steven MacDonald, 17. Jake Butler, 18. Keegan Linderboom, 19. Anthony Hagan (9. Adyn Kettle 65’)
Substitutes not used: 12. Daniel McDowall, 22. Alex Gibson (GK) Cautions: Jordan Hearn 2’, Jake Butler 35’, Anthony Hagan 57’, Dylan Manickum 60’