By Bob Pearce / asbpremiership.co.nz
AUCKLAND - Fred Taylor Park in Whenuapai provides a playing surface second to none. But Waitakere United's home ground can be a heart-breaker.
YoungHeart Manawatu coach Bob Sova can attest to that. Last season his team were leading 2-1 midway through the second half before conceding an equaliser.
But one point seem safely secured until five minutes of time added on when Brent Fisher nipped in for the winner.
There'll be no Brent Fisher when Manawatu return to the Fred on Saturday but Waitakere lead the ASB Premiership by six points while Manawatu languish at the bottom with just one win from 10 games.
It hasn't been all joy out west for Waitakere, though. Their last appearance at home saw them lose 1-0 to archrivals Auckland City in what coach Neil Emblen describes as "an inept display."
That loss against a team down to 10 men for three-quarters of the game brought to an end Emblen's unbeaten record as coach at the Fred and it marked the first time this season Waitakere have failed to score.
Emblen insisted it was important that the team bounce back quickly and they didn't disappoint him, beating Team Wellington in the capital 2-1.
"I was really pleased with the way we reacted," he said. "It was a good performance. We deserved the three points and we could have had a more comfortable margin."
As a legacy of that game Waitakere will be without Zane Sole, who was sent off and is suspended. Martin Bullock, whose presence has been missed in midfield, is still nursing a knee injury. Jack Pelter misses the squad after suspension.
But Waitakere have played the youth card with aplomb this season and six of their up-and-comers got a run with the Phoenix A team in the midweek ASB Challenge against Auckland City at Kiwitea St.
Emblen was on hand to check the progress of young striker Sean Lovemore on the way back from injury and he was taking notes with a view to the squad who will travel to Tahiti for the O-League fixture against AS Tefana on February 5.
But Manawatu and the minor premiership are his immediate concern.
"We respect every team we play and they've been losing lately by just the odd goal," he said. "They've got some good attacking threats which we will have to cover."
The opening 30 minutes may be crucial. Manawatu have proved vulnerable in the opening exchanges and in most of their games they have been fighting back from early deficits.
On their pre-Christmas visit to Auckland they lost 1-3 to Auckland City after conceding an own goal after just 10 minutes and in their last game against Canterbury United they drifted to 0-3 before finishing strongly with two Nobu Ishi goals.
A disappointed Sova was pleased with his team's spirit but lamented another slow start.
"There's a pattern there with how we start matches. The first two goals came from set-plays and we're not a big team anyway. We lacked a bit of height and a bit of experience," Sova said, "Our problem is that defensively we're struggling as a team rather than a specific problem with our back four."
The action gets underway at the Fred at 2pm.
Sean LOVEMORE and Luke ADAMS make the Match Day squad
Transfer window signing Joachim RANDE is in line to make his first start for his new club after making a debut as a late substitute in last week’s 3-2 loss to Canterbury United.
Jack PELTER is a notable absentee. Neil SYKES, Luiz del MONTE and Martin BULLOCK remain on the long term injured list for the league leaders. Zane SOLE is suspended.
Matt SMITH, Greg O’CONNER and Graham CRAVEN are missing through injury.
Allan PEARCE will make his 96th ASB Premiership career appearance, if selected. PEARCE has scored 45 goals for Waitakere United since the ASB Premiership began back in 2004-05 season.
Jason HAYNE will make his 96th ASB Premiership career appearance, if selected. YoungHeart Manawatu captain Adam COWAN will make his 119th ASB Premiership career appearance.
Waitakere United has never lost a home encounter with YoungHeart Manawatu. In eight matches, Waitakere has won seven and drawn one.
YoungHeart’s best away result at Waitakere in 2005 when they held Waitakere to a 3-3 draw.
ASB Premiership - Week 13
1- Danny ROBINSON (GK)
1- Matt BORREN (GK)
2- Jason ROWLEY
2- Nobuyishi ISHI
3- Aaron SCOTT
4- Colin FALVEY
4- Tim MYERS
5- Josh CHETTLEBURGH
8- Chris BALE
6- Matt KENNEDY
10- Allan PEARCE
7- Jason HAYNE
12- Roy KRISHNA
8- Nathan COOKSLEY
13- Mike GWYTHER
9- Michael WHITE
14- Tim PAYNE
10- Adam COWAN (c)
16- Neil EMBLEN
11- Hamish MacKAY
17- Jake BUTLER
12- Joachim RANDE
19- Dakota LUCAS
18- Dale HIGHAM
21- Anthony HOBBS
20- Willie HODGE
23- Ashton PETT
21- Jared BLOOR
23- Junya NAKAHASHI (GK)
25- Sean LOVEMORE
25- Jonno STEELE
28- Andy RALPH (GK)
(one to be ommitted)