By John Donnachie / asbpremiership.co.nz
CHRISTCHURCH - The Canterbury United Dragons are on the verge of a third Grand Final appearance and most likely an O League spot for the first time in their history.
It would take a bitter sceptic to think otherwise.
The Dragons go into Sunday's semi-final second leg tie with Waitakere United holding a 1-0 lead. Their form at ASB Football Park has been exemplary this season- they are undefeated.
Moreover, in four meetings with the reigning champions since last April they have won them all.
And for those who are superstitious the year 2012 just happens to be the year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac calendar.
Perhaps then it will be a case of third time lucky should they reach their third Grand Final?
Dragons coach Keith Braithwaite however, was in no mood to star gaze or dare contemplate the prospect of a Grand Final berth.
“They have nothing to lose. It's win or bust for them. On their day Waitakere are the best team in the country,” Braithwaite said.
Braithwaite has heard of the champions selection woes but was unmoved. “Whatever team they field it will be a strong side,” he said.
Last Sunday's precious away goal win at “the Fred” is advantage Canterbury but the tie is perilously balanced according to Braithwaite. “We have to be careful. We have not decided whether we will attack or try to contain them.
The Dragons will be missing Darren White and likely Andy Barton-two of their most influential forwards this campaign. This may force Braithwaite's hand when it comes to deciding how to approach arguably the biggest football match in Christchurch for years.
But even he senses the finishing line is in sight.
“We are 90 minutes away from making history and making it a great day for Canterbury Football. These players have made big sacrifices since the earthquakes last year,” Braithwaite said.
Waitakere United coach, Neil Emblen, meanwhile remains bullish about the champions prospects at the ASB Football Park fortress.
“If we can create the same chances like we did the last time in Christchurch-we can do it. But the first goal is vital,” Emblen said.
Emblen said this season had been particularly challenging for the West Aucklanders. Confidence was low and playing resources had been stretched with injuries and players leaving. It was a case of taking their chances when they arrived.
“We have to make any one on ones with the goalkeeper count this time,” he said.
Emblen though realises the champions are going to have throw the form book out the window and pull out all stops to beat a rampant Canterbury side.
“For me their biggest strength is they are a unit. Sometimes we are maybe more about individuals that is the difference between us both this season.”
The champions are missing defender Jason Rowley who is injured and Tim Myers who is suspended. Pacy striker Ryan De Vries was unlikely to feature, while goal machine Roy Krishna would travel but was extremely doubtful.
Emblen meanwhile laughed off suggestions he would play. “I'm not sure my kit would fit me now.”
The action gets underway at ASB Football Park in Christchurch on Sunday, kick-off at 2pm.
Darren WHITE is suspended for the return leg, while Andy BARTON (Leg infection) and Geoff MacINTYRE (knee) are both injured.
Jason ROWLEY (calf), Tim MYERS (suspended) and Ryan de VRIES (injured)
Adam HIGHFIELD made his 60th ASB Premiership career appearance in the semi-final 1st leg win. HIGHFIELD is the second most experienced player in the Dragons line-up in terms of matches played, behind Dan TERRIS who has 107 ASB Premiership career appearances to his name.
Coach Neil EMBLEN is forced to name himself in the match day squad following injury and suspension to key players. The 40-year-old former FA Premiership player is not expected to start the game.
Canterbury United have now beaten Waitakere United four times in the previous four meetings stretching back to last season’s ASB Premiership semi-final 2nd Leg when an Aaron Clapham penalty gave the Dragons a 1-0 win.
Waitakere United have come back from a semi-final 1st leg deficit once before in their history when they recovered from a 3-2 loss to Team Wellington with a 2-1 2nd Leg win to advance to the ASB Premiership Grand Final on the away goals rule back in April 2010.
ASB Premiership - Semi-Final, 2nd Leg
Sunday 22 April, 2012
1- Tom BATTY (GK)
1- Danny ROBINSON (GK)
2- Dan TERRIS
3- Aaron SCOTT
3- Mark JOHNSTON
6- Matt CUNNEEN
4- Nick WORTELBOER
7- Martin BULLOCK
5- Tom SCHWARZ
8- Chris BALE
8- Aaron CLAPHAM (c)
10- Allan PEARCE
9- George SLEFENDORFAS
11- Ross McKENZIE
10- Russell KAMO
12- Roy KRISHNA
11- Michael WHITE
16- Neil EMBLEN
13- Daniel GLOZIER
17- Jake BUTLER (c)
14- Josh SMITH
22- Matt UPTON (GK)
15- Julyan COLLETT
25- Sean LOVEMORE
19- Calvin OPPERMAN
26- Reece LAMBERT
20- Ken YAMAMOTO
27- Ross HAVILAND
22- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
29- Jordan VALE
- one to be added
30- Rory TURNER