Marlborough and Nelson each have a hand on the Harris Cup after the first leg of the provincial showdown was drawn 2-2 at A and P Park on Saturday.
In a joint effort between Marlborough Football and their Nelson counterparts the traditional fixture was resurrected this year, with a Marlborough Invitation XI taking on FC Nelson, winners of the 2019 Nelson division one competition.
The Harris Cup was last contested in a home-and-away series in 2008, when the trophy was claimed by Marlborough. In 2012 the first leg was played, but not the second, meaning the long-standing trophy, first contested in 1929, remains in Marlborough hands.
Their grip is slightly tenuous however, given Nelson will be playing on their home ground at Saxton Fields in Saturday’s return leg, but Marlborough will be better for their first run, having had little preparation time together.
Their lack of cohesion was exposed early in Saturday’s game, disorganisation at the back gifting FC Nelson a penalty after only two minutes. It was calmly converted by Brandon Pirere.
From that point, Marlborough began to find their feet, creating several scoring opportunities for hard-running front-men Adam Rose and MBC student Shinji Mikame.
However the visitor’s defence, superbly marshalled by skipper Nick Crosswell, held firm until the 12th minute when a Shane Evans corner from the left was crisply headed into goal by Rose.
The home side continued to dominate and looked the more likely side to score, missing a couple of gilt-edged chances, while keeper Nick Stanton pulled off an important save at the other end.
The scores were locked 1-1 at the break, but it was FC Nelson who came out of the sheds with more purpose, Pirere notching his second goal when he caught Marlborough on the break after 10 minutes.
Knowing they faced a possible trip to Nelson with a deficit to overcome, Marlborough threw everything into attack.
The introduction of Taine Swete in midfield alongside former Rangers FC team mate Tore Waechter saw a more intense battle for possession and the home side were rewarded when a long-range shot at goal struck a FC Nelson player’s hand and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Waechter stepped up and levelled the scores with a sweetly-struck shot.
In the final 10 minutes chances went begging at both ends, leaving both sides content to settle for a stalemate, which will be decided in four days’ time.
Impressive for the home side were midfielders Jordy Columbus, Waechter, Evans and Paddy Stephens, plus defenders Aaron Vercoe, Nick Rayner and Connor Endersby.
Nelson got good value up front from Pirere, Harrison McFadyen and Jamane Wilson-Duggan, plus at the back from Crosswell and experienced goalie Dean Hill.
Marlborough manager Andrew McCaa felt the result was a fair outcome, one he was relatively pleased with, especially given the home side’s lack of preparation compared with their rivals, who have played a full season together.
“I was really pleased with the guys, they put in a good shift. We got the team together late last week, had one training … it’s the first time they have played together and, for a couple of the guys it is their first run for the season.
“I’m really proud of the way they performed. We are looking forward to the trip away now.”
Scores: Marlborough Invitation XI 2 (Adam Rose, Tore Waechter, pen) FC Nelson 2 (Brandon Pirere 2). HT: 1-1