Cup final the focus

There’s an old adage in theatre that a bad dress rehearsal means a great opening night, and Melville will be hoping it’s the same story with cup finals after they lost their last match before heading to North Harbour Stadium on Sunday.

Melville were beaten 3-2 at home by Central, though the team the Unicorns fielded will only bear a passing resemblance to that expected to start in the final, with key players, headcases, or those under the slightest injury doubt put in cotton wool.

Melville rested Marc Evans, Liam Hayes, Max Tommy, and Federico Marquez and started Craig Pritchard on the bench against a Central team which had led the league early in the season but came to Gower Park in eighth place.

Gabriel Jhang, 16, made his first premier league start, while Neil Mouncher, not yet 59, started in goal for the second successive match.

The loss meant Melville dropped to fifth in the final standings, and left them with a record-equalling seven home losses for 2019, though ironically it still left them as the highest ranked Waikato team for the first time since 2011.

Central opened the scoring early when Connor Cahill-Fahey brilliantly chipped Mouncher from outside the box. It not only gave Central a perfect start, but punctured the myth that Mouncher had somehow beaten the rotting process of age.

While one observer described it as being “like a national women’s league goal where the keepers can’t jump”, Mouncher later defiantly challenged anyone in the clubrooms to dare criticise his goalkeeping efforts.

“It is what it is,” he snapped with a shipyard accent, and eyes that burned like stolen cigarettes.

Reg Muranti put Central 2-0 up in the 25th minute, while all Melville had to show for the half was Josh Davies hitting the post.

Craig Pritchard came on in the second half and changed the game, finishing well when played in by Harry Rose, and lighting fires all over the place.

Joel McMullan drew Melville level with a fine side-foot just inside the post. It was just his second goal of the season, though must be said he probably has the highest ratio of goals to shots of any Melville player.

With Melville pressing hard for a winner it was almost a surprise when Central’s Nicholas Zambrano popped up with an 80th minute header to win the game. Pritchard went close with two late chances, but the equaliser did not come.

“It was a funny game with the Cup in the background and us having all these midweek games as well said,” said coach Sam Wilkinson.

“If you’d offered me an injury free game with no suspensions beforehand I would have taken it, but in the midst of the contest your instincts kick in and you still want to win”

Wilkinson acknowledged the steadiness of Flynn O’Brien at the back but named Aaron Scott as player of the day, as much as anything a nod to the fact the cup final may be his swansong after an illustrious Melville career that started back in 2003.

The cup final kicks off at 3pm at North Harbour on Sunday. Entry is $10. The match is also being broadcast live on Sky Sport, with commentary from Melville 2003 cup finalist Gordon Glen Watson.

Should Melville win the cup, there will be a celebration at the Gower Park clubrooms when the team returns.

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