By Gordon Glen Watson / asbpremiership.co.nz
AUCKLAND – Team Wellington head into their semi-final with Auckland City as firm underdogs but there is a growing belief the Matt Calcott-coached side could cause an upset.
Team Wellington has yet to beat any of the four semi-finalists in six regular season games but with the White Ribbon Cup already in the trophy cabinet and a clutch of players such as Michael Eagar, Ethan Galbraith, James Musa and Scott Basalaj gaining crucial international exposure with the Oly Whites last month, Calcott says the knock-out format could favour his charges.
Despite that, history shows the semi-finals have been a graveyard for capital ambitions in the past. This is the fifth season in a row Team Wellington has qualified for the playoffs. They have only won once before when they toppled Auckland City 4-3 back in 2008 en route to a Grand Final defeat to Waitakere United.
“Some of the older players have impressed that upon the youngsters. But it is a new group with a new set of goals. In the round robin setting we felt we were getting closer and closer to the top sides in the league. We’re a bit better now than perhaps in years gone by,” Calcott said.
Calcott’s confidence is well-founded with Team Wellington losing just one of its last nine ASB Premiership regular season matches and racking up three wins in the White Ribbon Cup. It seems knock-out football may just suit the Wellingtonians.
“Our side is younger and got some real talent and knock out competition suits us a little a bit. We do have some exciting players and there are two chances in a home and away semi-final,” he said.
One player Team Wellington will have to do without is pacy striker Louis Fenton but Calcott is more than satisfied his transfer window signings have kept the side bubbling ahead of the business end of the season.
“Henry Fa’arodo was signed in the transfer widow and he’s really kicked on in the last few weeks. Henry has got stronger and stronger. The level he’s been playing at means this was probably a step up and the last couple of weeks he’s started to come into his own, operating in a different role,” he said.
Fa’arodo is a player Auckland City will be familiar with, the 29-year-old Solomon Islands international having turned out for the Sandringham-based club in 2007-08. He also bagged a double for Koloale in the 2009 O-League Final second leg in a 2-2 draw with City.
But Auckland City coach Ramon Tribulietx is more than aware of Team Wellington’s collective threat.
“Wellington has a lot of young players and they’ve got some quality players as well. Their motivation will be sky high. They will be very tough,” he said.
Tribulietx discounted any notion of aiming for a draw. The Auckland City coach said aiming to win was the only agenda on the table for the navy blues.
“We’re going down there to win the game and bring our attributes to the match. The players will prepare the same way and we’ll compete the way we’ve competed all season,” he said.
Since wrapping up the minor premiership, Auckland suffered only its second defeat of the season when the navy blues were felled 1-0 by Vanuatu champions Amicale in Port Vila in the O-League.
City’s only defeats this season have both been to foreign clubs with Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol the only other team to have beaten Tribulietx’s outfit.
“We’ve not played a competitive game for a while now in the sense that we qualified for the semi-finals and the O-League Final some time ago. That’s probably the main issue for us now,” Tribulietx said.
After a 14-game unbeaten run in the regular season that nabbed the minor premiership and O-League football next season, Tribulietx said that impressive record counted for nothing.
“It’s basically a new competition so what’s happened in the past doesn’t count. Our unbeaten record counts for nothing. We need to focus our competitive spirit on these two games now. If you’re not focussed at this stage you can be knocked out and we obviously don’t want that to happen,” he said.
Team Wellington and Auckland City first met in an ASB Premiership playoff in 2007-08 when the capital men prevailed 4-3 after extra time en route to a runners-up finish.
Last season the two sides met in the semi-finals and Auckland City cruised to the final with a 7-1 aggregate victory, winning 2-0 away before wrapping up the tie 5-1 at Kiwitea Street.
The action gets underway at Newtown Park, Wellington, on Sunday with a 12pm kick-off.
James MUSA and Etha GALBRAITH are drafted into the squad.
Louis FENTON joins Melbourne Knights.
Chad COOMBES and James PRITCHETT remain Auckland City's most experienced playoff duo.
Team Wellington enters the ASB Premiership semi-finals for the fifth season in a row. During that run the capital men have qualified for just one Grand Final, achieved in 2007-08 after they defeated Auckland City 4-3 in extra time. In their last six semi-final matches, Wellington has won just once and lost five times. Last season Auckland City knocked Wellington out 7-1 on aggregate at the same stage.
Auckland City have won three and drawn one of their last four matches with Team Wellington with the only points dropped coming in Round 9 when the two teams drew 1-1.
ASB Premiership - Semi Final, 1st Leg
Sunday 15 April, 202
1- Phil IMRAY (GK)
1- Jacob SPOONLEY (GK)
2- Tim SCHAEFFERS
3- Ian HOGG
4- Michael EAGAR
5- Angel BERLANGA
5- Johnny RAJ
6- Chad COOMBES
6- Duncan CHERITON
7- James PRITCHETT
7- Wiremu PATRICK
8- David MULLIGAN
9- Patrick FLEMING
9- Manel EXPOSITO
10- Dakota LUCAS
10- Luis CORRALES
11- Henry FA'ARODO
11- Daniel KOPRIVCIC
13- Ethan GALBRAITH
13- Alex FENERIDIS
16- Campbell PARKIN
14- Adam DICKINSON
17- Dominic ROWE
15- Ivan VICELICH (c)
18- Michael FIFII
16- Albert RIERA
19- James MUSA
17- Adam McGEORGE
20- Luke ROWE
21- Ivan Diaz RUIZ
22- Justin GULLEY
22- Andrew MILNE
25- Scott BASALAJ (GK)
23- Simon ARMS
- one to be omitted
26- Liam ANDERSON (GK)