Wanderers took a big step towards marking their first campaign in glorious fashion with their sixth win in Round Eight while Team Wellington and Waitakere United also kept their hopes alive after likewise picking up three points.
Seeing their chances fizzle out were Auckland City, Canterbury United and the Wellington Phoenix, who all suffered untimely defeats to put themselves out of the running.
Hamilton will now be favourites to finish the job in the final round this weekend as they are facing bottom-placed Hawke’s Bay United, who have won just once all season, and require only a point to become champions.
The newcomers put themselves in the box seat after continuing their unbeaten run with a crucial 2-1 victory against fellow title contenders the Phoenix, who began in promising fashion when striking first through Ollie Whyte mid-way through the opening half. But Wanderers won the match with a pair of goals either side of half-time, Jordan Shaw drawing his side level just ahead of the break before Stafford Dowling supplied what proved to be the winner soon after.
That win meant the other title chasers all had to record victories to stay in the hunt but only Wellington and Waitakere could do so, sweeping aside Tasman United and Auckland City respectively.
Callum McCowatt was the hero for the boys from the capital with two goals in five minutes in the middle of the second half while the only downside was the late dismissal of goalkeeper Reed Collingwood.
Further north, clashes between Waitakere and Auckland don’t usually need any added bite but there was some provided anyway with the match being a must-win for both sides. Former Auckland player George Debenham came back to haunt his old club with an early goal but Waitakere then had to wait until late on for the points to be secured when Drew Farnsworth finally came up with a second.
Wellington and Waitakere now each have a slim chance to overhaul Wanderers but have to win their respective away games at Canterbury and the Phoenix then hope Hawke’s Bay pull off a major upset and beat the Hamiltonians. The title race could then come down to goal difference where Wellington currently hold a two-goal advantage over Waitakere with both significantly superior to Wanderers’ plus-seven.
Elsewhere in the league, Eastern Suburbs came out of their slump as a lone Rob Dymond goal late in the first half gave them a narrow 1-0 win over Canterbury – the Aucklanders’ first success since beginning their debut season with a pair of wins.
Hawke’s Bay also finally had something to celebrate after picking up their first win of the campaign, and in convincing fashion too, with a 4-1 triumph over Southern United. Jorge Akers, Jackson Ralph, Taylor Monk and Josh Murphy were all on target while Tom Milton hit a consolation for Southern.
National Youth League – Round Eight
Team Wellington 2 (Callum McCowatt 71’, 76’)
Tasman United 0
Hawke’s Bay United 4 (Jorge Akers 4’, Jackson Ralph 35’, Taylor Monk 48’, Josh Murphy 89’)
Southern United 1 (Tom Milton 47’)
Waitakere United 2 (George Debenham 3’, Drew Farnsworth 88’)
Auckland City 0
Eastern Suburbs 1 (Rob Dymond 40’)
Canterbury United 0
Hamilton Wanderers 2 (Jordan Shaw 40’, Stafford Dowling 54’)
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Ollie Whyte 25’)