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Central League Round 10 - Review

Olympic and Lower Hutt met on a bitterly cold Sunday in a match both sides needed to win to keep pace with leaders Wests. Raf de Gregorio was still unavailable for Olympic, George Barbarouses replacing him in the centre of midfield. Lower Hutt were able to call on a full squad in attempting to bounce back from their shock loss to Marist in the Chatham Cup, Michael Madden starting on the bench. Lower Hutt 's attacking trio of Roy of the Costa Rica Clark, Adam Church and Luis Corrales immediately put pressure on Olympic's back four with tremendous movement and pace. Corrales showed intentions early shooting well from a tight angle after accelerating into the box and Andrew Toomath in the Olympic goal made a tremendous double save off the initial chance and Steve Gulley's follow up. However, parity didn't last long as Miguel Baladaras caught the Olympic defence napping, heading home unmarked from Gulley's cross. The action continued at frenetic pace, Clark flashed a shot from distance wide and Church hit the post with just the keeper to beat after a lovely reverse pass from Corrales. Although the home side looked shell-shocked, they did manage to fashion a rare chance on half an hour. George Barbarouses made space with a lovely turn in the middle of the park and released Jimmy Hadaikis wide on the right, and although his cross was partially blocked, the ball fell kindly for Anthony Neonakis who blazed over. Both sides were out to attack and the action continued at both ends. Olympic struggled noticeably to compete at set pieces fielding a smallish lineup and could have fallen further behind, Clark heading a free kick over and Dayne Raynor hitting the bar with a looping header. Barry Lewis did manage to get a free header away from a corner, but put it straight at keeper James McPeake. McPeake was in action again soon after, palming away a tremendous low free kick from Mikey Halikias and the half drew to a close with Lewis crossing himself after his sprawling goal line clearance scooped over the bar.

The second period matched the first for intensity and the action began immediately with Baladaras arrowing in another header which drew a fantastic save from Toomath. Olympic's task was made more difficult with half an hour to go, Barry Lewis earned an early bath in the new Newtown dressing rooms after leading with an elbow on Baladaras. Not long after referee Jim Murphy inspired a week of banter on Yellow Fever, awarding a penalty after Corrales was fouled. The Olympic players and spectators were clearly incensed by what they saw as a dive and it did appear that the South American made the most of the challenge having lost control of the ball in the box. Roy Clark's penalty struck the bar but bounced down and in to make the score two nil. Lower Hutt were happy to sit deep and the result was settled when Shaun Easthope joined Lewis in the sheds after a nasty studs up tackle on Clark, whose reaction was one part Drogba, two parts Christiano Ronaldo. Substitute Admir Balicevac had a chance to complete the victory but struck the bar from inside the box and Sam Blackburn failed to finish with time and space late on. This performance showed why Hutt were seen as title contenders before the season began, but inconsistency has dogged them so far. They created a slew of chances and dominated from start to finish.

Wests extended their lead at the top of the table on Saturday, beating a gutsy Wellington United 3-0 at Endeavour Park . United produced a battling display to keep themselves in the hunt for points against a Western Suburbs side who are beginning to have the look of champions. It took an hour but Alex Chiet broke the deadlock heading home from a corner. Rupert Ryan scored his 5thfor the season, and Wests' second, ten minutes later after good work from David Johnson on the left flank and Darren Cheriton made it three late on as his fashionable cross-cum-shot found its way into the top corner. Will Smith and Nick Tarrant were prominent for the visitors while Mike Smith and Adam Birch were steady as ever for the home side. Remarkably, Wests have still only conceded 4 goals this year and haven't been beaten since round 1.

Stop Out earned their first win of the season and leapfrogged Palmerston North Marist into 8th spot on the table in an ugly but effective performance. It was a game that reflected the two teams lowly position and was a genuine scrap lacking in quality or entertainment value. Wayne Rooker had a chance to put the home side ahead from the penalty spot in the second half but missed. However, Ben Kistell didn't make the same mistake and converted his opportunity ten minutes later for an important win.

In matches away from Wellington, Miramar were held to a draw by Napier City Rovers on Sunday and drop four points back from Wests. Both sides had opportunities to win the match and would feel disappointed not to come away with the win but chances went begging at both ends. Napier dominated the first half and Greg Henslee followed up his own shot to put Napier ahead. Sacha Nathu made several other first half saves to keep Miramar in the contest. The second half was a different story, Miramar coming at Napier determined to force a result. The goal came with fifteen minutes to go, a loose ball stabbed home after a Tim Butterfield header from a corner.

Finally, Team Taranaki remain rooted to the foot of the table after losing to Gisborne City 4-0 in Gisborne. One nil at half time, the amber and blacks succumbed in the second half to be left still chasing their first win of the season. Robert Gill scored twice to take his season goal tally to 11, Ryan O'Neill and the returning Noah Hickey completed the victory.

Wellington teams now occupy six of the top eight positions on the table which will again raise the debate around the worth of the Central League for 2008, especially as the NZFC will now run until May.

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