Melville promoted: Div 1 title to follow

It was “mission accomplished” at Becroft Park, as Melville came from behind to beat Forrest Hill Milford and guarantee a return to the northern premier league next season.

Melville are 12 points clear at the top of the table, with a game in hand against second-placed North Shore. For Melville to NOT secure the title they would need to somehow lose all their remaining five matches, and have second-placed North Shore win all of theirs by margins of about 5-0.

Melville’s season run in is as follows:

Saturday August 4: home to Waiheke
Saturday August 11: Away to Ellerslie
August 18: Away to Tauranga City
August 25: Away to Fencibles
September 1: Home to Mt Albert Ponsonby

You get the feeling there’s a point to be gained somewhere in there, and Melville will be hoping it comes against Waiheke, though it will be tricky with the squad bleeding players left right and centre.

But that’s a worry for next week. The next few days are all about enjoying the moment.

Securing promotion was vindication for the Melville coaching duo of Michael Mayne and Sam Wilkinson after the trauma of 2017, where they missed out on promotion at the very last hurdle.

Taking a team up is old hat for Mayne, who did so three times with Waitemata, but his first success with Melville was nevertheless a special feeling.

“It was backs against the wall today, but this means a heap, not just for me and Sam for the hours we have put in, but for the players, and the way they have turned up and done the work,” Mayne said. “It’s a massive reward and validates the work we have done.”

Mayne said there was a contrast with his Waitemata experiences.

“It’s felt the same in terms of the work, but it has been more difficult, in terms of this being a tougher league and the backdrop of us having not gone up last season.

“It put pressure on that I didn’t have at Waitemata.

“For the club it is great. We are back where we needed to be.”

Earning promotion was arguably even more significant for Wilkinson, given it was his first tangible achievement as a senior coach.

“Very proud,” he said. “And proud of the players, proud of our support staff.

“We’ve come in light today, with a lot of kids, but the result has summed up the way we’ve dealt with situations this season.

“We’ve often gone behind in hard, tough games, and found a way to get results, and we’ve done it all season, so just tremendously proud. It’s just reward for all the work that has gone in.

“My background was primarily in youth development but you cut your teeth as a manager and coach in senior football.

“A lot of people talk about development in senior teams, and style of play, but I still believe it is results that you are ultimately judged on.

“We’ve said since day 1 that we wanted to come in and win things and have successes at Melville, but, yes, this is my first accolade, so it means the world to me.”

Melville carved out victory the hard way against Forrest Hill Milford. It was all hands on deck as they started without Luke Searle, Liam Steffert, Wade Molony, Federico Marquez, and Josh Davies (first of a 2-match suspension) , while Dilan Nanayakkara was invalided off after about 20 minutes. (Next weekend Jama Boss will be absent as well, as will suspended Mark Jones.)

The match, played on a tired scruffy pitch against combative opponents, with sometimes curious refereeing, was not particularly memorable.

Nanyakkara’s injury prompted a significant reshuffle, with Liam Hayes thrust into the right centreback role and Jones – having his first run in weeks – tucking into centre midfield.

The first half was uneventful, but it all happened in the second. Forrest Hill broke through early when Melville coughed up possession, and Ryan Morrow was untroubled in netting.

But it was the youth brigade that finally got Melville over the line, with two teenagers popping up with close-range finishes.

Jordan Lamb scored his eight league goal of the season with a 66th minute header, after Jones had headed back across goal from a corner. Lamb had been lively all day.

Then three minutes later diminutive substitute Levi Clark – pulled on early as a sub for Nanayakkara – popped up at the far post to nudge home the winner from a cross by fellow schoolboy Logan Wisnewski.

Celebrations begin after Levi Clark stabs home the winner at Becroft Park. Photo: Marc McMullan

Mayne was delighted with the goal from a coaching perspective because they’d had a mid-week chat with Clark.

“He got a bit of a kick up the bum this week,” Mayne said. “We felt he hadn’t been training very well, and didn’t think he had made an impact on the game last week. After our talk on Thursday and were hoping for big things from him.

“When games open up Levi’s quality comes through, and in terms of the goal, we’d all been waiting for that one for a while.”

Clark said he had initially been thinking of a diving header, but ultimately swept home the low cross with his left foot at the far post to secure Melville’s promotion with five weeks to spare.

Levi Clark was a popular man after the final whistle

More drama followed as Jones got sent off for a second bookable offence – an astonishing decision from the referee and one he should regret as much as Jones did.

And Forrest Hill pressed hard for an equaliser, but Hayes was suberb in defence, and was later named man of the match.

“This is why I am here,” Hayes said during post-match celebrations. “I love playing in both positions (midfield and defence), I’ll play anywhere.”

Liam Hayes was a key player in Melville’s win

Hayes said promotion marked a personal milestone. ‘I feel like I’ve finally moved out of the shadow of my uncle (former All White and Waikato United skipper Brian Hayes”.

So, will Melville now ease off on trainings, given the ragged state of the squad?

Wilkinson hinted that they might.

“This year we have prided ourselves on our work rate and our training, but I think there is a time when you have to look at the amount of injuries and the state the players are in. We probably do need to wind it back a little bit.

“We now have a chance to give game time to some players we will be looking at for next season. At the same time, we still want to keep that winning feeling.”

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