By John Donnachie / asbpremiership.co.nz
CHRISTCHURCH - It's been raining goals of late at ASB Football Park, but you won't hear Canterbury United goalkeeper, Adam Highfield, complaining.
The shot-stopper has watched on as his Dragons team-mates have banged in 16 Premiership goals since the New Year. During that same period, Highfield, was beaten just once- and that was with a free-kick which is a goal of the season contender.
Moreover, Highfield has conceded only two goals all season at the Dragons den. His superb form between the posts has been testament to the red and blacks making their home ground a fortress while assisting their surge to second spot on the ASB Premiership ladder.
In a season when strikers and midfielders have regularly grabbed the headlines, the Dragons goalkeeper reflected on the contribution of his rearguard colleagues.
“Considering we lost our captain Dan (Terris), the guys at the back have done a great job. We had to re jig the defence and it has taken a bit of time. But it's really paying dividends now- and our results away from home have improved too as a result,” said Highfield.
Highfield reckoned that keeping the back door firmly shut, had wider implications for the Dragons hopes of securing a play-off place and an O-league berth.
“It could be that goal difference is vital at the end of the season- so it's important we carry on our form at ASB Football Park and continue to make it our fortress,” added Highfield.
This Sunday, Highfield, will face some old friends when Otago United return to Christchurch for the second week in a row- this time on Premiership business.
The southern men have lost some key players and are struggling for form. But the former Otago goalkeeper is still expecting to be kept on his toes. Highfield said, “ We weren't at our best last week, but full credit to Otago they really hustled and bustled us.”
Dragons coach, Keith Braithwaite, is also under no illusions. He said his players needed to focus as “there was no room for complacency” after last week's 2-1 win over Otago in the White Ribbon Cup.
He expected another stern examination this weekend from their mainland rivals.
“Playing Otago is always a tough contest. They have obviously lost key players, and we have been there ourselves in the past. But like us, they have made up for that with sheer endeavour,” said Braithwaite.
Unlike last weekend, Braithwaite said he would be fielding his strongest possible team. However, he has a few potential selection concerns ahead of Sunday's derby clash.
The in-form Aaron Clapham, and influential midfielder Cole Peverley, are on All Whites under 23 duty on Friday night. So their availability will not be known until Saturday at the earliest.
Meanwhile, two of the Dragons most consistent performers of late- forward Andrew Barton (groin injury) and midfielder Joe Murray ( hamstring niggle) are both under an injury cloud.
Adam HIGHFIELD and Joe MURRAY return to the squad following the White Ribbon Cup win over Otago last weekend.
Sam MEPHAM and Peter EVANS return to the squad.
Eddie ASHTON and Geoff MacINTYRE are both replaced. Andy BARTON (groin) and Dan TERRIS (Achilles) remain on the injured list.
Joel STEVENS is chasing a trial with San Jose Earthquakes, while Ant HANCOCK and Zac RATHBONE are both unavailable. Jude FITZPATRICK and Liam LOCKHART are not selected.
Aaron CLAPHAM and Cole PEVERLEY return from New Zealand U-23 duty on Friday night and will be assessed ahead of the match.
Influential skipper Tristan PRATTLEY following his internationals duties with the New Zealand U-23 team in Melbourne.
Canterbury United have won five, drawn two and lost two in nine all-South Island ASB Premiership derbies with Otago United played on home soil. A sixth win would apply further pressure elsewhere in the O-League chase where a draw between Waitakere and Team Wellington would open up a three point gap in favour of the Dragons.
Otago United has proved a tricky opponent for their Cantabrian rivals in recent times with the blue and golds notching two wins from their last three ASB Premiership showdowns. Otago last beat Canterbury in Christchurch back in 2009 when they won by 2-1.
ASB Premiership - Round 12
Sunday 26 February, 2012
1- Tom BATTY (GK)
1- Oswaldo RODRIGUEZ (GK)
3- Mark JOHNSTON
3- Tristan PRATTLEY (c)
4- Nick WORTELBOER
5- Matt JOY
5- Tom SCHWARZ
6- Morgan DAY
7- Darren WHITE
7- Reagan COLDICOTT
8- Aaron CLAPHAM
8- Seamus RYDER
9- George SLEFENDORFAS
14- Sam MEPHAM
10- Russell KAMO
18- Harley RODEKA
13- Daniel GLOZIER
20- Matt BROOK
14- Josh SMITH
21- Jose CANTILLO
15- Julyan COLLETT
22- Peter EVANS (GK)
16- Joe MURRAY
24- Andrew RIDDEN
17- Cole PEVERLEY
25- Craig FERGUSON
19- Calvin OPPERMAN
26- James WATSON
20- Ken YAMAMOTO
27- Aajay CUNNINGHAM
22- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
25- Louie BUSH