By Bob Pearce / asbpremiership.co.nz
AUCKLAND - Auckland City can be excused for riding a wave of optimism as they take on Team Wellington at Kiwitea St on Sunday.
After a muddling start to the season when new coaches Aaron McFarland and Ramon Tribulietx were urging patience with a new team structure, the Aucklanders have found some useful form.
Fresh from earning a man-short win over Waitakere United in the O-League, they punished Waikato 5-1 in the ASB Premiership.
Then events beyond their control worked in their favour last weekend. First their O-League game in Noumea was called off allegedly for a substandard pitch. What could have been a negative turned into a positive when rivals Waitakere were beaten 3-1 in Tahiti.
The rescheduling of the fixture could still pose a problem but for now McFarland is happy with the way things panned out.
"We were all ready to play but in retrospect it gives us a bit of an advantage," he said. "We had an inter-squad game on Saturday and this week we had 23 fit players at practice this week and no-one suspended.
"The only injury worry was Angel Bernanga, who was suspended for the Noumea game anyway. He is almost fully fit and is likely to be in the mix for Sunday's game against Wellington.
"There's big competition for starting places and we've got to get people's feet back on the ground."
One who could reach a memorable mark is defender James Pritchett, who is in line to play his 100th ASB Premiership game. He has already passed that mark in all games for the club.
Back in contention again is Spanish striker Manel Exposito, whose transfer to Auckland City was delayed by ructions at his home club in Barcelona.
Good news for City has been a recent indication that New Zealand will continue to provide two teams for the O-League next season.
Waitakere United are within striking distance of securing one of those places by winning the minor premiership but victory over Wellington on Sunday could enhance Auckland's chances of finishing second and increasing their odds of an O-League berth.
Auckland and Wellington played out a scoreless draw early in the ASB Premiership but both teams have improved since then.
Wellington striker Hicham Kamri is a strong contender in the Golden Boot contest and his team can never be written off.
"They've really got the potential to hurt teams," said McFarland. "but I feel pretty confident about this one."
The teams are set to get to know each other pretty well. If they maintain their positions in the Premiership they will be meeting each other a couple of times in the playoffs.
Team Wellington look back to full-strength for the trip to Auckland City with Jamie DUNCAN, Karl WHALEN, Wiremu PATRICK, Darren CHERITON and George BARBAROUSES all named in an enlarged squad.
Three players to be omitted on Match Day.
James PRITCHETT will make his 100th ASB Premiership appearance, if selected. He will equal the club record number of appearances currently held jointly by Grant YOUNG and Chad COOMBES.
The only omission remains Jamie O’CONNOR who has not yet recovered from a troublesome hamstring injury.
Auckland City has won eight of its nine home encounters with Team Wellington since the ASB Premiership began in 2004.
Team Wellington has won only once in nine visits to Auckland City, a 3-1 win recorded in 2009. Luis CORRALES, Andy BARRON and Bryan LITTLE were the Wellington goal scorers that day.
ASB Premiership - Week 14
Sunday 13 February, 2011
1- Jacob SPOONLEY (GK)
1- Phil IMRAY (GK)
3- Ian HOGG
2- Scott ROBSON
4- Sam CAMPBELL
3- Jamie DUNCAN
6- Stu KELLY
4- Michael EAGER
7- James PRITCHETT
6- Mikey HALIKAIAS
8- David MULLIGAN
7- Wiremu PATRICK
9- Manel EXPOSITO
9- Romain CORNAND
10- Luis CORRALES
10- Michael FIFII
11- Daniel KOPRIVCIC
11- Andrew ABBA
12- Liam LITTLE (GK)
12- Emiliano TADE
13- Alex FENERIDIS
13- Karl WHALEN
14- Adam DICKINSON
14- Hicham KAMRI
15- Ivan VICELICH (c)
16- John SUTHERLAND
17- Adam McGEORGE
17- Matthew WILLIAMS
19- Daniel MORGAN
18- Darren CHERITON
22- Andrew MILNE
19- George BARBAROUSES
23- Adam THOMAS
22- Justin GULLEY
- one to be omitted pending fitness test
23- Ryan CAIN
25- Lance RAMAEKERS (GK)
26- Peter HALSTEAD
- three to be omitted