By Bob Pearce / asbpremiership.co.nz
AUCKLAND - Otago beware! They will come to Waitakere’s home in Auckland’s Wild West on Sunday at a time when wounded pride will make Fred Taylor Park hostile territory for the men from the south.
The ASB Premiership champions lost 1-0 to Hawke's Bay United last weekend to slip four points behind cross-city rivals Auckland City and into a three-way playoff battle with Team Wellington and Canterbury United.
With the league more than half gone, this is not a position Waitakere are used to. Last season they waltzed away with the minor premiership, guaranteeing themselves an O-League slot for this season. At this stage of the Premiership they are fighting to defend the second place that can be an O-League lifeline.
And coach Neil Emblen is far from happy. He had some stern words for his team after the Napier defeat and he made his position very clear again this week.
“It was awfully disappointing,” he said. “We were atrocious in the first half, no passion, no pride. We were slightly better in the second half but, to be honest, we didn’t deserve to win.
“Hopefully, it has given us a shot in the arm and the players realise that their attitude has to improve.
“We beat Otago 6-0 down in Dunedin and we played well that day and took our chances. Otago went on a bit of a winning run after that and their confidence was up. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Emblen hopes to have Ryan de Vries and Jason Rowley back on Sunday but Aaron Scott will be given more time to recover from injury. In the transfer window he is talking to a couple of players but doubts they would be up to speed to start straight away.
But there should be no complacency in the squad. The coach isn’t happy and as he says “nobody could be disappointed if they were dropped after last week’s display.”
On their earlier visit north Otago were better than the scoreline of their 3-0 defeat by Auckland City would indicate and nobody will be taking them lightly.
They come north after losing 2-1 to Team Wellington in a game played in testing conditions at the Caledonian Ground, buffeted by unseasonal rain and hail.
These days Otago are more used to the comfortable indoor luxury of Forsyth Barr Stadium. If the current weather holds they will face yet another test – strength-sapping summer heat.
The Southerners, now six points shy of playoff contention, have been hit more than most teams by squad changes as players have chased opportunities further afield. Darren Overton, who has been the leading scorer, follows Mike Cunningham and Tom Connor across the Tasman.
Only six of the starting 11 in the Dunedin defeat by Waitakere are in the squad for Sunday. But Craig Ferguson and the impressive defender Tristan Prattley, who missed the earlier fixture through injury, will travel north.
Otago have struggled to take home points from their Auckland forays. Some games in the past saw them try to limit the damage rather than take the game to the opposition. That attitude was ditched last season and new coach Richard Murray will relish the chance to add to the champions’ discomfort.
Jason ROWLEY missed the 0-1 defeat at Hawke’s Bay United and returns to bolster the champions defence.
New signing Jose CANTILLO arrives at the club while Ant HANCOCK returns from injury, with Jude FITZPATRICK, Zac RATHBONE and Matt BROOK all promoted to the squad.
Aaron SCOTT (ACL injury) is the only injury listed in the Waitakere United squad. Steven HOLLOWAY is not named in the squad.
Matt JOY (suspended), Andrew RIDDEN (ankle injury) are sidelined alongside James GOVAN and Donnie MacGREGOR.
Allan PEARCE will make his 112th ASB Premiership appearance. PEARCE has scored 58 ASB Premiership career goals.
Darren OVERTON has departed the squad.
One defeat in 19 matches with Otago United shows the dominance Waitakere have enjoyed in this fixture since the ASB Premiership began in 2004. Waitakere have won 13 and drawn two of their last 15 matches with Otago United dating back to 2005.
Otago United’s one and only win over Waitakere United was a 1-0 upset victory notched in 2005.
ASB Premiership - Round 9
Sunday 29 January, 2012
1- Danny ROBINSON (GK)
1- Oswaldo RODRIGUEZ (GK)
2- Jason ROWLEY
2- Liam LOCKHART
4- Tim MYERS
3- Tristan PRATTLEY (c)
7- Martin BULLOCK
4- Jude FITZPATRICK
8- Chris BALE
6- Morgan DAY
10- Allan PEARCE
7- Reagan COLDICOTT
11- Ross McKENZIE
8- Seamus RYDER
12- Roy KRISHNA
10- Ant HANCOCK
14- Andy BEVIN
14- Sam MEPHAM
15- Gagame FENI
18- Harley RODEKA
16- Neil EMBLEN
19- Zac RATHBONE
17- Jake BUTLER (c)
20- Matt BROOK
22- Matt UPTON (GK)
21- Jose CANTILLO
25- Sean LOVEMORE
22- Peter EVANS (GK)
29- Jordan VALE
23- Joel STEVENS
30- Rory TURNER
25- Craig FERGUSON