By David Cross / asbpremiership.co.nz
WELLINGTON - Team Wellington coach Stu Jacobs has warned his players they face a stern test in Sunday's ASB Premiership semi-final, despite Auckland City's surprise 1-0 defeat to Canterbury United on Thursday night.
Wellington's previous semi-final encounter with Auckland City back in 2007-08 season ended in a thrilling 4-3 extra time win that propelled the capital men into a Grand Final showdown with Waitakere United.
But since that heady result, the semi-finals have been strewn with heartbreak and disappointment for the capital men. Last season, an away goals defeat to champions Waitakere United left a lump in Wellington throats. The season before that, Waitakere triumphed 5-1 on aggregate over two legs.
Jacobs prefers to focus on what Team Wellington can do, not Auckland City.
"Still, it's not about Auckland City. It's about us and doing our best and what we have trained to do. We know that if we show fight, passion and organisation we're as good as any side in the league and it's about time we put that on the pitch," Jacobs said.
Auckland City come into the match off the back of a sensational 0-1 loss to Canterbury United, a fixture that had left the Auckland coaching staff with a selection connundrum. Co-coach Ramon Tribulietx described the awkward run of games candidly.
"We've had to play some players that we'll need for Sunday. It was a tricky situation as we need to win Sunday's semi final but we needed to play as hard as we could on Thursday against Canterbury to make sure the credibility of the match stands. We have to compete in both games and that's just how it is." said Tribulietx.
Auckland City have coped with a hectic schedule recently with two midweek games and a flight to Wellington just days after Thursday night's loss to Canterbury.
Tribulietx makes no excuses.
"We had some tough games at the beginning of the season and we had some new players and changes to the squad. Now we're in a positive situation, we've got cohesion and we're playing well. Things are looking really good but we've got to keep going because at this stage we haven't won anything," he said.
He's also wary of a Stu Jacobs side that has failed to fire in recent weeks.
"It is hard for them, they knew they were in third place and sometimes it's hard to be focussed. Sometimes it's just hard to compete the same way.We know it will be hard this week, they are one of the best teams in New Zealand and we're going to have to be at our best to beat them."
Stu Jacobs will hope his charges can finish strongly after his side gave up a 2-0 lead to 2-2 draw with eighth placed YoungHeart Manawatu last week.
"It was disappointing. We started slowly and finished poorly but we're focussed on this week and it's time to turn it around," said Jacobs.
Jacobs has warned his players that Auckland's defeat to Canterbury is not a sign their opponents have hit a dip in form.
"If anything the loss on Thursday will give Auckland City even more motivation. Any time you take on the Auckland sides is a real challenge and I don't think it's going to be any different this time. They will bring a top team and a top game and we'll have to work hard to take them on," Jacobs said.
Team Wellington return to the familiar environs of David Farrington Park for the first leg of the semi final. The action kicks off at 1.30pm on Sunday.
Jamie O'CONNOR and Hicham KAMRI.
Auckland City welcome Jacob SPOONLEY, Ian HOGG, James PRITCHETT, Daniel KOPRIVCIC and Ivan VICELICH back to their squad.
Peter HALSTEAD returns to Australia and is unavailable for selection.
Dean LAUSEV, Paul GOTHARD, Adam McGEORGE, Alex FENERIDIS are all dropped, while
Hicham KAMRI and Emiliano TADE finished the regular season at Team Wellington's top scorers with seven goals each. Behind them with six goals was John SUTHERLAND.
Daniel MORGAN’s knee injury in Palmerston North rules him out of selection.
Team Wellington have only three wins from nineteen matches with Auckland City but have developed a one win, two draws, one defeat record from its past four home matches with the visitors.
Auckland City has only won once in its last four visits to the capital. The last success was a 1-0 win recorded in 2009 during the regular season.
ASB Premiership Semi Final, 1st Leg
Sunday 13 March, 2011
1- Phil IMRAY (GK)
1- Jacob SPOONLEY
2- Scott ROBSON
2- Angel BERLANGA
3- Jamie DUNCAN
3- Ian HOGG
5- Jamie O'CONNOR
4- Sam CAMPBELL
6- Mikey HALIKIAS
6- Stuart KELLY
7- Wiremu PATRICK
7- James PRITCHETT
9- Romain CORNAND
9- Manel EXPOSITO
10- Michael FIFII
10- Luis CORRALES
11- Andrew ABBA
11- Daniel KOPRIVCIC
12- Emiliao TADE
12- Liam LITTLE (GK)
13- Karl WHALEN (c)
13- Alex FENERIDIS
14- Hicham KAMRI
14- Adam DICKINSON
16- John SUTHERLAND
15- Ivan VICELICH
18- Darren CHERITON
16- Albert REIRA
19- George BARBAROUSES
20- Riki van STEEDEN
21- Tyler LISSETTE
22- Andrew MILNE
22- Justin GULLEY
23- Adam THOMAS
23- Ryan CAIN
26- Aaron BAWDEKAR
24- Jessie SMITH
25- Lance RAMAEKERS (GK)
- Four to be omitted