By NZF staff writer / asbpremiership.co.nz
PALMERSTON NORTH – YoungHeart Manawatu has endured a season it would rather forget yet the struggling outfit could still play a key role in the way this season’s ASB Premiership semi-finalists line up.
Team Wellington arrives in town looking for a win that will seal the deal on a fifth consecutive playoff place and there is little to suggest they won’t achieve that target at Memorial Park this Sunday.
Beleaguered Manawatu and former Team Wellington coach, Stu Jacobs, must want this season to end as quickly as possible.
YoungHeart Manawatu remains winless after 12 matches and is firmly on track to become the first side in the ASB Premiership’s history to go an entire season without notching a single victory.
Their one White Ribbon cup match ended in another humiliating 0-5 defeat to provincial rivals Hawke’s Bay United, the second time the Bay has managed to net five past Manawatu without reply this season.
And they’ve conceded a record 49 goals in 12 games, an average of 4.25 per game.
Only an overt optimist would suggest Manawatu has the capacity to win both its remaining games and somehow finish 7th although it remains a mathematical possibility.
Hawke’s Bay can do their bit by beating Waikato FC this Sunday. Waikato FC’s final match of the season is at home to Otago United, a far from straight forward task given only one point separates those two teams currently.
So, can Manawatu deliver a Sea Biscuit-style performance and notch a first win?
Their last ASB Premiership match produced a well earned draw with Waikato.
Player/coach Jamie O’Connor stood in for the absent Jacobs two weeks ago and said of that result: “You have got to be happy with that after the season we have had," he said.
"We were under the cosh a lot but knew that was going to happen against a quality young team playing a brand of football like that and we stuck at it.”
O’Connor was sent off during last week’s White Ribbon cup defeat to Hawke’s Bay but is included in the squad for Sunday’s game.
The thought of a YoungHeart Manawatu turnaround is an intriguing if fanciful notion.
It’s a notion that YoungHeart’s rivals Hawke’s Bay United are banking on.
Hawke’s Bay United trails Wellington by four points with just two matches to go, and if Wellington brushes aside Manawatu as expected, Hawke’s Bay United’s frantic search for an historic first ever playoff position will stretch to another year.
Hawke’s Bay must beat Waikato FC in Napier and hope YoungHeart can stall Matt Calcott’s side with an upset victory, or even a draw.
If Manawatu can do that, it sets up a mouth-watering Team Wellington and Hawke’s Bay United ‘playoff’ showdown on the final day of the regular season at Newtown Park on April 8.
Manawatu could also play a key role in the O-League struggle between Canterbury United and Waitakere United.
Waitakere play Canterbury this Sunday then expect to finish their season at home to Manawatu with a flourish.
If Canterbury drop all three points to Waitakere on Sunday their O-League hopes would depend wholly on Manawatu not losing to the West Aucklanders and the Dragons knocking off minor premiers Auckland City, also on April 8.
As unlikely as it may seem, if Canterbury and Waitakere draw, the Cantabs would gratefully accept anything tangible Manawatu can muster on that nervy final day.
A more likely scenario is that Canterbury will rely upon themselves to defeat Waitakere this Sunday and claim runners-up on their own steam.
Wellington do not have their problems to seek.
Ethan Galbraith is missing through suspension after his expulsion during the 1-3 loss to Waitakere United.
Wellington welcome back James Musa while there is a first time call-up for Campbell Parkin but lose both Wiremu Patrick and Sam Mason-Smith who have succumbed to injury.
For YoungHeart Manawatu, Seule Soromon returns from his own suspension, while goalkeeper Matt Borren also returns to the squad alongside Stu Lawrie and Pablo Moya.
Michael Fraser and Matt Kennedy are both suspended for YoungHeart.
The match kicks-off at 2pm on Sunday 11 March, 2012.
Pablo MOYA, Matt BORREN and Stu LAWRIE bolster the squad. Suele SOROMON returns from suspension.
Campbell PARKIN and James MUSA are called into coach Matt CALCOTT’s plans
Matt KENNEDY and Michael FRASER are both suspended.
Wiremu PATRICK (groin) and Sam MASON-SMITH (broken foot) both injured. Ethan GALBRAITH is suspended.
Kyle GRAHAM-LUKE and Andrew DRAKE are both omitted. Top goalscorer Jimmy HAIDAKIS is not listed amongst the squad.
Louis FENTON is named in the ASB Premiership Team of the Month for February.
Manawatu is on track to become the first team to never win a match in an ASB Premiership regular season. They have just two chances to avoid that piece of unwanted history – Sunday’s match with Team Wellington and their final game away to Waitakere United on April 8.
A win for Team Wellington will confirm their semi-final place for the fifth consecutive season in a row.
Sunday 11 March, 2012
1- Ben WILKES (GK)
1- Phil IMRAY (GK)
2- Hamish McKAY
2- Tim SCHAEFFERS
3- Josh CHETTLEBURGH
3- Jamie DUNCAN
4- Jamie O'CONNOR
4- Michael EAGAR
8- Nathan COOKSLEY
5- Johnny RAJ
9- Seule SOROMON
6- Darren CHERITON
12- Michael SHERIDAN
9- Patrick FLEMING
14- Pablo MOYA
10- Dakota LUCAS
15- Stu LAWRIE
11- Henry FA'ARODO
17- Jordan MARTENS
13- Karl WHALEN
18- Barry LEWIS
16- Campbell PARKIN
19- Matt BORREN (GK)
17- Dominic ROWE
21- Tom MOSQUERA
18- Michael FIFII
23- Wade RANDLE
19- James MUSA
24- Michael McKNIGHT
20- Luke ROWE
22- Justin GULLEY
23- Louis FENTON
25- Scott BASALAJ (GK)
- two to be omitted.