By Bob Pearce / asbpremiership.co.nz
AUCKLAND - "Another potential banana skin" is how Waitakere United coach Neil Emblen describes Saturday's ASB Premiership clash with Waikato FC at Fred Taylor Park.
And there have been rather too many of those slip-ups lately as the Premiership leaders have lost three of their last six local and O-League games, the last a 2-1 defeat by Hawkes Bay United at the once impregnable Fortress Fred.
Waitakere are clearly the highest scorers in the Premiership with 31 goals from 12 games and they are still creating a host of chances. But the conversion rate has fallen off.
"This is no easy game and we've got to start taking our chances," said Emblen. "We could have been 3-0 up at halftime against Hawke's Bay. When you don't take the chances it puts pressure on the goalkeeper and the defence.
"The other team grabs a goal and we're not as good when we're chasing the game."
Emblen will be without the injured Roy Krishna and Sean Lovemore, whose Phoenix stint has made him ineligible, but he still has plenty of firepower in Allan Pearce, Dakota Lucas, Ryan De Vries and Mike Gwyther.
An encouraging sight last weekend was a brief appearance from the bench for midfield general Martin Bullock, who has been recovering from a medial ligament injury.
"He's playing his way back in," said Emblen. "We had a practice game on Tuesday and he played 90 minutes. We do need his control of play from midfield, but we're being sensible about this and we don't want to rush him back in too soon."
Waikato come north with their feet still in the playoff mix thanks to a hard-fought victory over Canterbury United last weekend. They are level on points with Canterbury and one behind fourth-placed Hawke's Bay.
Coach Willy Gerdsen has the luxury of a full squad with no major injuries or suspensions for the first time this season.
"We deserved our win last week and we showed a lot of grit and determination," he said. "We were unlucky in the game before against Wellington. We probably need four points from the last two games to make the playoffs and we'll certainly be chasing the win against Waitakere."
No easy task against the team he rates as the most consistent in the Premiership with the depth to cover any injuries. But it was only 3-1 to the northerners in the first encounter and one of those goals came from a deflection.
A win for Waitakere would go a long way to clinching the minor premiership on goal difference at least. It would also restore some confidence in the run-up to the crucial O-League clash with Auckland City at Kiwitea St on February 26.
Waikato would take giant strides towards the playoffs if they could defy the odds and take the three points.
Roy KRISHNA injured while Sean LOVEMORE faces a four week stand down after his appearance in the Hyundai A-League for the Wellington Phoenix match with Sydney FC.
Allan PEARCE will make his 99th ASB Premiership career appearance. The squad named is the same as that which faced Hawke's Bay United in Week 14.
Three players carrying injuries are named in the match day squad - Joe BRESNAHAN, Nick BRANCH and Mark JONES.
Waitakere United has dominated this fixture since it began in 2004-05 season. They currently hold a won ten, lost one, record over the past eleven encounters. Waitakere United’s biggest win over Waikato FC at home was a 7-1 thrashing in 2005.
Waikato FC last defeated Waitakere United in 2009 when they posted a 2-1 win at Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia. Since then it’s been Waitakere with the minor premiers winning ten of their last eleven matches. Waikato FC’s best winning streak occurred in the first two seasons of the competitions existence when they played seven, won three, drew one and lost three, including a playoff defeat in 2004-05.
ASB Premiership - Week 15
1- Danny ROBINSON (GK)
1- John FLETCHER (GK)
2- Jason ROWLEY
2- Maksim MANKO
3- Aaron SCOTT
4- Ryan ZOGHBY
4- Tim MYERS
5- Nathan STROM
5- Jack PELTER
6- Nick BRANCH
7- Martin BULLOCK
7- Jason HICKS
8- Chris BALE
8- Jason McKEOWN
10- Allan PEARCE
9- Mark JONES
13- Michael GWYTHER
10- Daniel PEAT
14- Tim PAYNE
11- Nathan PALMER (c)
16- Neil EMBLEN
12- Jack BEGUELY
17- Jake BUTLER (c)
14- Joe BRESNAHAN
18- Zane SOLE
15- Eugene HEERSCHAP
19- Dakota LUCAS
16- Tewi TE POU
20- Ryan de VRIES
17- Milos NIKOLIC
23- Ashton PETT
18- Phil EDGINTON
24- Luke ADAMS
20- Sam MARGETTS
28- Andy RALPH (GK)
22- Alex CARR (GK)
- two to be omitted
23- Matteo BALLAN
- three to be omitted