Second half fightback send Auckland City FC to OFC Men's Champions League 2024

March 16, 2024 12:35 pm

[Source: OFC Media via Phototek]

Reigning OFC Men’s Champions League winners Auckland City will be back to defend their title in 2024, after navigating an entertaining second leg against New Zealand National League champions Wellington Olympic in their National Playoff.

Going into the second leg 1-0 down, Wellington Olympic surged into a 3-1 lead by half-time to turn the tie on it’s head, but two second-half goals from the Navy Blues assured them of qualification with a 4-3 win on aggregate.

Auckland City’s Dylan Manickum and Olympic’s Jesse Randall looked lively in the opening 20 minutes, but few chances came in a back-and-forth start to the game.

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From here, the first half burst into life, with a flurry of goals. Hamish Watson got the first in the 20th minute, finishing cooly after a long goal kick from Scott Basalaj was met by a poor defensive header from Auckland City’s Jordan Vale.

Minutes later, following calls for a penalty as Jack-Henry Sinclair went down in the box, Randall quickly nipped in and directed the ball into the bottom left corner, making it 2-0 on the day and putting Olympic ahead on aggregate.

The Navy Blues quickly responded however to level it up again. Manickum’s deflected effort was superbly saved by Basalaj but an unmarked Mario Ilich headed in from Liam Gillion’s resulting corner to snag a goal back.

Hardly a minute after though, Olympic led the tie again, as a save made by Auckland City keeper Conor Tracey saw the ball fly into the path of Watson who emphatically headed home into an empty net to restore Olympics’ lead on aggregate.

Opportunities on goal continued to come freely for both sides in an end-to-end finish to the first-half, with Auckland City searching an equaliser and Olympic looking to push further ahead with their attacking momentum.

A strong start to the second period reaped almost immediate reward for Auckland City. A cross from Nathan Lobo came to the feet of Regont Murati, who controlled the ball and smashed it in from short range to bring the tie level again.

With the aggregate score level, the tempo dropped off for a period, with both sides showing more caution with so much at stake.

Just after the hour mark, the teams emerged from their shells and ‘keepers Basalaj and Tracey became more involved with some promising crosses and efforts on goal. Gillion in particular looked dangerous for the visitors as both teams make use of their benches.

Into the last ten minutes, the Navy Blues found the goal they were desperate for. A long ball forward was cleanly controlled by Howieson before he fired into the back of the net to give Auckland City an aggregate lead to defend.

Olympic sought to find an equaliser, with substitute Oliver Colloty forcing a great save from Tracey, but the Navy Blues defence held firm.

Auckland City FC will now join Group A of the OFC Men’s Champions League in May in Tahiti.