Napier City Rovers celebrate being back in the top flight. Video / NZ Herald
Ahead of Napier City Rovers’ clash with National League high-flyers Wellington Olympic, coach Bill Robertson has urged his players to be more “clinical” in front of goal.
The two sides meet in the opening fifth-round match of the National League at Bluewater Stadium on Saturday.
Wellington Olympic are in second spot in the league with a record of three wins and a loss. Rovers are in seventh spot, five points off the top of the table, with a record of a win, two draws and a loss.
The teams have met three times already this year, with Wellington Olympic triumphing 3-0 and 5-2 in the Central League, and then winning 4-0 in Chatham Cup fourth-round action.
But the scorelines didn’t reflect the fact Napier City Rovers were in two of the matches “for long periods”, Robertson said. The difference had been how the Wellington club didn’t waste any chance on goal.
“They are a good side and they are really clinical,” Robertson said. “And that is what we have seen from them this year, they are ruthless in front of goal and take their chances.
“The stats weren’t drastically in their favour, they were quite even across the game. But . . . we didn’t quite take our chances and that is the difference.
“That is something we have to learn. When we get chances in the final third, can we be a little bit more clinical . . . that would give us better opportunities to win games at National League level.”
Wellington Olympic have the most potent attack in the National League, topping the scorers with 10 goals. To date, they’ve also got the best-performing defence, only conceding two goals.
Napier City Rovers have scored four goals and conceded six.
The losses inflicted on Napier City Rovers in the earlier Central League and Chatham Cup clashes against Wellington Olympic have been the only defeats the proud club has endured at Bluewater Stadium in 2022.
“We haven’t lost against any other team here,” Robertson said.
“They’re a very good side; they have a lot of depth and have a very big squad of quality and experienced players. [Saturday] will certainly be a test . . . but we certainly don’t fear anyone in the league.
“We will go out there and represent the club well, apply ourselves and try and get a result.”
Napier City Rovers have made a hugely positive start to the National League campaign; the first the club has been involved in the domestic top flight for almost 20 years.
An impressive opening win against Wellington Phoenix Reserves was followed by draws against Christchurch United and then Miramar Rangers.
The latter two games – especially against Miramar – were clashes the side came agonisingly close to winning.
The unbeaten run ended with a 3-0 loss to league leaders Auckland City last weekend.
“The first three games we went unbeaten which was a great start,” Robertson said.
“We had a win at home, which was fantastic, then a couple of draws which arguably could have picked up more points from those games.
“Obviously, it was a tough game away at Auckland City who is a formidable side . . . but four games in I think we are pleased where we are at. I think we are representing the club and the region really well . . . we have given a good account of ourselves on a national stage.”
The positive start also flew in the face of predictions from football pundits outside Hawke’s Bay who said in the build-up that Napier City Rovers would struggle to compete on the big stage.
The form and determination shown by Robertson’s side have made a mockery of those predictions.
“I did see a little bit of that and that just adds motivation really for myself and the players,” Robertson said.
“They’ve obviously seen where we qualified [in fourth spot from the Central League] and thought we’re a small provincial side and won’t compete.
“That gave us some more motivation as well, and we’ve proven we do compete, we are resilient and do give a good account of ourselves.”
Players’ work rate and attitude since stepping up into the National League had impressed Robertson the most.
The side was also benefiting from the provision of flights and accommodation from New Zealand Football for away games in the National League.
During Napier City Rovers’ Central League campaign, the team faced six-hour bus trips, departing early morning, for away matches in Wellington.
“I am really pleased with how they’ve applied themselves,” Robertson said.
“We were training last November, and we are still going now. The attitude’s been fantastic . . . the players work hard for each other and the club and I’m really proud.
“Since we have gone into National League the professionalism and the work rate of the players seems to have stepped up. They have really risen to the occasion.”
Robertson has also impressed on the field during the 2022 National League.
The 38-year-old has laced up his boots in the first four matches of the season due to the absence of players through a mix of injury or unavailability.
In that quartet of games, he has again proven to be a rock in the side’s defence.
“We have lost a few players over the course of the season . . . it is a long, long season . . . so I have had to step in again,” he said.
“As long as I am contributing well both on the pitch and making sure I am doing my coaching role well, which is important, then we will see what happens going forward.”