By Bob Pearce / asbpremiership.co.nz
Fred Taylor Park was a field of broken dreams for both Team Wellington and Waitakere United at the end of last season, memories they will put behind them when they meet in the first round of the ASB Premiership on Sunday.
Waitakere had their hopes of representing Oceania in the FIFA World Club Cup dashed by Hekari United on May 2 at their Whenuapai home. Three weeks earlier they had beaten Wellington 2-1 there with a last-gasp goal that kept them on course for the national league title.
The major players in that dramatic finish will not be back for the rerun. Waitakere striker Brent Fisher, whose back-header looped into the Wellington net, is overseas while goalkeeper James Bannatyne, who watched in horror, has retired.
Waitakere player-coach Neil Emblen has also lost the attacking magic of Benji Totori, but has 23 of his 30-man squad back for another season. The major addition up front is Mike Gwyther, who was with Waikato last season.
"I've been monitoring him for some time," said Emblen. "He's a local boy and he really wants to play for us and that's what we want. We've got a lot of attacking options and he'll be in the mix along with Roy Krishna, Allan Pearce, Ryan de Vries and Dakota Lucas.
"I've got some tough calls to make and at this stage you'd say only Roy and Allan are sure to start."
The midfield has been strengthened by the return of Chris Bale after a season with the capital team. He will rejoin the experienced Jake Butler, Martin Bullock and Neil Sykes.
Young defender Tim Myers, who made huge strides last season, is at university in Dunedin and will not be able to train with the team until the end of the month but he will be available for the bulk of the season.
The kingpin of the defence has been Emblen himself, but in the immediate aftermath of the Hekari defeat he talked of concentrating solely on a coaching role. A successful winter season has convinced the veteran that he still has a role to play on the field if required.
"I'm registered to play and I will probably be on the bench, particularly for away games. I'm probably the ideal sub able to fit in anywhere."
Wellington coach Stu Jacobs is relieved still to have a team playing in the national league after a period when it was touch and go whether Wellington would be starters. But it will be a very different side from the one that came so close to making the grand final last time.
Gone are Bannatyne and fellow All Whites Andy Barron and Cole Peverley from the team who pushed Waitakere so close last time.
"We've only got three or four back from last year," said Jacobs. "We've gone local and we've got some really good talent. There are players from Miramar, Olympic, Lower Hutt and Wellington United."
Jacobs is keeping his cards close to his chest at this stage but, with Miramar winning the Chatham Cup and Olympic the Central League, there will plenty of form players vying for a start.
The coach is looking for a start in contrast to last year when Wellington languished near the bottom of the table before a stirring finish that took them into the semifinals and so nearly into the Grand Final.
"We'll be working hard to get to that position again and hopefully this time we'll nail it."
The Fred has come through the bleak Auckland winter in good shape and Waitakere chairman Rex Dawkins is on patrol to keep the rabbits at bay for an opening game full of promise.
With regular captain Jake Butler on trial and Singapore and Neil Sykes nursing a injury niggle, Neil Emblen is undecided on who will wear the armband again Wellington. Mike Gwyther returns to Waitakere and could go straight into the starting line up now that Brent Fisher and Benji Totori have left the club.
Four All Whites have departed Team Wellington in the off-season with Andy Barron and James Bannatyne retiring, Cole Peverley transferring to Hawke’s Bay United and Greg Draper playing in England.
Waitakere was the only club to remain unbeaten at home last season, winning seven out of their eight games including a semi final and final and drawing one game.
Wellington’s season has ended at the hands of Waitakere in the playoffs each of the last three seasons.
ASB Premiership - Week One
Sunday 17 October, 2010
1-Danny Robinson (GK)
1-Phil Imray (GK)
21-Pomare Te Anau
20-Ryan de Vries
25-Scott Basalaj (GK)
28-Andy Ralph (GK)
Two to be omitted