Southern break Auckland City's perfect record
By Holly Percival
Stephen Last put Southern ahead, but Auckland salvage a point with 69th minute penalty
The remarkable perfect record of Auckland City in the ISPS Handa Premiership has finally been broken but the minor premiers remain unbeaten after a 1-1 draw against Southern United in Dunedin.
The Navy Blues had not put a foot wrong prior to their venture south, amazingly winning all 14 of their games to wrap up first place in the regular season with several rounds remaining.
While they had already made sure of a home semi-final, Auckland still had plenty of motivation to defeat Southern as they are on the verge of a record points tally in ISPS Handa Premiership history.
But the hosts had just as much reason to target all three points as they still harbour faint hopes of sneaking into the play-offs but need to finish the season very strongly and hope fellow South Islanders the Canterbury United Dragons suffer a dramatic loss of form.
Just as they did a few weeks ago in Auckland, Southern took the lead but it came from an unlikely source this time as defender Stephen Last popped up with a rare goal early on. The Irishman was on hand to tap in from close range after Azariah Soromon's headed effort was well saved by the visitors' goalkeeper. Southern defended well throughout, and Auckland found clear-cut chances hard to come by. Right before the halftime whistle, Markus Fjørtoft had a big chance to extend the lead, but his header off the corner went just over.
At a scorching Sunnyvale Park that lived up to its name, the defending champions found a way back into the game though when Javier Lopez tucked home from the penalty spot just past the hour. Auckland had established a dominant hold of possession, but struggled to convert it into chances.
Clear-cut chances continued to prove hard to come by in the remainder on an enthralling contest, although Southern thought they might be granted a late chance to win it when Garbhan Coughlan went down in the box in stoppage time but their penalty appeals fell on deaf ears.
Their play-off hopes are now very much hanging by a thread but Southern will take heart from becoming the first team to take any points off Auckland this season while the defending champions will be satisfied to have continued their undefeated run on the back of a gruelling schedule.
Southern United 1 (Stephen Last 10’)
Auckland City 1 (Javier Lopez pen 68’)