By Bob Pearce / asbpremiership.co.nz
AUCKLAND - Two games and despair, five games and triumph. That is what confronts defending champions Waitakere United as they take on Canterbury United at Fred Taylor Park on Sunday in the first leg of the ASB Premiership semifinals.
The proud West Auckland club have endured a season that opened with a faltering 3-2 loss to rivals Auckland City in the ASB Charity Cup Final and has stuttered to where they could see their ASB Premiership and O-League ambitions ended in the space of eight days.
One tipping point is out of their hands. Should Tefana beat Ba in a rescheduled final-round O-League fixture on the artificial surface at Auckland’s Bill McKinlay Park on Sunday, the Tahitians will progress to the two-leg O-League finals series against Auckland City.
Waitakere beat both teams handsomely on home turf but have struggled in the Islands and can only hope that Ba’s fanatical Auckland support can outweigh Tefana’s familiarity with the surface, allowing Waitakere another shot at O-League glory.
The ASB Premiership semi two hours earlier is a rerun of the regular-season clash last month which Canterbury won 2-1 after the home team had played much of the second half with nine men. That victory clinched second place in the Premiership for the southerners and gave them a foot in the door of the O-League next season.
To thwart that ambition and retain their place in the O-League for 2012-13 Waitakere will need to win the two-leg semifinal and then win the Grand Final.
“I still think on our day we can beat anyone,” said Waitakere coach Neil Emblen.
“To go all the way will be so much more euphoric seeing where we’ve come from.
And that’s something the club needs.
“Canterbury have beaten us the last three times we’ve met and they know how to win and we’ve got to be wary of that.
“They’re really organised and hard-working. They’ve got a lot of quality but their greatest asset is that they’re a team. Our strength can sometimes be seen as individuals but we’ve got to deal with the challenge as a team.”
The teams met in last season’s semifinals which quake-stricken Canterbury reached by beating Auckland City midweek. They lost 6-2 at the Fred a couple of days later but won the home game 1-0.
This season’s run-up has seen Waitakere canter to a 6-1 win at home over cellar-dwellers YoungHeart Manawatu while Canterbury played out a 1-1 draw with minor premiership winners Auckland City – preserving their unbeaten record on their home artificial turf.
Waitakere were down to a skeleton squad last weekend as injuries and suspensions took their toll. This week Chris Bale, Matt Cunneen and Ross McKenzie will be back from suspension but Martin Bullock has an ankle strain, Sean Lovemore has the flu and Roy Krishna is still doubtful with a hamstring problem.
Canterbury have the top two in the Golden Boot this season, George Slefendorfas with 12 goals and Aaron Clapham with nine. Both scored on their last visit to the Fred. Slefendorfas missed last weekend’s game against Auckland City through suspension.
Coach Keith Braithwaite was thrilled by the draw against Auckland City.
“We hadn’t played for over a month so we were really pleased to get that result against the minor champions. It put us in good heart for this weekend. We know we’ve got one helluva game ahead of us.
“We’re missing Joe Murray from the defence from the last time we played Waitakere, but Josh Smith has stepped in and he’s doing a good job.”
Suspended trio of Chris BALE, Ross MCKENZIE and Matt CUNNEEN return.
Golden Boot winner George SLEFENDORFAS returns from suspension while there is also a call-up for Calvin OPPERMAN.
Coach Neil Emblen drops himself and Reece LAMBERT out of the match day squad.
Aaron SPAIN and Michael WHITE who are both replaced.
Fijian striker Roy KRISHNA is still sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Geoff MacINTYRE (knee ligaments) is injured.
Waitakere United and Canterbury United have met in the ASB Premiership playoffs three times in the past two seasons with the West Aucklanders notching two wins and one defeat. That record includes a 6-2 semi-final 1st leg victory last season at Fred Taylor Park and a 3-1 Grand Final win in 2009-10.
Canterbury United have beaten Waitakere United twice this season with two 2-1 wins both home and away. Their last ASB Premiership playoff encounter with the West Aucklanders finished in a 1-0 win in what was effectively dead rubber after taking a 6-2 thumping in the semi-finals 1st Leg.
ASB Premiership - Semi Final, 1st Leg
Sunday 15 April, 2012
1- Danny ROBINSON (GK)
1- Tom BATTY (GK)
2- Jason ROWLEY
2- Dan TERRIS
3- Aaron SCOTT
3- Mark JOHNSTON
4- Tim MYERS
4- Nick WORTELBOER
6- Matt CUNNEEN
5- Tom SCHWARZ
7- Martin BULLOCK
7- Darren WHITE
8- Chris BALE
8- Aaron CLAPHAM (c)
10- Allan PEARCE
9- George SLEFENDORFAS
11- Ross McKENZIE
10- Russell KAMO
17- Jake BUTLER
12- Andy BARTON
20- Ryan de VRIES
13- Daniel GLOZIER
22- Matt UPTON (GK)
14- Josh SMITH
25- Sean LOVEMORE
15- Julyan COLLETT
27- Ross HAVILAND
19- Calvin OPPERMAN
29- Jordan VALE
20- Ken YAMAMOTO
30- Rory TURNER
22- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)