By Bruce Holloway / asbpremiership.co.nz
HAMILTON - It will be all hands on deck for both teams when Waikato FC host Otago United at Porritt Stadium on Sunday in an ASB Premiership fixture which is essentially a playoff for sixth place.
Otago travel for their second overnighter of the season with a rash of injury concerns and a late mass fitness test is likely to be required to determine the fate of up to five players.
And Waikato, who will leapfrog over Otago should they record their first home win of the season, have been caught out by the late re-scheduling of matches at the Oceania Men's Olympic Football qualifying tournament. That will rob them of the services of skipper Adam Thomas, Jason Hicks, and U-23 team doctor Mark Fulcher, while Otago lose Tristan Prattley for the same reason.
For Waikato FC, the match will be a dress rehearsal of sorts for their presence in the inaugural White Ribbon Cup a week later, though coach Declan Edge is determined his young side will not be distracted from their league responsibilitiies by their qualification for the White Ribbon Cup final at Gower Park on April 1 (1pm).
"All the possibilities of the White Ribbon Cup final will only come into play after our final league match is complete," Edge said.
"Waikato FC was formed in 2004 and this is the first time the club has qualified for a final, so it is an achievement of some note, but our immediate concern is the ASB Premiership, and our desire to beat Otago United. While we won 2-0 in Dunedin, I said at the time they were a good side and we enter the match with plenty still to prove.
"We haven't done the double over anybody this season and have still to win at home. We ae still training hard, no players have been released to winter clubs, and from my perspective there is still much at stake. If we win we can finish above Otago, in sixth position, and that is something that should be important to the club.
"I imagine the same will be true in the Otago camp, which means both teams should want to go like rockets, which makes for a good contest."
Edge was disappointed to have missed out on the top four, but did have the consolation of presiding over the fairest team in the league, without a suspension or a send-off to date.
"That's not a bad effort in a summer where we have put the emphasis on developing young homegrown players, producing entertaining and skilful football and operating on a financially sustainable basis."
If their is a concern for Waikato going into the match, it is their vulnerability from corners. They conceded the latest in a string of goals from corners last week against Manawatu, to go with a similar concession a week earlier against Hawke's Bay, and this has left a serious question mark over their zonal defence system.
Despite the possibility of having nearly half a team missing through injury, Otago coach Richard Murray vowed his team would be competitive.
"We are struggling a little bit, but it is a chance for others to step up and take their chance," Murray said. "Waikato have their final coming up, but this is our final. We will be treating it as a one-off game and going into it with confidence.
"This has been a season with a rookie coach and a lot of rookie players, and we have every motivation to win."
Apart from Prattley, Murray nominated striker Ant Hancock and centre back Matt Joy as his form players from recent outings.
"Ant is a Wayne Rooney type, not very tall but competitive, combatative and quick off the mark, and he likes to run at defenders. Joy has been solid in his first season at centre back."
Form player for Waikato in recent weeks has been 17-year-old Ryan Thomas, one of the smallest players in the league, and perhaps also one of the most technically skilful.
He scored two and set up the third against Manawatu last week, again showing a masterful knack in being able to turn tightly and create space for others. In a season of budding young Waikato stars, he has perhaps been the pick of them.
Neil MOUNCHER and Mohammed ADID are called up.
Jackson MITCHELL is promoted from the Academy side while there are call-ups for Liam LOCKHART and Sam MEPHAM who returns from suspension.
Adam THOMAS and Jason HICKS are on international duty with the New Zealand U-23 at the OFC Men's Olympic Football qualifying tournament in Taupo. Matteo BALLAN is left out of the squad. Also unavailable for selection is goalkeeper Mark FULCHER who is the team doctor for the New Zealand U-23 team.
Tristan PRATTLEY is on international duty with the New Zealand U-23 team at the OFC Men's Olympic Football qualifying tournament in Taupo. Jackson MITCHELL is promoted from the Academy side while there are call-ups for Liam LOCKHART and Sam MEPHAM who returns from suspension. Seamus RYDER (collarbone) is injured.
43-year-old goalkeeper Neil MOUNCHER is the oldest player to appear in an ASB Premiership match.
Five players face fitness tests - Regan COLDICOTT (calf), Donnie MacGREGOR (hamstring), Jose CANTILLO (calf), Oswaldo RODRIGUEZ (finger) and Morgan DAY (knee). Matt BROOK (Perth) and Joel STEVENS (San Jose Earthquakes) are on professional trials.
Waikato FC have won two and drawn two of their previous four matches with Otago United in the ASB Premiership. A win for Waikato FC on Sunday will see Declan Edge's team finish the season in sixth place.
A draw is enough to secure sixth place for Otago United, an improvement on last season's seventh.
ASB Premiership - Round 14
Sunday 25 March, 2012
1- Neil MOUNCHER (GK)
1- Oswaldo RODRIGUEZ (GK),
2- Tyler LISSETTE
2- Liam LOCKHART
3- Jesse SMITH
4- Jude FITZPATRICK
4- Mohammed AWAD
5- Matt JOY
6- Mike KRAMER
9- Michael MAYNE
14- Josh GREENE
9- Donnie MacGREGOR
15- Jesse EDGE
10- Ant HANCOCK
18- Dan LOOKER
11- James GOVAN
19- Harry EDGE
12- Jackson MITCHELL
21- Tyler BOYD
14- Sam MEPHAM
22- Adam WALLIS
18- Harley RODEKA
23- Jordan SHAW
21- Jose CANTILLO
24- Ryan THOMAS
22- Peter EVANS (GK)
25- Danyon DRAKE (GK)
24- Andrew RIDDEN
26- Mohammad ADID
25- Craig FERGUSON
26- James WATSON
27- Aajay CUNNINGHAM
- Two to be omitted