By Bruce Holloway / asbpremiership.co.nz
HAMILTON - There is a morbid fascination to Sunday’s bottom-of-the-table clash between Waikato FC and Youngheart Manawatu at Porritt Stadium.
It pits a team that can’t win at home against a team that can’t win anywhere this season. And both teams have collected just one lonely point in their last five outings.
Manawatu have three games left and could become the first club to finish an ASB Premiership regular season winless.
But Waikato are equally in danger of rewriting the Bad Form Guide by becoming the first team to fail to pick up a point at home all season.
So paradoxically, this match presents the biggest, juiciest opportunity of the season for both teams.
A team with the right attitude and application could break their drought big-time here, given Waikato have a goal difference of minus 21 and Manawatu minus 38.
But then again, given neither team has scored more than a goal a game, it could just as easily be a 0-0 draw.
Waikato coach Declan Edge was hugely frustrated by last week’s loss to Hawke’s Bay United and echoed his post-match comments by acknowledging his team has to play with much more heart, and compete more vigorously.
"Some of our players thought it was going to be easy after our earlier victory over Hawke’s Bay," Edge said. "But you can’t go into any game at national league level in such a frame of mind.
"On top of that we made some horrific defensive errors and were punished.
"Manawatu will be coming up here with exactly the same attitude as Hawke’s Bay. They will see it as payback time after we beat them down there.
"And they know that if they are going to win a game, this is the one they are going to win. If they fight, scrap and out-compete us we will be in trouble again.
"I would be extremely happy with a 1-0 win."
Edge was unimpressed by the fact three of his players – Jason Hicks, Mike Kramer and Adam Thomas - were selected for international duty midweek on the back of the Hawke’s Bay loss.
"Just because you get named in an U-23 team, doesn’t mean you are suddenly better the day after than you were the day before," he said.
Edge has brought in-form goalkeeper Mark Fulcher back into the squad after two weeks of experimenting with teenager Danyon Drake.
Edge previously argued there was an underlying obligation as Waikato coach to try and develop young local players and Drake needed his chance.
That development objective has been slightly recalibrated since the Hawke’s Bay loss.
"I also have a responsibility to try and get a few results and on Sunday I will pick whoever I think is the best keeper at the time - and continue to do that until the end of the season."
Meanwhile Manawatu will be coming to Hamilton without coach Stu Jacobs, who will not be back from longstanding commitments in Tasmania in time, leaving assistant Jamie O’Connor in charge.
Also leaving a large hole will be former league golden boot, Seule Soromon, who is suspended for the match.
"That is a big factor for us," Jacobs said. "He has an x factor with his ability and pace and we have to make sure we fill it the best way we can."
He was more pointed about the unavailability of Jimmy Haidakis.
"Jimmy has decided not to be part of the squad. Travelling from Wellington was a bit of a chore. From my view that is unfortunate, but it perhaps shows what sort of character he is."
On the plus side, Jacobs has been heartened by the development of several of his younger squad members in recent weeks.
"Jordan Martens has been very consistent for us at left back, while Wade Randle has shown a great deal of application, playing in a wide role."
Waikato won 3-1 when the teams met at Memorial Park in December, notching their first win of the season.
Mark FULCHER is included in the squad as Waikato FC seeks to arrest a dip in form.
Nathan COOKSLEY, Tom MOSQUERA and Hamish McKAY all return to the squad after injury and suspension.
Harry EDGE remains under an injury cloud but is named in the squad.
Out go Wade RANDALL, Souley CISSOKO and Jared CURTIS,
Mike KRAMER, Adam THOMAS and Jason HICKS return to the line-up after international duty with the New Zealand U-23 Oly-Whites in Melbourne.
Jimmy HAIDAKIS’s goals will be sorely missed with the midfielder listed as unavailable. Suele SOROMON is suspended for one game after picking up four yellow cards.
Waikato FC has won five and lost four of the previous nine matches with YoungHeart Manawatu. The previous six matches between the two sides played in the Waikato have yielded three wins each and includes scores of 1-6 (2006) and 4-5 (2008) in favour of the visitors.
YoungHeart Manawatu and Waikato FC have drawn only once in 19 matches –that draw finished 0-0 back in the 2004-05 season. The record for least number of wins in an ASB Premiership season is jointly held by YoungHeart Manawatu (2010-11) and Hawke’s Bay United (2005-06) with one win each. Manawatu could yet break that record.
ASB Premiership - Round 12
Sunday 26 February, 2012
1- Mark FULCHER (GK)
1- Ben WILKES (GK)
2- Tyler LISSETTE
2- Hamish McKAY
3- Jesse SMITH
3- Josh CHETTLEBURGH
4- Mohamed AWAD
4- Jamie O'CONNOR
6- Mike KRAMER
6- Matt KENNEDY (c)
7- Jason HICKS
8- Nathan COOKSLEY
8- Matteo BALLAN
12- Michael SHERIDAN
9- Michael MAYNE
14- Pablo MOYA
10- Adam THOMAS (c)
15- Stu LAWRIE
14- Josh GREENE
16- Michael FRASER
15- Jesse EDGE
19- Andrew DRAKE (GK)
19- Harry EDGE
21- Tom MOSQUERA
21- Tyler BOYD
24- Michael McKNIGHT
23- Jordan SHAW
25- Izaia BURSTON
24- Ryan THOMAS
25- Danyon DRAKE (GK)