By Bob Pearce / asbpremiership.co.nz
AUCKLAND - "A game of great unknowns" is how Auckland City coach Aaron McFarland describes Thursday evening's rearranged fixture with Canterbury United at Kiwitea St.
The final game of the ASB Premiership regular season takes place in circumstances nobody would have wanted.
The Christchurch earthquake and its aftermath left football rightly on the sidelines as the southern city battled to cope with much more serious matters.
But the team have earned the right to compete for a semifinal place in the Premiership.
"We haven't trained since the earthquake," said coach Keith Braithwaite. "We'll have our first session on Tuesday night and until then we don't know who will be available.
"We entered this competition to do well and whoever we bring north will be doing their best for Canterbury."
“We accept that New Zealand Football did everything they could to find a solution," he said.
The southerners need a win to leapfrog Hawke’s Bay United and earn a semifinal against Waitakere United on Sunday. Last season Canterbury lost to Waitakere in the Grand Final.
Should Canterbury win and earn a playoff place, they would need to find a venue for the first leg. Neither Linfield Park nor English Park is available.
Auckland City co-coaches McFarland and Ramon Tribulietx have selection problems of their own. Some of their squad have not played for a couple of weeks and need game time, but there are three with yellow card issues, which need to be managed before the other semifinal first leg against Team Wellington on Sunday.
"We'll field a very strong team," said McFarland. "We're keen to keep our winning run of eight victories in a row in the league and 10 counting the O-League wins.
"But the great unknown is how the players react when they know there's nothing riding on the match but they want to be injury free for the weekend."
The only outstanding injury problem is for Daniel Morgan and he is unlikely to be considered.
Following proceedings with keen interest will be Hawke's Bay coach Matt Chandler and his team, who lost the opportunity to make this game irrelevant to the semifinal lineup when they could only draw 1-1 with Waikato on Sunday.
And Waitakere coach Neil Emblen will not know until Thursday evening whether he will be taking his team to Hawke's Bay or the South Island.
Auckland City welcome Jacob SPOONLEY, Ian HOGG, James PRITCHETT, Daniel KOPRIVCIC and Ivan VICELICH back to their squad.
Dean LAUSEV, Paul GOTHARD, Adam McGEORGE, Alex FENERIDIS are all dropped.
Daniel MORGAN’s knee injury in Palmerston North rules him out of selection.
Canterbury United last played an ASB Premiership match on Saturday 20 February when they downed arch rivals, Otago United, 3-1 at Linfield Park, Christchurch. Sam MILES, Russell KAMO and Joe MURRAY were all on target as the Dragons cancelled out a Glen COLLINS own goal.
Auckland City’s last win at home over Canterbury United was in 2009 when they scored a 5-0 win over the visitors at Kiwitea Street. Since then Auckland has mustered only a draw and a defeat on home turf when the Dragons have come to town – those results include a 1-1 regular season deadlock and a 0-3 semi-final, 2nd leg, defeat that saw the Cantabs advance to the Grand Final.
Canterbury has beaten Auckland City twice in their last nine matches and includes last season’s 3-0 away win in the play-off semi-final second leg at Kiwitea Street. Auckland City has won its last three visits to Christchurch 2-1, 3-1 and 2-1 while the home side last tasted victory at home in 2008 when they dumped the visitors 2-1.
1- Jacob SPOONLEY (GK)
1- Tom BATTY (GK)
2- Angel BERLANGA
2- Jeremy WILD
3- Ian HOGG
3- Nick WORTELBOER
4- Sam CAMPBELL
4- Gareth ROWE
6- Stuart KELLY
5- Tom SCHWARZ
7- James PRITCHETT
6- Andy PITMAN
9- Manel EXPOSITO
7- Aaron CLAPHAM
10- Luis CORRALES
8- Ken YAMAMOTO
11- Daniel KOPRIVCIC
9- Russell KAMO
12- Liam LITTLE (GK)
11- Ryan FAICHNIE
15- Ivan VICELICH (c)
12- Gagame FENI
16- Albert REIRA
13- Garry McDERMOTT
20- Riki van STEEDEN
14- Dominic McGARR
22- Andrew MILNE
15- Danny ATTWELL
24- Adam THOMAS
17- Sam MILES
26- Aaron BAWDEKAR
23- Andrew BARTON