By Bob Pearce www.asbpremiership.co.nz
AUCKLAND - Waitakere United have begun 2011 on a winning note and they will be in no mood to lose their long unbeaten record at Fred Taylor Park when they play Otago United in the ASB Premiership on Saturday.
The West Aucklanders, riding high with an eight-point lead at the top of the Premiership, beat the New Zealand Under-17 team 3-0 on Tuesday in a 60-minute post-Christmas shake-up.
Neil Emblen, who has yet to lose a game at The Fred during his reign as coach, has emphasised that there is no room for complacency.
"To be honest, the break didn't come at a great time for us when we were on a winning roll and wanted to keep the momentum going," he said. "We need to keep our feet on the ground and be relentless."
A feature of Waitakere's pre-Christmas surge has been their blending of youth and experience that has allowed them to play at pace. Veterans Martin Bullock and Neil Sykes are still sidelined with injury and also missing will be youngsters Ryan de Vries and Sean Lovemore.
De Vries has yet to return from holiday in South Africa, while Lovemore picked up an injury with the national under-20 squad.
"Because of the position we've been in we've been able to give more youngsters their chance and the good thing is we've kept on winning," said Emblen. "Otago are not going to be easy. Paul Seaman will be keen to get one over his old club."
Otago are second to bottom on the table and finished their pre-Christmas commitments with a 5-0 loss to Team Wellington.
"We were disappointing against Wellington and we must put that to bed," said coach Malcolm Fleming. "If I had a New Year's resolution for the team it would be that they should cherish the ball more.
"We don't play consistently enough and that's not for want of trying. At times we've been unlucky and we've also played some good football, but not often enough."
The trip to Auckland is always a tough one for the Southerners. This time a 4pm kickoff to avoid a potential clash with the Oceania under-17 tournament should mitigate the heat factor at a time when even wind-swept Whenuapai can be sweltering.
Missing from the Otago lineup will be long-serving Andy Coburn, who picked up a red card against Wellington and is suspended.
And the Southerners will be keen to make Nathan Knox's last game for the club before heading for Australia one to remember.
"He's going for work reasons and we'll really miss him," said Fleming. "I've played him in midfield and up front and he's been outstanding in every game."
Otago have not so far lived up to the promise they showed last season when they narrowly missed the playoffs but they can take some comfort from the fact that on their first trip north in November they shared a 0-0 draw with Auckland City. Waitakere is a tougher call.
As Fleming says: "Their 'A' game is better than the rest. We're going to need our A game plus."
Andy RALPH returns from injury alongside the influential Jason ROWLEY.
Morgan DAY returns to the squad.
Liam LITTLE is unavailable.
Long serving player Andy COBURN misses the first match of 2011 due to suspension.
Neil SYKES (calf injury, two weeks) and Martin BULLOCK (medial ligament, three weeks) are missing from this league leaders squad.
Other than the experienced COBURN, Otago United have a full complement of players to select from for the trip to the league leaders.
Waitakere Unitedís unbeaten run in this fixture stretches back six years over twelve games and shows no sign on ending soon. Ten wins and two draws mean Waitakere start this match as firm favourites to make it 13-in-a-row undefeated. To add intrigue, Otago Unitedís only win over Waitakere took place away from home, a 1-0 upset in 2005.
History is very much against Otago United with the visitors winless against Waitakere United for six years. They earned two draws in 2007-08 season to break the losing sequence and drove Waitakere hard when they lost 3-2 and 2-1 away from home in 2009-10 and 2008-09 seasons respectively.
1- Danny ROBINSON (GK)
1- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
2- Jason ROWLEY
6- Tom SADD
3- Aaron SCOTT
7- Nathan KNOX
4- Tim MYERS
8- Paul SEAMAN
6- Jack PELTER
9- Aaron BURGESS
8- Chris BALE
10- Phil RUGGLES
9- Luiz del MONTE
12- James REICHWIEN
10- Allan PEARCE
13- Cam BURNS (GK)
12- Roy KRISHNA
14- Alistair RICKERBY
13- Mike GWYTHER
17- Tim HORNER
16- Neil EMBLEN
18- Harley RODEKA
17- Jake BUTLER
21- Liam LOCKHART
18- Zane SOLE
23- Ant HANCOCK
19- Dakota LUCAS
25- Tom CONNOR
23- Ashton PETT
26- Tristan PRATTLEY
25- Sean LOVEMORE
27- Morgan DAY
28- Andy RALPH (GK)
28- Sam MEPHAN
- one to be omitted
- one to be omitted