After a mixed Mainland Premier League campaign, Nelson Suburbs will look to bounce back as the inaugural Southern Football League kicks off this weekend.
The side will open its Southern League season this Sunday at Saxton Field against Coastal Spirit FC, after defeating Rangers AFC on Saturday to advance to the fourth round of the Chatham Cup.
An Eddie Sillars goal proved the difference in Marlborough, as Nelson edged the spirited Rangers 1-0 on a sodden pitch at A and P Park.
Suburbs coach Steve Bignall was happy to leave A and P Park with the win, but generally unimpressed by the level of football his side produced.
“I thought Rangers played really well, made some good chances … we performed poorly. But it was always going to be a bit of a slog on that pitch. We were probably guilty of trying to play too much football at times.”
As the side await its Chatham Cup fate, the focus now shifts to the first round of the SFL.
Suburbs player/coach Ben Wright says the new league is something New Zealand Football had to do to keep the game moving forward.
He says the side are fizzing at the prospect of new opposition.
“For us as coaches and players, it’s great to be playing against different teams, we are really looking forward to it.”
Suburbs finished the Mainland Premier League in fourth on 24 points, 12 shy of champions Cashmere Technical.
The side won seven of its fourteen fixtures, losing four and drawing three.
While Suburbs achieved its pre-season MPL goal, the club was frustrated to let a few results slip.
“We are always hoping to do better, but our goal was to qualify for the Southern league and we have done that.”
Though a fourth-placed finish enabled them to qualify, Ben says he was disappointed not to have pushed the top sides further.
“We feel as if we could have pushed Tech a bit harder, which we were disappointed with, but we are looking forward to a fresh start in a new competition.”
The English striker says the side produced some quality play on the pitch.
“I thought at times we have played some really good football, we just haven’t done it consistently.”
He says now that the ‘serious stuff is starting,’ the hope is they can maintain that performance and produce 90 minute displays.
Ben credited a number of players for the side’s strong start to the season.
“Ed (Sillars) has come in and done a great job,” he says.
“We’ve had Sammy Ayers who is Mr Reliable and has been brilliant for us.”
Ben also singled out star striker Ryan Stewart, the club’s top goal scorer to date, as an instrumental part of the side.
Club operations manager Gary Hinks says Suburbs’ inclusion in the SFL caps an exciting period for the club.”
“Suburbs has always looked for a higher competition to play in and I think this opportunity is one we will certainly grab.”
Gary says the fixtures against Dunedin Tech and Queenstown will be highlights.
“We are excited to have two home games against teams that Nelson has not seen in a very long time.”