By Rab Smith / asbpremiership.co.nz
DUNEDIN - Seven points from their final three games may get Otago to the playoffs - so says Otago United coach Malcolm Fleming as his team hosts YoungHeart Manawatu in Dunedin on Sunday.
"This is a massive game for Otago," Fleming told his squad at training this week. "It's in our hands whether our season finishes on Sunday – or we battle on.’
With a group comprised of persistent youngsters, honed against the backdrop of a hard season, Fleming is keen for Otago to seize their playoff chance against a struggling Manawatu.
Otago will rely on the likes of Tom Connor, Ant Hancock, Morgan Day, Harley Rodeka, James Govan, Sam Mepham to join near veterans Tristan Prattley and Andy Coburn, to deliver top performances if the Dunedin-based outfit is to qualify for its first playoff berth since 2005-06 season. An optimistic Coburn leaves for Australia in a few weeks, but has factored in a delay, if Otago can reach the top four.
With the side minus Paul Seaman, Tim Horner, Nathan Knox, Phil Ruggles, and Alistair Rickerby in recent weeks, the Otago squad’s average age has almost halved. But that average could rise when Otago’s contingent from Canterbury is factored in.
Goalkeeper Adam Highfield – presently on a rich vein of form - centreback Tom Sadd and the battling qualities of James Reichwien will be critical if Otago is to qualify for the semi-finals.
Otago's latest import from Christchurch, Chris Anderson, has also impressed local supporters with his mobility and tight control. Anderson, in tandem with Aaron Burgess, could be asked to score the goals that achieve Fleming's seven point target.
"It’s a question of getting the mix right," said Fleming. "We are aiming at seven points from the last nine available in the three remaining matches. And I think we are capable of that," he said.
Otago United is unbeaten in its last three showdowns with Manawatu, and you have to go back three years to find YoungHeart's last win over the home team when a double by Jason Hayne helped the Palmerston North-based franchise to a rare 3-2 win.
However, coach Bob Sova’s side will be without Hayne this week who left for Australia, and the vastly experienced Adam Cowan will also be absent through suspension. Matt Smith, Jared Bloor and Brook Tozer are drafted into Manawatu’s squad for Dunedin. Goalkeeper Ben Wilkes will also travel.
Manawatu will rely on experienced defender, Colin Falvey, if they are to repel an Otago side desperate to make the top four at the expense of South Island rivals Canterbury United.
YoungHeart Manawatu and their playoff hopes parted ways weeks ago but the green and whites will be eager to grab at least three more points before the end of the campaign and avoid accumulating the ASB Premiership's lowest ever points total. That is a record currently held by Hawke's Bay United, who posted a mere five points from 21 games in the 2005-06 season.
The match kicks off at Tahuna Park, Dunedin, on Sunday 13 February, 2011, at 12pm.
Matt SMITH, Jared BLOOR and Brook TOZER are drafted into the squad for the visit to Dunedin. Goalkeeper Ben WILKES also returns to the squad.
Tim HORNER is on the long term injured list while 35-year-old midfield man, Paul SEAMAN, has not yet recovered from a knee injury.
The big news for YoungHeart Manawatu this week is the departure of influential attacking midfielder, Jason HAYNE, who has returned to Australia. Adam COWAN is suspended while youngster, Joe HARRIS, is unavailable
Graham CRAVEN and Greg O’CONNOR remain on the long term injured list.
Otago United’s recent record in matches with Manawatu is on the improve with the Southerners unbeaten in three encounters with their provincial opponents. Otago’s last home defeat to Manawatu occurred back in 2008 – a 3-2 loss.
YoungHeart’s last win over Otago United came in 2008 when a double by Jason HAYNE and a strike by Cory CHETTLEBURGH secured a 3-2 win in Dunedin for the visitors.
Sunday 13 February, 2011
1- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
1- Matt BORREN (GK)
6- Tom SADD
2- Nobu ISHI
9- Aaron BURGESS
3- Matt SMITH
11- Andy COBURN
4- Coliv FALVEY
12- James REICHWIEN
5- Josh CHETTLEBURGH
13- Callum FLAWS (GK)
6- Matt KENNEDY
16- James GOVAN
8- Nathan COOKSLEY
18- Harley RODEKA
9- Michael WHITE
19- Chris ANDERSON
12- Joachim RANDE
20- Matt BROOK
14- Taiki MATSUMURA
21- Liam LOCKHART
15- Pablo MOYA
23- Ant HANCOCK
17- Brook TOZER
24- Curtis DAY
18- Dale HIGHAM
26- Tristan PRATTLEY
19- Ben WILKES (GK)
27- Morgan DAY
21- Jared BLOOR
28- Sam MEPHAN
25- Jonno STEELE