By Bruce Holloway / asbpremiership.co.nz
HAMILTON - Waikato FC are better equipped to take points off Team Wellington in the ASB Premiership than they were against Canterbury United last week.
That’s the view of Waikato skipper Adam Thomas ahead of Sunday’s match against Wellington at Porritt Stadium.
Team Wellington had a comfortable 3-0 win last time the team’s met – the same margin of victory Canterbury United inflicted on Waikato in Hamilton in the previous round.
And while Wellington are on a hot streak in which they have gone unbeaten in their last four matches, Thomas said in many respects their style and team composition made for a better match-up for his troops than Canterbury, which imposed a physical superiority over Waikato.
"Historically Wellington are always tough, and they are real strong this year," Thomas said. "But we are a lot more familiar with many of their players and will be far better prepared for this game than first time around.
"Last time it was early in the season and many of our players were still getting used to the league and trying to master our short, fast passing game. We will give them a good game this time."
Thomas, 19, was a finalist for Young Sportsman of the Year midweek at the Waikato Sports Awards. And while he didn’t take a gong home, the age-group international has emerged as the player that others of his era coalesce around.
Despite a troubled start in which his team lost it’s first four matches, Thomas said leading Waikato had not been a problem.
"Most of our team have been together as footballers for at least two years (in the Declan Edge academy at Melville). We know each other well and are friends."
Of his team mates, he said young defenders Josh Greene and Tyler Lissette had impressed the most. "They have both grown up as centrebacks this summer," he said. Lissette made his national league debut last summer playing for Wellington.
Of his own game, Thomas was torn between favouring his new job as an attacking left back, and his previous role as a central midfielder.
"I do enjoy being out wide and being able to use my pace, but as a footballer I also like to be really involved in the middle."
There is an injury cloud over Michael Mayne and Thomas said it would be a big blow if his injured ankle – legacy of a drop-ball kick-fest resulting from a refereeing error at the end of the Auckland match – invalided him out of the game.
Wellington come to Hamilton on the back of three wins, followed by a home draw with Auckland City, which has them fourth on the table, and four points adrift of Auckland at the top.
Coach Matt Calcott has been very active in the transfer window but it is still uncertain whether the jewel among his new signings - Solomon Islands captain Henry Fa’arodo – will make it to the game.
"It will be touch and go," Calcott said. "He is due to land, but it will be very much a last-minute thing."
Almost as intriguing is the signing of Ricky Zucco, a firebrand striker who recently trialed at the Wellington Phoenix.
Zucco potted a league-leading 21 goals for Tarawanna in the Illawarra Premier League - despite missing seven matches through suspension, if that counts for anything.
Defender Jonathan Raj, previously with Auckland City, has shipped in from the Chicago Fire.
Also in the Wellington squad is defender Tim Schaeffers, who started his national league career with Waikato FC in 2006-07.
The TAB has Wellington as a hot favourite for this match at $1.40 v $6.25, but Calcott was wary of assuming too much, even against an inexperienced Waikato squad.
"We are a young team ourself," he said. "There are always ups and downs with young teams, and we are aware all sorts of things can trip your up when you think you are going well.
"For us it will be head down and get on with it. We need to make sure we apply ourselves."
Last week’s draw against Auckland City had been a bittersweet experience, in which he was delighted Wellington had finished so strongly but frustrated by a record of not quite bowling over the top teams.
"Good teams will kick on and win those games. It is learning how to do that."
Tim SCHAEFFERS, Michael EAGAR and Scott BASALAJ add steel to the capital men.
Justin GULLEY and Daniel CLARKE are the players who make way.
Declan EDGE sticks with the same squad for the third week in a row despite last week’s setback to Canterbury United.
Coach Matt CALCOTT strengthens his squad with the addition of Ricky ZUCCO and Johnny RAJ from Chicago Fire.
Waikato FC has won one and lost ten of its previous eleven matches with Team Wellington. Waikato FC last beat Team Wellington in 2008 with a 2-0 win.
Team Wellington have long dominated this fixture with a staggering ten wins and one loss from eleven previous encounters. Wellington has scored 18 goals in their last six showdowns with Waikato FC, an average of three goals per game.
ASB Premiership - Round 10
1- Mark FULCHER (GK)
1- Phil IMRAY (GK)
2- Tyler LISSETTE
2- Tim SCHAEFFERS
3- Jesse SMITH
3- Jamie DUNCAN
4- Mohammed AWAD
4- Michael EAGAR
6- Mike KRAMER
5- Johnny RAJ
7- Jason HICKS
6- Darren CHERITON
8- Matteo BALLAN
7- Wiremu PATRICK
9- Michael MAYNE
8- Ricky ZUCCO
10- Adam THOMAS (c)
9- Patrick FLEMING
14- Josh GREENE
10- Dakota LUCAS
15- Jesse EDGE
12- Ethan GALBRAITH
19- Harry EDGE
13- Karl WHALEN
23- Tyler BOYD
15- Sam MASON-SMITH
23- Jordan SHAW
18- Michael FIFII
24- Ryan THOMAS
19- James MUSA
25- Danyon DRAKE (GK)
20- Luke ROWE
23- Louis FENTON
25- Scott BASALAJ (GK)
- two to be omitted