By Gordon Glen Watson / asbpremiership.co.nz
HAMILTON - Victory over Otago United will send Waikato FC's season into overdrive - but history suggests the Southerners may be more than a match for their hosts when the two sides meet at Fred Jones Park on Saturday.
Waikato FC could increase a two point gap over Canterbury and Hawke's Bay to five by the end of this weekend's action if results go their way, but coach Willy Gerdsen is quick to downplay early talk about play-offs.
"We're confident but we're not over-confident," Gerdsen said,"We finished bottom of the table last season so this campaign is very much about transition. We cannot take Otago United lightly they have some very good and experienced players such as Tim Horner in their squad so they are a good team."
"If we are going to be play-off contenders then we must win our homes games," Gerdsen added.
Gerdsen's wary approach is validated by Otago United's impressive away record in matches with Waikato FC.
Five of Otago United's six ASB Premiership wins over Waikato FC took place away from home, a chilling statistic for local supporters.
Preparations for this match have not gone smoothly for Waikato FC either.
Experienced defender Nathan Strom is unavailable while Joe Bresnahan was recently married and is also excluded from the squad.
Alexei Davies Campbell - originally unavailable for this fixture - provides some positivity for Gerdsen with the player's departure for a US College Scholarship delayed until Sunday.
To strengthen Waikato FC's play-off hopes, Gerdsen admitted he was in the process of making two additional signings in the transfer window but would not be drawn on their identities.
The last time the two sides met, Waikato FC won 1-0 thanks to a Jason Hicks goal, a strike that gave the visitors a rare win in Dunedin and their first such victory since 2007.
With striker Milos Nikolic in top form with six goals to his name, Waikato FC have plenty of reason for optimism.
Otago United's season stands at a crossroads. Victory for the southerners could boost them as high as fifth in the table provided Canterbury and Hawke's Bay both lose.
A defeat would leave Otago trailing the final play-off berth by six points with just five games to play - two of them with Auckland City and Waitakere United.
Coach Malcolm Fleming - like Gerdsen - has selection worries of his own.
Paul Seaman is injured and ASB Premiership December Player of the Month Nathan Knox has left for Australia.
There is good news for Otago with both Andy Coburn and Tim Horner back to bolster Otago ranks.
Youngster Matt Brook is also a late addition to the squad.
The action gets underway at Fred Jones Park on Saturday 15 January, 2011, kick-off scheduled for 3pm.
Eugene HEERSCHAP and Dan PEAT return to the squad. Alexei DAVIES CAMPBELL is available.
Andy COBURN and Tim HORNER return to the squad alongside youngster Matt BROOK.
Nathan KNOX departs for Australia with Paul SEAMAN sidelined by injury.
Joe BRESNAHAN, Nathan STROM are both unavailable.
Paul SEAMAN is also suspended for this match after reaching four yellow cards for this season.
Waikato FC have beaten Otago three times, drawn once and lost five on home soil. The last time the two teams met, Waikato FC prevailed 1-0 in Dunedin thanks to a Jason Hicks goal.
Otago United boast five wins on visits to the Waikato for this fixture over a six year period. Their last visit to the Waikato resulted in a 1-0 win and their biggest victory over their hosts was a 4-0 away win posted in 2005.
Saturday 15 January, 2011
1- John FLETCHER (GK)
1- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
2- Maksim MANKO
6- Tom SADD
4- Ryan ZOGHBY
9- Aaron BURGESS
6- Nick BRANCH
10- Phil RUGGLES
7- Jason HICKS
12- James REICHWIEN
8- Jason McKEOWN
13- Callum FLAWS (GK)
9- Mark JONES
17- Tim HORNER
10- Daniel PEAT
18- Harley RODEKA
11- Nathan PALMER
20- Matt BROOK
12- Jack BEGUELY
21- Liam LOCKHART
15- Eugene HEERSCHAP
23- Ant HANCOCK
17- Milos NIKOLIC
25- Tom CONNOR
20- Sam MARGETTS
26- Tristan PRATTLEY
22- Alex CARR (GK)
27- Morgan DAY
23- Matteo BALLAN
11- And COBURN
24- Mauri WASI