After a six-year absence, Cambridge are heading back to football’s Northern League.
The club has clinched promotion to the competition’s second division after beating Auckland’s Beachlands Maraetai in a two-legged play-off series.
After beating Beachlands 4-1 in the away leg on September 23, Cambridge completed their mission despite losing the home match 3-1 at John Kerkhof Park a week later.
The Reds made sure of promotion the hard way, going 3-0 down in the first quarter of the match, watched by the season’s biggest home crowd.
Mark Giles put the visitors ahead in the third minute and Mark Trowill doubled the lead after nine minutes.
Cambridge battled to find their rhythm and Giles silenced the crowd with his second goal in the 22nd minute.
That levelled the two-game aggregate score at 4-4 and the teams settled in for a game of high tension.
Cambridge’s Callum MacLeod broke the deadlock in the 27th minute with a superb goal.
For the next hour of play, both teams got goalscoring chances and promotion could have gone either way.
But Cambridge’s three-goal buffer from the first leg, and their ability to hold their nerve, saw the Reds take the all-important spot in next year’s Northern League.
Cambridge qualified for the play-offs as the title winners of the Loaded WaiBOP Premiership, the highest level of senior competition in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty region.
Beachlands Maraetai had qualified for their shot at promotion by finishing runners-up in the Auckland/Northern Conference.
Cambridge return to the Northern League next season where the club will compete against teams from as far away as Northland.
Division Two will include Franklin United, Metro, Northland, Takapuna, Mangere United, Papakura City, Albany United, Te Atatu and newly-promoted Bucklands Beach.
Other WaiBOP-based sides in the division are Ngongotaha – who won the 2016 WaiBOP Premiership – and Claudelands Rovers.
As a requirement of entry, Cambridge will need to enter a team into the Northern League Reserves competition, which is designed to ensure clubs develop a depth of talent.
Cambridge first entered the Northern League in 1972 but were relegated in 2011 after a couple of seasons struggling to survive at that level.
The club voluntarily opted to drop two tiers of competition to rebuild its squad in the WaiBOP Federation Division Two (now known as the WaiBOP Championship).
After finishing runners-up in 2012, Cambridge were promoted to the WaiBOP Premiership.
The Reds won the Premiership title in 2015 but lost a two-game promotion series against unbeaten Auckland side Waitemata FC (who have since climbed into Division One of the Northern League).
In 2016, Cambridge were runners-up in the Premiership while winners Ngongotaha successfully earned promotion to the Northern League.
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