By Rab Smith / asbpremiership.co.nz
DUNEDIN - Otago United want to finish with a flourish when an Auckland City side that is unbeaten in the last 18 domestic and regional matches vists Forsyth Barr Stadium on Sunday.
But even with the home advantage of playing on the perfect surface of the Forsyth Barr Stadium, in front of a typically parochial crowd – the omens look bleak for Otago.
Without a win since December, when key players headed overseas for job opportunities, coach Richard Murray admits that there has been an imbalance in his squad.
"Our squad has been a bit thin, and while they have tried to compensate with spirited play – even that has created more injuries than we would have liked," he said.
Even the ‘good news’ has not helped Murray as the extremely talented Joel Stevens is on trial for a month in the US with San Jose Earthquakes, and young defender Matt Brook is off first to Perth, then to Hawaii for a football scholarship there.
"Running on Empty" is the phrase resounding around Otago as the winter league, Footballsouth Premier lurks round the corner and many players are already training hard for that competition.
Coach Murray has expressed concerns that several young players have played non-stop for several seasons. "Other ASB franchises encourage players to have a rest, but in Otago its full speed ahead throughout continuous seasons."
And with only two matches to go, it’s the mountain climbing prospect of playing a very strong Auckland team, then a Grand Finale against a Waikato side determined to leapfrog ahead of the Southerners.
Waikato is two points behind Otago in seventh spot, and against Hawke's Bay has a chance of picking up points, then in what could be a booming finish, coach Declan Edges side plays a game rescheduled to 25 March, at home against Otago with the possibility of finishing on 14 points.
To freshen what’s left of his squad, Murray has promoted Academy player Jackson Mitchell , Jude Fitzpatrick, and Canadian Donnie Macgregor.
With Otago United playing their last home game of the season out go the suspended Sam Mepham, Seamus Ryder with a collarbone injury and overseas are Stevens and Brook.
In the earlier round at Kiwitea Street, Auckland cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win, when Emiliano Tade scored, but other goals by Andy Milne and Dan Koprivcic were after 90 minutes play.
No doubt Otago will try to erect barriers again, but it will need a super human effort from the thin blue line.
Jackson MITCHELL is called up from Otago United’s Academy squad while Jude FITZPATRICK and Donnie MacGREGOR also win recalls.
Former All Whites defender Riki van STEEDEN joins Adam McGEORGE in the squad.
Sam MEPHAM is suspended and Seamus RYDER (collarbone) is injured.
David MULLIGAN and Chad COOMBES are both suspended.
Joel STEVENS is on trial with San Jose Earthquakes while Matt BROOK is in Western Australia trialling with Perth.
Ivan VICELICH and Chad COOMBES are named in the ASB Premiership Team of the Month for February.
Otago United’s last win over Auckland City was over six years ago when the blue and golds beat the City slickers 1-0 at Kiwitea Street. Since then Otago have notched three draws and ten defeats. Otago United has never beaten Auckland City on home soil.
The statistics suggest Auckland City start as red hot favourites. Ten wins and three draws in their last 13 matches stretching over six years means Otago United have a big job arresting their own recent poor run of form.
ASB Premiership - Round 13
Sunday 11 March, 2012
1- Oswaldo RODRIGUEZ (GK)
12- Tamati WILLIAMS (GK)
3- Tristan PRATTLEY
4- Riki van STEEDEN
4- Jude FITZPATRICK
5- Angel BERLANGA
5- Matt JOY
7- James PRITCHETT
6- Morgan DAY
9- Manel EXPOSITO
7- Regan COLDICOTT
10- Luis CORRALES
9- Donnie MacGREGOR
11- Daniel KOPRIVCIC
10- Ant HANCOCK
13- Alex FENERIDIS
12- Jackson MITCHELL
14- Adam DICKINSON
18- Harley RODEKA
15- Ivan VICELICH (c)
21- Jose CANTILLO
16- Albert RIERA
22- Peter EVANS (GK)
17- Adam McGEORGE
24- Andrew RIDDEN
19- Iwa SHAKER
25- Craig FERGUSON
21- Ivan DIAZ
26- James WATSON
22- Andrew MILNE
27- Aajay CUNNINGHAM
23- Simon ARMS
24- Stephen CARMICHAEL
26- Liam ANDERSON (GK)