By NZF Staff writer / asbpremiership.co.nz
PALMERSTON NORTH - Lifted by a spirited 2-2 draw with Otago in Dunedin last weekend, the YoungHeart Manawatu revival faces stern examination when they host unbeaten Auckland City at Memorial Park this Sunday.
YoungHeart Manawatu emerged from their showdown with Otago United clutching much more than just a hard earned point away from home - they grabbed a desperately needed morale boost following a series of thumpings that saw their goals against column break unwanted competition records.
With coach Stu Jacobs squad composition reflecting a local flavour, Manawatu has struggled to come to terms with the level of competition since the season kicked off.
But he was encouraged by the team's improvement and told the Otago Daily Times that the side was still "a work in progress."
He said: "Overall this was a good point to earn, after our recent defensive form. And I was especially pleased with stand-in keeper Ben Wilkes who made several important saves."
Goalkeeper Ben Wilkes retains the gloves this weekend, with usual custodian Matt Borren on standby after missing the trip to Dunedin for family reasons.
Defeats to Canterbury (9-1 and 4-0), Waitakere (7-2), Auckland City (5-0) and Hawke's Bay (5-0) have left the Palmerston North-based franchise bottom of the league without a win.
And YoungHeart's chances of becoming the first club to notch up a winless ASB Premiership campaign are looking more likely with only three rounds to go after this Sunday.
Following the Auckland City match on Sunday, YoungHeart face Waikato FC and Team Wellington at home, before finishing with a difficult trip away to Waitakere in the final round, a match the West Aucklanders may need to win to keep their O-League hopes alive.
Midfielder Jimmy Haidakis has been a major success for Manawatu with the playmaker contributing five goals for the struggling side and is dangerous from free-kicks.
Seule Soromon - the one time Golden Boot winner during happier times with Manawatu in 2009 - has managed to net just twice, but outwith Haidakis, looks the most likely source of goals for the Palmerstonians.
Defender Barry Lewis is in the same boat, while Hamish McKay - sent off on his debut for the club after just 12 minutes of the match with Hawke's Bay - waits in the wings.
Nathan Cooksley, the Manawatu skipper, will be given a chance to prove his fitness ahead of Sunday, but an ankle injury looks likely to keep him out of contention.
By contrast, the visitors are very much a team in form.
Coach Ramon Tribulietx has encountered defeat just once this season against Japan's J-League champions Kashiwa Reysol in Toyota City last December.
Three wins in the O-League, eight in the ASB Premiership accompanied by two draws, not to mention two friendly wins over professional opposition in A-League leaders Central Coast Mariners (3-1) and Ryuzu Keizai (2-1), make Auckland City overwhelming favourites to leave Palmerston North with all three points.
Strangely enough, visits to Manawatu have proved tricky for Auckland in the past, with a 3-1 semi-final first leg thumping in 2009 enough to cause anxiety before City prevailed 3-0 in the return leg at Kiwitea Street.
But with Alex Feneridis, Adam Dickinson and Adam McGeorge all returning to the ranks and skipper Ivan Vicelich ready to complete his 50th ASB Premiership appearance since he returned from the Netherlands three seasons ago, home advantage may not be enough to halt the navy blues.
Vicelich's defensive partner Angel Berlanga is suspended after earning his fourth yellow card of the season, so youngster Simon Arms returns to the squad.
Former All White Riki van Steeden also returns to the squad to bolster numbers, with goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley sidelined with a knee injury and midfielder David Mulligan nursing a shoulder knock picked up in the win over Waitakere last Saturday.
Goalkeeper Tamati Williams, who played his first match of the season for Auckland City on Monday, will start the match with Liam Anderson backing him up.
Williams is the fourth goalkeeper Auckland City have used in the current campaign, with Liam Little released during the transfer window.
Top scorer Emiliano Tade is on compassionate leave following a family illness.
The match kicks off at 2pm, Memorial Park, Palmerston North, on Sunday 12 February, 2012, and will be refereed by Jamie Cross of Wellington.
Adam DICKINSON, Adam McGEORGE, Alex FENERIDIS and Simon ARMS return to the Auckland City squad.
Nathan COOKSLEY (ankle) remains on the injured list.
Jacob SPOONLEY (knee) and David MULLIGAN (shoulder) are on the injured list.
Hamish McKAY returns from suspension and may be a late inclusion in the final match day squad. Goalkeeper Matt BORREN and defender Barry LEWIS are on standby pending fitness tests for players ahead of Sunday.
Angel BERLANGA is suspended for one match after accruing four yellow cards. Top scorer Emiliano TADE has returned to Argentina due to family illness.
YoungHeart Manawatu suffered its biggest ever loss to Auckland City in round four when they were thrashed 5-0 at Kiwitea Street. YoungHeart’s best result was a 4-1 thrashing of Auckland in Auckland back in the 2009-10 season. Since 2006, Manawatu have accumulated three wins, three draws, and 10 defeats from their last 16 matches with Auckland City.
Palmerston North has proved a difficult venue for Auckland City in the past with the navy blues record of three wins, two draws and two defeats since 2006 food for thought for Auckland coach Ramon TRIBULIETX. Auckland City captain and All Whites defender Ivan VICELICH will make his 50th ASB Premiership career appearance. He has scored four times for Auckland City in the ASB Premiership
ASB Premiership - Round 11
Sunday 12 February, 2012
1- Ben WILKES (GK)
12- Tamati WILLIAMS (GK)
3- Josh CHETTLEBURGH
4- Riki van STEEDEN
4- Jamie O'CONNOR
6- Chad COOMBES
6- Matt KENNEDY
7- James PRITCHETT
7- Jared CURTIS
9- Manel EXPOSITO
9- Seule SOROMON
10- Luis CORRALES
11- Jimmy HAIDAKIS
11- Daniel KOPRIVCIC
12- Michael SHERIDAN
13- Alex FENERIDIS
14- Pablo MOYA
14- Adam DICKINSON
15- Stuart LAWRIE
15- Ivan VICELICH (c)
16- Michael FRASER
16- Albert RIERA
17- Jordan MARTENS
17- Adam McGEORGE
19- Andrew DRAKE (GK)
19- Iwa SHAKAR
20- Souley CISSOKO
22- Andrew MILNE
23- Wade RANDLE
23- Simon ARMS
24- Michael McKNIGHT
24- Stephen CARMICHAEL
25- Izaia BURSTON
25- Mario ILICH
26- Liam ANDERSON (GK)