Hawke’s Bay United will chase their only third ever win over Waitakere United when the two teams face off at Park Island this Sunday.
Waitakere’s only two losses to Hawke’s Bay both occurred away from home, the most recent reverse a 3-0 thumping back in 2006-07 season when a double by Sam Messam and strike from Chris McIvor saw the home side to victory.
It’s been lean pickings since then for Matt Chandler’s team but there are several reasons for optimism.
New signings Phil Doran, Marvin Eakins and Dan O’Brien and the return of All Whites midfielder Cole Peverley provide a timely boost for Hawke’s Bay United’s playoff hopes.
“In the pre-season we had a look at the squad and what we needed,” said Chandler.
“We knew we had a nucleus of good players but it was about who we needed to add to the mix. We signed six players and I’m very pleased with who we’ve added and think it will make us a very competitive side this season.”
Peverley – drafted into the All Whites 2010 FIFA World Cup squad following an injury to Wellington Phoenix midfielder Tim Brown – has had a previous spell with Hawke’s Bay United and will be a vital cog in coach Matt Chandler’s midfield machine this season.
The defence receives a massive lift with the return of a fit Bill Robertson, fully recovered from the sickening leg break at Waikato FC last season.
Chandler’s other key will be the strike force of Jarrod Smith and Leon Birnie.
Former Toronto FC striker Smith has fallen out of the international spotlight since he was selected for the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa and will be keen to make up for lost time.
Smith made 19 appearances for Toronto FC before a move to Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer.
The 26-year-old recently completed a winter season with Napier City Rovers where he looked to be back to his best form.
“Jarrod was with us a couple of years ago when I was the number two to Jonathan Gould and it’s great to have him back. The key for us with Jarrod was getting him back to full fitness because when he’s fully fir he’s a very good striker.”
Birnie has scored an impressive 28 goals for Hawke’s Bay United and will make his 60th ASB Premiership appearance against Waitakere. He also finished third in last season’s ASB Premiership Golden Boot race, just one strike behind Greg Draper of Team Wellington.
Despite the region’s footballing tradition, Hawke’s Bay remain the only club not to make the playoffs in any of the league previous six seasons and breaking the glass ceiling is high on the club’s wish list, and home form is seen as the key.
“Put simply, we must win our home games. We had reasonable home from last season – we only lost twice – but we really want to win those games at home. It’s a great surface at Park Island and we want to utilise the facilities here to our advantage.
“Reaching the top four has to be the target, as it is for any coach, but we really think it is a realistic target this season if we can improve our home form and maintain our away form. Everyone in the club is working towards that goal and we’ve got every chance.”
Waitakere United remain the form side after two wins in their first two matches of the season.
Reduced to ten men after Neil Sykes was sent off, Waitakere managed a 2-0 win over Team Wellington courtesy of a Neil Emblen strike and a Michael Eagar own goal.
The West Aucklanders followed that up with a 3-1 win over Tahitian club AS Tefana in the OFC Champions League on Sunday.
But head coach Neil Emblen’s admission that his side has yet to demonstrate Premiership-defending form serves just as much as a warning to sides targeting any chinks in the armour.
“We haven’t been at our best.” said Emblen, “and we do want to play good football and be effective in controlling games for the majority of the time.
“We haven’t been too cohesive but I’m sure the lads will be better for the runs each time and the experience, and we’ll be able play nicer football and keep winning.”
“Winning is important, but we want to win nicely and comfortably and the two wins we’ve had have not been that. But it’s good to have two wins on the board when we’ve not played well, and it’s a good sign for when we do play well.”
The departure of Benjamin Totori and Brent Fisher doesn’t seem to have affected Waitakere United’s ability to score goals, with Allan Pearce and Fiji international Roy Krishna likely to pose searching questions of the home side’s defence.
“I think the squad is actually stronger.”
“We’ve got a little bit more depth and some young players who are ready to play, but perhaps our starting lineup is not as strong as last season because Benji and Brent are quality players and they’d probably get into any team in New Zealand.
“They’re tough to replace but I’ve got every face in the youngster coming through to do a job like we saw on Sunday.”
Hawke’s Bay United take on Waitakere United at Park Island, Napier, Sunday 31 October, kick off 2pm.
Hawke's Bay United
Luke Adams, Sean Lovemore, Tim Myers
Neil Sykes (suspended one match), Luiz del Monte (injured), Rory Turner (injured)
Dan O’Brien, Marvin Eakins and Phil Doran will make their ASB Premiership debut, if selected. Cole Peverley will make his 49th ASB Premiership career appearance. Leon Birnie will make his 60th ASB Premiership career appearance and will look to add to his career tally of 28 goals at this level.
Luke Adams, Sean Lovemore and Tim Myers come into contention with Neil Sykes picking up a one match suspension following a red card against Team Wellington. Luiz del Monte and Rory Turner are both injured and are omitted from the squad.
Hawke’s Bay United’s last victory over Waitakere United was a 3-0 success in 2006-07 season thanks to goals by Chris McIvor and Sam Messam (2). Hawke’s Bay have won two, drawn two and lost four matches with Waitakere United on home soil.
Waitakere United have won four, drawn two and lost two matches to Hawke’s Bay United away from home. Last season’s encounter at Park Island finished 2-2 with Neil Sykes and Allan Pearce on target for Waitakere.
Hawke's Bay United
ASB Premiership - Week Two
Sunday 31 October, 2010
1- Richard Gillespie (GK)
1-Danny Robinson (GK)
2- Phil Doran
3- Marvin Eakins
5- Bill Robertson
7- Matt Hastings
6- Jack Pelter
8- Leon Birnie
7- Martin Bullock
9- Jarrod Smith
8- Chris Bale
10- Dan O'Brien
10- Allan Pearce
11- Cole Peverley
12- Roy Krishna
12- Andy Bevin
13- Michael Gwyther
13- Dan Wilson
16- Neil Emblen
14- Marama Thompson
18- Zane Sole
15- Joachim Rande
19- Dakota Lucas
18- Jonathan Taylor
20- Ryan de Vries
19- Dan Ball
23- Ashton Pett
20- Chris McIvor
24- Luke Adams
25- Shaun Peta (GK)
25- Sean Lovemore
(one to be ommittted)
28- Andy Ralph (GK)
(two to be ommittted)