By Bob Pearce / asbpremiership.co.nz
AUCKLAND - Milos Nikolic has scored plenty of goals at the Kiwitea St home of Auckland City but if he can get on the scoresheet in the ASB Premiership clash between City and Waikato on Saturday, it will have a different feel.
The 21-year-old Serbian-born striker has played most of his senior football for Auckland City and Central United but he returns to the Sandringham ground as a key figure in Waikato's attack.
In 17 appearances for Auckland Nikolic scored four goals. So far he has seven goals in seven games for Waikato and is well in the running for the league's Golden Boot.
"I've always been a scorer but it's been good to get 90 minutes every week to give me a chance to show what I can do," he said. "That's why I made the change to Waikato.
"For the first week or two it took a little time to get used to travelling down from Auckland but it's been worth it."
So what kind of reception is he expecting from the fans at Kiwitea St if he scores against his old team?
"I scored against them in the first game and I still have people there who support me. Some of them came down to watch us last weekend."
That game against Otago United showcased another of his talents. In the 56th minute he saved the points in a 2-2 draw with a curling right-foot freekick, which gave the goalie no chance.
No fluke -- "I usually practise freekicks before every game."
Stunning freekicks marked the first-round meeting of the two teams, but in Hamilton it was Auckland's David Mulligan who produced two late in the game for a 3-2 victory for the visitors.
Both teams have moved on from there with Auckland in third place on the table and Waikato equal fourth. Another on the move has been defender Phil Edginton, who has left Auckland with the chance to get more football with Willi Gerdsen's Waikato.
Auckland's delight at beating arch-rivals Waitakere United on Sunday was tempered by the red cards for Ivan Vicelich and Adam Dickinson that will see them suspended from this Saturday's game.
But co-coach Aaron McFarland is confident the gaps can be filled from his strong squad.
"Sam Campbell proved when he came on after Ivan's card that he is determined to get back into the starting squad and Manel Exposito will have his first chance to show the fans in Auckland what he can do after serving his suspension. We've also got Luis Corrales back from holiday.
"Last time we played Waikato Mulli produced those stunning freekicks for our win, but we've come a long way since then. There's been collective development in the way we're playing. We could have gone for something more simple but we were looking to the long-term future of the club and it's beginning to pay off."
Goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley, who had a suspected broken finger after an outstanding display against Waitakere, has been cleared of major injury and should be fit for Saturday. Auckland have been negotiating the transfer of Liam Little from Waitakere as a reserve keeper.
Gerdsen welcomes back Nathan Strom, who has been in Canada, and Joe Bresnahan, who has been on honeymoon. But he has no illusions about the task ahead.
"We're a young squad and to say we're the underdogs is probably is probably an understatement," he said. "We did well the first time but that's a long time ago. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Adam McGEORGE and Manel EXPOSITO also return to the squad.
Experienced duo Nathan STROM and Joe BRESNAHAN are drafted into the squad with two players to be omitted yet to be named
Auckland City will be without All Whites midfielder Ivan VICELICH and the experienced Adam DICKINSON are both unavailable due to suspension.
Alexei DAVIES CAMPBELL has departed for a US College scholarship.
Goalkeeper Liam LITTLE makes the cross-city switch from title rivals Waitakere United as former All White Riki van STEEDEN is recalled to bolster the ranks.
Auckland City boast a formidable home record versus Waikato FC with six wins, one draw and just one defeat in eight previous encounters. Auckland City won the corresponding encounter by 5-0 last season. It is almost five years since Auckland City last conceded a goal to Waikato FC on home soil (a 3-2 win in season 2006-07).
Waikato FC have not registered a win away to Auckland City since 2004-05 season when the visitors edged their title winning hosts 2-1. Six straight defeats nineteen goals against with only two for paint a bleak picture for the visitors. Waikato FC’s next best result was a 0-0 draw at Kiwitea Street in 2004-05 season.
ASB Premiership - Week 12
1- Jacob SPOONLEY (GK)
1- John FLETCHER (GK)
2- Angel BERLANGA
2- Maksim MANKO
3- Ian HOGG
4- Ryan ZOGHBY
4- Sam CAMPBELL
5- Nathan STROM
6- Stuart KELLY
6- Nick BRANCH
7- James PRITCHETT
7- Jason HICKS
8- David MULLIGAN
8- Jason McKEOWN
9- Manel EXPOSITO
9- Mark JONES
10- Luis CORRALES
10- Daniel PEAT
11- Daniel KOPRVICIC
11- Nathan PALMER
12- Liam LITTLE (GK)
12- Jack BEGUELY
13- Alex FENERIDIS
14- Joe BRESNAHAN
17- Adam McGEORGE
15- Eugene HEERSCHAP
19- Danie MORGAN
17- Milos NIKOLIC
20- Riki van STEEDEN
20- Sam MARGETTS
22- Andrew MILNE
22- Alex CARR (GK)
23- Adam THOMAS
23- Matteo BALLAN
24- Mauri WASI
- two to be omitted