By Rab Smith / asbpremiership.co.nz
Another watershed moment arrives for Otago United as it prepares to face the old rival Canterbury, at 2 pm on Sunday at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The shallow Otago playing squad is set to shrink further as star midfielder Mike Cunningham and versatile defender Tom Connor prepare to head for Melbourne in the New Year.
Both will be keen to make a lasting impression in their last ASB Premiership match, but their intended exit will be hard for caretaker coach Andy Duncan to accommodate, as well as regular coach Richard Murray on his return from a youth tournament in Singapore.
“Both players have contributed greatly to our bright opening to the season and I hope Sunday’s result serves as a fitting send off to those outstanding players,” Duncan said.
“Both are heading to Melbourne to play and although it is sad to see them leave, they do so with our best wishes as their ambitions met with the franchise’s main objective – Southern based players operating at the highest level.
“It is the reason that both Richard and I took on the role of coaching, to make sure local players have a stage on which to excel.”
So exit stage right, one talented pair, and in the wings does Otago have quality replacements to take over those important positions?
Several players have raised their game so far this season. Central defender Matt Joy won last week’s Man of the Match award, and the likes of Harley Rodeka, Morgan Day, Regan Coldicott, Sam Mepham, James Govan, Matt Brook and Joel Stevens are all capable of making the step up.
But Cunningham and Connor will be on deck on Sunday, and relish the chance to overtake Keith Braithwaite’s Canterbury which is presently two points ahead after four matches.
Recently returned from Olympic squad trials are defender Tristan Prattley plus creative midfielder Darren Overton, and clearly they are both important players for Otago.
Young striker And Hancock is due a slice of luck to complement his hard running and tackling game. He could be partnered at some stage by Canadian Donny McGregor who has had a frustrating wait for match play due to recurring hamstring problems.
Historically, both teams have won four games each in the last eight matches, with no draws. Both teams have also inflicted five goal defeats in recent years, so there are likely to be no holds barred on Sunday.
For Canterbury, Dan Terris makes his long awaited ASB Premiership return from injury after appearing as a sub in last week’s White Ribbon Cup loss.
Adam Highfield is back in goal after missing the cup fixture and Joe Murray is also back after a fortnight’s break.
Sam Miles, Russell Kamo and Murray were all on target for Canterbury as they romped home to a 3-1 win over Otago the last time these two sides met.
Donnie MCGREGOR is the only addition to the squad that beat Hawke’s Bay a fortnight ago, although the striker faces a late fitness test on an ongoing hamstring injury. James GOVAN is retained in the squad as cover.
Dan TERRIS makes his long awaited ASB Premiership return from injury after appearing as a sub in last week’s White Ribbon Cup loss. Adam HIGHFIELD is back in goal after missing the cup fixture and Joe MURRAY is also back after a fortnight’s break.
Matt THOMAS, Josh SMITH, Geoff MCINTYRE and goalkeeper Tom BATTY miss out. .
Nathan KNOX scored the winning goal for Otago the last time the two teams met in Dunedin during a 2-1 win for the home side. The person to score for Otago United in this derby match was former All White Glen Collins in the form of an own goal in a 3-1 defeat in Christchurch.
Sam MILES, Russell KAMO and Joe MURRAY were all on target for Canterbury as they romped home to a 3-1 win over Otago the last time these two sides met
The last eight matches between these two rivals has yielded four wins each and no draws. Otago United’s biggest win over Canterbury was a 5-1 thrashing administered back in 2004.
Canterbury United’s biggest win over Otago away from home was a 5-2 thrashing back in 2005.
ASB Premiership - Round 5,
Sudnay 11 December , 2011
1-Oswaldo RODRIGUEZ (GK)
3-Tristan PRATTLEY (c)
20-Matt BROOK (A)
22-Peter EVANS (GK)
23-Joel STEVENS (A)
22-Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
(one to be omitted)