By Bruce Holloway / asbpremiership.co.nz
HAMILTON - TV executives could have done a lot worse than run a reality series about the exploits of ASB Premiership football club Waikato FC this summer.
It would have been pitched as a cross between Roy of the Rovers meets Extreme Makeover, meets Pimp My Ride, meets Waikato’s Got Talent - based on the premise of an unpaid football-obsessed coach taking mostly a bunch of no-name kids from his own neighbourhood, and asking them to live their dream as aspiring footballers.
Just an idea - but the latest instalment of this potentially fascinating unscripted football reality series takes place at Porritt Stadium on Sunday when Waikato FC host a Canterbury United team which is basking in the glory of last week equalling the all-time a record for the biggest win in the league with a 9-1 thumping of Manawatu.
Maybe the raw young Waikato players had stars in their eyes when Canterbury tanked them 5-0 when the two teams met in Christchurch on November 6.
But so much has happened since then for both coaches to agree it will be a lot closer this time around – despite third-placed Canterbury last week scoring more goals in 90 minutes than Waikato have all season.
Waikato have extended their unbeaten run to four matches (including the White Ribbon Cup victory over Hawke’s Bay) since they last played at home. And increasingly, it is Edge’s band of dedicated teenagers who train daily at his Melville-based academy who are making the difference by imposing themselves with their possession-style, short-passing football.
"I am not sure if we will make the top four, but for those teams that are there, we will certainly keep them on their toes," said Waikato coach Declan Edge.
"We did say from the start we would be stronger, and more dangerous in the second round, with more experience under our belt. That is now proving to be the case."
He was delighted with last week’s 0-0 draw away to Auckland City – a team he labelled "the best in Oceania" - in which his young centreback pairing of Tyler Lisette and Josh Greene footed it against the likes of Manel Exposito and Emiliano Tade, and teenagers Harry and Jesse Edge battled against the likes of David Mulligan and Albert Riera in midfield.
"We will continue to get better. Teams will have to play well to beat us."
Canterbury coach Keith Braithwaite said the euphoria of last week’s big win would not blind his team to the need to apply themselves in Hamilton.
"I was rapt with that Manawatu result, but we are expecting a difficult game in Hamilton and will have to be really focused. We don’t have a good track record up there and Waikato also had a tremendous result last week."
Dangerman for Canterbury will be George Slefendorfas, who potted four goals last time the teams met.
Braithwaite said Canterbury had more depth in its squad this season compared to previous years, and this was expressed through players such as Slefendorfas - of Lithuanian and Papua New Guinean extraction - who has come through Australian state leagues to be co-leader of the league’s golden boot.
"We are a more attacking side this year and a lot more dangerous going forward with more help for Russell Kamo up front."
Braithwaite is frustrated by the continued unavailability of Cole Peverley, a Waikato player in 2006-07.
Peverley was charged with violent conduct and banned for the mandatory two matches, after an altercation with Auckland City’s Luis Corrales a fortnight ago.
But while video footage of the incident freely available on the internet shows the charge was nonsense, and a mistake has been made, Braithwaite said Canterbury had been told there were no we no grounds for appeal.
"It’s really frustrating, but I have to be careful what I say."
Since Waikato last played at home, there have been a couple of milestones on the road for the club.
When 16-year-old Ryan Thomas thumped a brilliant goal against Manawatu, it made him Waikato’s youngest ever goalscorer.
And when Mohamed Awad, 17, potted a goal against Otago, he became the first player of Somali ethnicity to score in the national league.
Michael Mayne is the only Waikato player under an injury cloud for Sunday after being kicked in the ankle during a bizarre drop ball late in the match against Auckland.
Mayne has played a key role since his belated return to Waikato, leading to an interesting tweak in the team’s formation.
Against Auckland skipper Adam Thomas played at left back, with Mayne playing a holding role in midfield.
That left Waikato with their two most athletic players – Thomas and right back Mike Kramer - able to bomb forward on the flanks. When they did so, Mayne effectively dropped into the backline as cover, and it worked well.
"We are still learning how to get the best out of Adam," Edge said. "He can play off both feet and has real acceleration and we are trying to find a position where we can best utilise that."
But the bigger challenge for Waikato is to get a decent crowd to come along and support the team.
"Everyone else is now talking about Waikato and what we are doing. Now we need our own football community to come along and support their local team.
"A big crowd would help us. The boys are not blind or stupid and they do look at who is supporting them.
"We have taken on a hell of a challenge this season, basically starting from scratch. You’d think the Waikato public would be falling over themselves in support of such a noble quest, particularly after we have given them something to cheer about in recent weeks.
"We can’t guarantee a result, particularly against a team as good as Canterbury, but we can guarantee we will play hard, and with a lot of skill."
Dan TERRIS (Achilles injury) and Cole PEVERLEY (suspended) are both missing from the squad.
Head coach Declan EDGE names the same line-up that served him so well in last week’s 0-0 draw away at Auckland City.
Aaron CLAPHAM will make his 40th ASB Premiership career appearance, if selected. The All Whites cap has scored 13 ASB Premiership career goals to date. Russell KAMO will also make his 40th ASB Premiership career appearance. KAMO has notched an impressive 17 ASB Premiership career goals so far.
Waikato FC is unbeaten at home to Canterbury United since 2006-07 season when they lost 0-1. Since then Waikato FC has won four and drawn one of its past five home encounters with Canterbury.
Canterbury United has won two, drawn three and lost five of its last ten meetings with Waikato FC, both home and away.
ASB Premiership - Round 9
Sunday 29 January, 2012
1- Mark FULCHER (GK)
1- Tom BATTY (GK)
2- Tyler LISSETTE
3- Mark JOHNSTON
3- Jesse SMITH
5- Tom SCHWARZ
4- Mohammed AWAD
6- Geoff MacINTYRE
6- Mike KRAMER
7- Darren WHITE
7- Jason HICKS
8- Aaron CLAPHAM (c)
8- Matteo BALLAN
9- George SLEFENDORFAS
9- Michael MAYNE
10- Russell KAMO
10- Adam THOMAS (c)
12- Andy BARTON
11- Josh GREENE
14- Josh SMITH
15- Jesse EDGE
15- Julyan COLLETT
16- Ray HOW
16- Joe MURRAY
19- Harry EDGE
20- Ken YAMAMOTO
21- Tyler BOYD
21- Erik PANZER
23- Jordan SHAW
22- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
24- Ryan THOMAS
25- Shawn O'BRIEN