By Gordon Glen Watson / asbpremiership.co.nz
PALMERSTON NORTH - Bouyed by OFC Champions League wins last week Auckland City face a YoungHeart Manawatu outfit desperate for points as an unwanted competition record beckons for the home side.
Beleaguered Manawatu sit bottom of the ASB Premiership with just three points and face the ignominy of setting a new lowest ever points tally for the competition if they fail to win at least one of their two remaining fixtures this season.
YoungHeart Manawatu coach Bob Sova has taken the unprecedented step of naming his squad for Wednesday's ASB Premiership showdown with Auckland City 12 days in advance.
While the statistics make for grim reading, Sova will at least be encouraged by the return to the squad of skipper, Adam Cowan, and top goalscorer, Michael White.
The bad news is Manawatu will face a highly motivated Auckland City side lifted by its recent OFC Champions League exploits that include wins over AS Magenta in New Caledonia and a 1-0 'Super City' derby win over Waitakere United on Sunday, a result that propelled the Kiwitea Street side into its third continental club final.
Auckland has built momentum at the right time with their last ASB Premiership defeat registered on November 7, last year, when Waitakere blitzed the Ramon Tribulietx/Aaron MacFarland-coached side, 3-1.
Since then, Auckland have steamrollered their way to a nine match unbeaten run comprised of seven consecutive wins and two draws, and a derby win over Waitakere along the way.
Casually throw a five match unbeaten run in the OFC Champions League and the size of the task facing Bob Sova and his charges becomes obvious.
Last season, Manawatu held the advantage over Auckland City, drawing 1-1 in Palmerston North, before beating an understrength City side 4-1 at Kiwitea Street.
But there may be a glimmer of hope for the home side.
With the semi-finals just around the corner, Auckland City have key players missing with Ivan Vicelich rested, Ian Hogg (suspended), while James Pritchett (hamstring), David Mulligan (ankle) and Adam Dickinson (calf) also omitted.
"We had a tough game on the weekend and there are others in the squad that haven't had game time. We want to give game time to as many players as we can," said Auckland City co-coach Ramon Tribulietx.
Tribulietx said the inclusion of fringe players such as Albert Reira and Aaron Bawdekar did not mean Auckland City had surrendered hopes of capturing the ASB minor premiership.
Adam McGeorge and Daniel Morgan have also been drafted in as replacements.
"You never know what can happen. We have a very small chance to win it, and we will try to do so with the players we've got. We believe we can achieve that and have trust in every player in our squad. But we have to be realistic that the minor title is nearly gone," Tribulietx said.
YoungHeart's run reads like a serial 'hard luck' story - since they thrashed Waikato FC 5-2 on December 19, Manawatu has rattled in nine goals in just five games. Their problem is stopping the goals at the other end of the pitch with the Manawatu defence beaten 18 times in five matches since the win over Waikato FC, a worse record than in their first seven matches of the season.
Manawatu can point to a potent attack that poses problems for any opposition, but their collective defence has rarely been good enough to see them home. Narrow losses to Otago (3-4), Team Wellington (2-3). Hawke's Bay (1-2) and Canterbury (2-3) have left Bob Sova a frustrated post-match figure as he tries to solve the defensive connundrum.
The last time the two sides met Auckland prevailed 3-1 thanks to goals by Daniel Morgan, Angel Berlanga, and an own goal. Michael White was on target for Manawatu.
Auckland City's Week 16 fixture with Canterbury United has been postponed due to events in Christchurch last week.
Joe HARRIS, Adam COWAN, Michael WHITE, Jared BLOOR and Brook TOZER are injected into the squad for this midweek fixture.
Albert REIRA. Adam McGEORGE, Daniel MORGAN and Aaron BAWDEKAR are drafted into the squad.
Matt SMITH leaves Palmerston North for the USA while Jordan MARTENS and Michael FRASER are omitted.
Ivan VICELICH, David MULLIGAN (ankle), James PRITCHETT (hamstring), Ian HOGG (suspended) and Adam DICKINSON (calf) are all omitted for this match.
Graham CRAVEN and Greg O'CONNOR remain injured for the final home match of the season.
Daniel KOPRIVCIC and David MULLIGAN remain Auckland City's leading scorers in the ASB Premiership this season with five goals each. Stu KELLY has scored four. Albert REIRA could make his ASB Premiership debut.
Manawatu grabbed four points out of a possible six from Auckland City last season and included a romping 4-1 win at Kiwitea Street.
Auckland City's last regular season win over YoungHeart Manawatu in Palmerston North was a 3-1 win posted in 2007.
ASB Premiership - Week 15
1- Matt BORREN (GK)
1- Jacob SPOONLEY (GK)
2- Nobu ISHI
2- Angel BERLANGA
4- Colin FALVEY
4- Sam CAMPBELL
5- Josh CHETTLEBURGH
6- Stu KELLY
6- Matt KENNEDY
9- Manel EXPOSITO
8- Nathan COOKSLEY
10- Luis CORRALES
9- Michael WHITE
11- Daniel KOPRIVCIC
10- Adam COWAN (c)
12- Liam LITTLE (GK)
12- Joachim RANDE
13- Alex FENERIDIS
13- Joe HARRIS
16- Albert REIRA
14- Taiki MATSUMURA
17- Adam McGEORGE
15- Pablo MOYA
19- Daniel MORGAN
17- Brook TOZER
22- Andrew MILNE
18- Dale HIGHAM
23- Adam THOMAS
19- Ben WILKES (GK)
26- Aaron BAWDEKAR
21- Jared BLOOR
25- Jono STEELE
- one to be omitted