Good Evans: Marc wins it in the wet
By Alf Sodden
A Marc Evans-inspired Melville came from 2-0 down midway through the second half to nab a critical 3-2 home win over Oratia (pronounced Ora-tia) and put themselves squarely in the promotion frame for the first time in months.
With own-goal merchants Manukau City only drawing 1-1 away to Waitemata, Melville now only need to beat Manukau away next week (only?) and then bottom-placed Metro at home to clinch promotion.
“Game on,” said Melville co-coach Sam Wilkinson after the match.
On a day when it was so wet that puddles were starting to form on the Waikato River, Melville’s promotion prospects appeared to be slowly drowning on a waterlogged home pitch, until Evans came to the rescue with a 7-minute second half hat trick featuring a penalty, a delicious free kick, and a slick-as-you-like finish from a peach of a pass by sub Patrick Hinchcliffe.
It was something of a surprise that referee Carl Watkins allowed the match to start given the amount of surface water on Gower No 1, with a cloudburst just before kick-off. The fixture had been postponed from a month earlier when a similar amount of surface water led refereeing officials to close the pitch six hours before kick-off.
It was wetter than King Neptune’s hankie. Wetter than Angela Jolie. Even the Gower Park frogs had lifejackets. And Izzy was using a periscope rather than a drone to film the match.
Indeed, gnarled Waikato football historian Ron Anorak said it was the wettest conditions for a completed major match within the province since Hamilton AFC lost 2-1 at home to Eden at Muir Park in the fourth round of the Chatham Cup in 1974. On that occasion, he said, the pitch was so waterlogged the referee allowed corners to be taken up to 8 metres away from the mark because of surface water. That match result had to survive an appeal that it was patently contrary to the laws of the game to allow corners to be taken from anywhere other than the corner.
But back to Evans. Good Evans. Hitman Evans. The Welsh Wizard. The Vodka Venturer. The Smirnoff Superstar. Call him what you like, but he has now scored an amazing eight hat tricks this season and 39 goals in total – and this was his finest hour.
Because on a wretchedly damp day so many of his team mates were playing like drains.
Melville had a string of excellent chances in the first 10 minutes alone, and should have swamped Oratia. But they had them blocked or hit the metalwork from point blank range, while the crossing was awful. And then Oratia, with their first shot of the match, took a 1-0 lead after a corner was not cleared.
It got worse five minutes into the second half when Oratia had their second shot. Keeper Max Tommy could not hold a shot from distance and Luke Van Kan turned in the rebound for 2-0.
Normally when Melville are playing crap they bring on veteran Steven Holloway. But on this weekend he had been given leave of absence to contest the New Zealand Poker Championships in Christchurch, no doubt in the hope of winning a large enough stake to shout Evans a return airfare from Wales next year.
Instead Holloway, not yet 37, was on the phone demanding to know what the hell was going on at Gower Park, with the season sinking faster than the Greens election campaign.
Fortunately the karmic tapestry began equalising at about the 65th minute mark with Melville awarded a somewhat soft penalty, though Luke Searle – who was shunted up front as a surprise weapon – may point to a sly nudge in the back from a corner.
Evans stepped up and buried the spot kick with a minimum of fuss. Four minutes later the Hitman then popped in a sweet free kick from the right, over the wall and into the top corner, similar to his recent effort against Tauranga.
Then, best of all, another three minutes later and Hinchcliffe slipped through a ball that allowed Evans, on the right, to take the ball on his right foot, avoid defenders and the puddles, and slip it confidently into the corner of the net past the advancing Oratia keeper Dave Self.
This was the best pass of Hinchcliffe’s Melville career. And if ever there was anybody you needed to score a goal to save your life, Evans on his right foot is your man.
Evans scored, ripped off his shirt – blinding some poor sideline female fans with the pure whiteness of his skin in the process – and was duly booked once he had extricated himself from a Melville man-pile.
There were still plenty of chances for Melville to butcher this comeback, and there were scary moments as they sought to dribble through puddles on defence, pass through opponents and even had to endure nine minutes of stoppage time.
At one point Oratia dangerman Mark Withers got in the Melville penalty area and took the biggest dive since the Great Depression, to earn a booking from Watkins.
This prompted some fierce inter-bench banter. Oratia have a finely tuned matchday grievance machine that kept up a 99-minute barrage of complaints. The ball was out, the ball was in, that was a foul, that wasn’t a foul, this was cheating, that was blind, that’s against the rules, there’s no rule against that, etc.
But after the Withers’ dive Melville goalkeeping coach Neil Mouncher – the Anthony Scaramucci of Gower Park – could not contain himself any longer and loudly called bullshit on Oratia’s bench whingeing.
Mouncher is not quite the terrorising figure he was in the mid 1990s, when even his own team mates were petrified of him, but it did bring a few minutes of sanity to the sideline gamesmanship. Though dumbstruck Oratia head complainer Steve Cain did turn and ask “who the f**k are you?”
Cain was much more gracious at the aftermatch and said his team, featuring a host of youngsters and four key players out injured, had been magnificent, but he now wished Melville all the best.
In reply Wilkinson wiped the sweat from his brow.
“Marc got us out of jail with his trademark finishes,” he said.
“We were slow to adapt. Puddles don’t suit us as a team. Promotion is back in our hands, which is all we have ever wanted. We will stick to the same processes next week.”
Evans gave his take: “It was wetter than the Titanic out there, but we didn’t go down,” he said.
Longer-term, the bigger challenge for Evans is getting another visa, so here is an idea: If there is a female out there with New Zealand citizenship prepared to go halves in a baby with Marc, they should get in touch with club captain Phil Wheatley as soon as possible.
Melville Reserves won 7-1.
Melville are away to Manukau City on Saturday.