By Rab Smith www.asbpremiership.co.nz
DUNEDIN - It was all present and correct this week, as coach Malcolm Fleming ran the rule over his troops for Sunday's critical derby match with Canterbury United at Tahuna Park.
Always slow starters, Otago had a less than perfect pre-season preparation for the ASB Premiership, and since then the teamís ranks have faltered.
Overseas tours, a marriage, suspensions, injuries and illness have conspired against Fleming, who believes his team be at full strength.
"No excuses this week. We have everyone on deck raring to go and Otago teams need no extra incentive for a match against Canterbury," Fleming said.
Keeper Adam Highfield took pills to overcome a virus, team captain and centreback Tim Horner returns after taking an Otago Youth team to Singapore, and fresh from his nuptials, striker/manager Aaron Burgess has an extra spring in his step.
The return of those players has also sparked more intense training sessions as youngsters who have had a sniff of ASB Premiership football, try to stake a claim for starting positions on Sunday.
"At last some of our Otago youngsters are realizing that the harder they train, the better their chances are, to break into, and consolidate, starting positions in our senior side," said Fleming.
"A good training environment full of control as well as hard physical effort is what I want to see, and there are several youngsters now capable of pushing past established players," Fleming added.
"With our enlarged squad, and with the prospect of a couple of new signings in the next Transfer Window, no one can take anything for granted, and thatís the way I want it,í said the Otago coach.
Certainly Otago will need a concentrated effort to turn over a Canterbury side that won both derby matches last season, although southern pundits like to point out that the season before, its was Otago that dished out double derby defeats that consigned Canterbury to Wooden Spoon status that year.
This week Gareth Rowe and Joe Murray will not start for coach Keith Braithwaite's side, but back from suspension is Nick Wortelboer and squad member Garry McDermott joins the selection.
Top scorer for the red and blacks is Russell Kamo with 3 goals, but the man Otago will try to shackle is All White Aaron Clapham who is Canterburyís chief playmaker.
In reply, Canterbury is sure to keep an eye on Otagoís in-form striker Nathan Knox who will clock up his 50th ASB Premiership match if selected. Knox' half-century comprises appearances for both sides of the South Island divide.
And there should be a few sparks in the heart of midfield where the match will likely be won or lost.
Form is neatly balanced with Canterbury nosing ahead on seven wins from 16 matches, while Otago has won 5 and drawn 4 matches.
Referee Nick Waldron will have to be on his toes, as both sides crank up the physical aspect, but this derby has always produced enough good football to attract a decent crowd of spectators at Tahuna park.
With goalkeeper Adam Highfield recovered from the virus that kept him out of last weekís win over Manawatu and captain Tim Horner returned from overseas Malcolm Flemingís squad is as close to full strength as itís been this season.
Nick WORTELBOER returns from suspension. Garry MCDERMOTT is also added to the squad.
Gareth ROWE and Joe MURRAY are both unavailable
Nathan Knox will make his 50th ASB Premiership appearance if selected.
Otago United lost both South Island derbies last season - results that ultimately cost Malcolm Fleming's side a place in the ASB Premierships for the first time since 2005-06 season. In 2008-09 it was Otago United that did the South Island derby double over their arch rivals - results that ensured Otago finished seventh and consigned Canterbury to the wooden spoon on goal difference.
Canterbury United's biggest win over Otago United was a 5-2 thrashing administered in Dunedin in 2004-05 season. Their biggest defeat to Otago United was 5-1, also in 2004-05 season.
ASB Premiership - Week 8
Sunday 12 December, 2010
1- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
1- Tom BATTY (GK)
6- Tom SADD
2- Dan TERRIS (C)
7- Nathan KNOX
3- Nick WORTELBOER
8- Paul SEAMAN
5- Tom SCHWARZ
10- Phil RUGGLES
6- Glen COLLINS
11- Andy COBURN
7- Aaron CLAPHAM
12- James REICHWEIN
8- Darrent OVERTON
14- Alistair RICKERBY
9- Russell KAMO
16- Harley RODEKA
12- Gagame FENI
17- Tim HORNER (C)
13- Garry McDERMOTT
21- Liam LOCKART
15- Danny ATTWELL
22- Callum FLAWS (GK)
17- Ryan TIPPETT
23- Anthony HANCOCK
18- Chris SINCLAIR (GK)
24- Curtis DAY
21- Michael WILLIS
25- Tom CONNOR
23- Andy BARTON
26- Tristan PRATTLEY
25- Andy PITMAN
27- Morgan DAY