24 Mar 2019

Suburbs win breaks long-standing finals drought

5:41 pm on 24 March 2019

Auckland club Eastern Suburbs have earned their first shot at a national league title in nearly five decades after edging Canterbury United 1-0 in the first national football premiership semi-final.

Andre de Jong scores for Eastern Suburbs under pressure from Canterbury's Daniel McHenery.

Andre de Jong scores for Eastern Suburbs under pressure from Canterbury's Daniel McHenery. Photo: Photosport

Suburbs were heavily favoured to account for the Dragons at Trusts Arena in Auckland but the visitors had come through an emotionally charged week following the tragic Christchurch terror attack, and were clearly inspired to honour the victims with a proud performance.

They executed a tactically astute game plan to near perfection for long periods to frustrate the hosts, who enjoyed plenty of the ball but struggled to find a way through.

The deadlock was finally broken early in the second half when young All White Andre de Jong picked the pocket of Tom Schwarz on halfway and burst forward before driving a low strike past goalkeeper Conor Tracey.

Suburbs passed up great chances to add to their tally through Callum McCowatt and Elijah Just late on, while Canterbury threw everything at them at the other end, most notably a sweetly struck pile driver from Adam Thurston that thundered against the cross bar.

But Suburbs held on and will now look to win their first national league title since 1971 in next weekend's final.

"We knew coming into the game that it would be tough," de Jong said.

"We thought they'd sit off and let us have the ball, it was going to be up to us to see if we could break them down. It took a while but I'm glad we got the goal and it was really good to keep a clean sheet."

Visiting skipper Gary Ogilvie was disappointed to see Canterbury's campaign ended, but had plenty of pride in his side's showing.

"It's been a very difficult week, on and off the pitch," he said.

"But the boys knew we had a job to do today and we had full focus throughout the training sessions leading up to the game. We wanted to come out here and put on a performance we could be proud of and I think we did that. We gave it our all and unfortunately we just came up short."