By Rab Smith / asbpremiership.co.nz
DUNEDIN - When Otago United plays Manawatu on Sunday at noon at the Forsyth Barr stadium, both teams will be looking to radically improve their statistical form.
Both teams suffered identical heavy defeats last week, when Otago was thumped 5-0 - admittedly by a top team in Waitakere, while in mirror misery, Manawatu lost by the same scoreline to Hawke's Bay.
Manawatu is bottom of the ASB Premiership. Despite having recruited a top coach in Stu Jacobs the Palmerston North side has conceded forty goals including 21 in the last three games.
Shorn of its most experienced players, Otago has yet to regain the winning form it showed early in the season, and four consecutive defeats have tested morale.
Otago coach Richard Murray said: "We are very much a work in progress, as the squad adjust to recent changes, but the signs are good that we are settling back into a good team shape."
"Obviously this a very important match for both sides, and we are keen to earn the points we need to restart our season"
"Apart from the players who left for jobs overseas, we have also had a string of niggling injuries, and some have still to come right, but we will field a competitive side on Sunday."
Centreback Matt Joy returns after a week’s suspension, which will have helped relieve his recent toe injury, but left fullback Craig Ferguson may be sidelined due to a groin problem.
Coach Murray has brought some good youngsters into the squad, including Aajay Cunningham, younger brother of Mike who performed so well in midfield before he emigrated. New Costa Rican signing Jose Cantillo made a promising start in midfield last week.
Up front Ant Hancock will lead the attack, paired with the returning James Govan or Donnie MacGregor, as Otago tries to convert the many chances it creates into actual goals.
Earlier this season, Otago won 3-2 in Palmerston North, but only after the fright of goals by Nobu Ishi and Jimmy Haidakis which gave Manawatu a handy 2-0 lead.
Youngheart Manawatu’s experienced coach Stu Jacobs has made adjustments by bringing in keeper Ben Wilkes, and Matt Kennedy, Michael Sheridan and Wade Randle to freshen his team.
Hamish Kay is suspended, and both Matt Borren and Barry Lewis are unavailable. Nathan Cooksley is injured.
But Manawatu has scored more goals than Otago this season, and if striker Seule Soromon and midfielder Jimmy Haidakis hit form, that could swing the match for Jacobs' side.
Attendance at the match will be swollen by hundreds of National Masters footballers competing in the immediate area, who are allowed free entry into Forsyth Barr Stadium.
The match kicks off at 12pm on Sunday.
Matt JOY returns from suspension, James GOVAN, Aajay CUNNINGHAM and Donnie MacGREGOR receive call-ups to the squad.
Matt KENNEDY, Michael SHERIDAN, Wade RANDLE and goalkeeper Ben WILKES receive call-ups
Andrew RIDDEN (ankle) is injured while Zac RATHBONE is not selected.
Hamish McKAY is suspended while the experienced Nathan COOKSLEY (ankle) is injured.
Aajay CUNNINGHAM, brother of former Otago United stalwart Michael CUNNINGHAM, is called-up by coach Richard MURRAY.
Matt BORREN and Barry LEWIS are unavailable.
Otago United has won four and drawn one of its previous five matches with YoungHeart Manawatu. Otago last lost a home match with Manawatu in 2008 when they were beaten 3-2 by the visitors.
Manawatu last tasted victory in Dunedin back in 2009 when goals from Jason HAYNE and Gustavo SERELEGUI handed YoungHeart a 2-0 win.
ASB Premiership - Round 10
1- Oswaldo RODRIGUEZ (GK)
1- Ben WILKES (GK)
2- Liam LOCKHART
3- Josh CHETTLEBURGH
3- Tristan PRATTLEY
4- Jamie O'CONNOR
4- Jude FITZPATRICK
6- Matt KENNEDY
5- Matt JOY
7- Jared CURTIS
6- Morgan DAY
9- Seule SOROMON
7- Reagan COLDICOTT
11- Jimmy HAIDAKIS
8- Seamus RYDER
12- Michael SHERIDAN
9- Donnie MacGREGOR
14- Pablo MOYA
10- Ant HANCOCK
15- Stuart LAWRIE
11- James GOVAN
16- Michael FRASER
14- Sam MEPHAM
17- Jordan MARTENS
18- Harley RODEKA
19- Andrew DRAKE (GK)
20- Matt BROOK
20- Souley CISSOKO
21- Joe CANTILLO
23- Wade RANDLE
22- Peter EVANS (GK)
24- Michael McKNIGHT
25- Craig FERGUSON
25- Izaia BURSTON
27- Aajay CUNNINGHAM