By John Donnachie / asbpremiership.co.nz
CHRISTCHURCH - It promises to be a pre-christmas cracker when Canterbury host champions and current Premiership leaders, Waitakere United, at ASB Football Park on Sunday.
Should Canterbury win, they will go straight to the Premiership summit for the first time this season. It is also the first time both sides have met since last season's dramatic seven goal semi final second-leg play-off thriller in Christchurch.
The champions Waitakere United prevailed that day (5-2) but had to call on all their quality and big game experience after being behind at half-time, and from the first leg in Auckland.
While there are changes in personnel- Waitakere have a new coach in Paul Marshall - and plenty of new faces, both clubs still have familiar attributes, and adhere to the same attacking philosophy.
Dragons coach, Keith Braithwaite, is expecting another high-energy encounter, and said the opportunity to finish the year on top of the league, was “the big carrot dangling” for both sides.
For Dragons defender, Julyan Collett, beating his old club and finishing the year on top, would be the perfect start to his festive season.
“I love playing Waitakere, I love the club. It will be a strong physical match. It would be bloody good for us to finish on top,” he said.
The former Waitakere youth player, came to Christchurch two years ago, after an injury side-tracked his career prospects with the champions.
Since then, he has never looked back. This season he has played a significant role scoring two goals. While right back is his preferred position, he has been used in a utility role of late.
Collett reckoned Sunday's match would be a good indicator of how strong the current Dragons squad is.
He said: “We had a few personnel changes, and had just one pre-season game before starting. I think we are coming along now, and a lot better since the Auckland game."
Dragons coach, Keith Braithwaite, has a fully fit squad to choose from, and is unlikely to tinker much with a formation which has put together 5 wins in a row.
Waitakere chief Paul Marshall, brings south a hungry side, who are undefeated and determined to open a commanding lead at the top. A win would put the champions 4 points clear before the break.
But they do have some injury concerns. Daniel Morgan, Luiz del Monte and Jack Beguely are unlikely to feature. Former Dragons striker and their top marksman from last season,George Slefendorfas is also unavailable.
Marshall said the match was a “tricky”assignment for his squad. The champions meanwhile have been praticising on artificial turf in preparation for the trip to Christchurch.
Tom BATTY excluded.
Sam MATHEWS (calf), Dan MORGAN (knee) and George SLEFENDORFAS (foot) are sidelined by injury leaving coach Paul MARSHALL with the same squad at his disposal as last Sunday.
Julyan COLLETT faces his old club.
Canterbury have won four of their last five matches with Waitakere United but have sore memories from their last meeting – a 5-2 thrashing in the semi-final 2nd leg that eliminated them from last season’s playoffs. Canterbury’s recent home record in the regular season is intimidating – 8 wins, 1 draw, 0 losses, 34 goals for, just four against.
Waitakere United start the match as underdogs based on the head to head record between these two clubs. One win and four defeats from their previous five clashes is not a great record but the West Aucklanders last visit was a memorable one – they thrashed the Dragons 5-2 and advanced to the ASB Premiership Grand Final.
ASB Premiership - Round 7
Sunday 16 December, 2012
22- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
1- Danny ROBINSON (GK)
2- Dan TERRIS (c)
2- Aaron SCOTT
3- Vladimir BAYREV
3- Jack BEGUELY
4- Nick WORTELBOER
4- Tim MYERS
5- Tom SCHWARZ
5- Brian SHELLEY
6- Chris MURPHY
6- Matt CUNNEEN
7- Darren WHITE
7- David MULLIGAN
8- Aaron CLAPHAM
8- Chad COOMBES
9- Russell KAMO
10- Allan PEARCE
10- Dimitar BAYREV
12- Roy KRISHNA
12- Andy BARTON
16- Maksim MANKO
14- Josh SMITH
17- Jake BUTLER (c)
15- Julyan COLLETT
20- Ryan de VRIES
16- Ashley WELLBOURN
21- Dylan STANSFIELD
20- Ken YAMAMOTO
22- Louie CAUNTER (GK)
21- Tristan NICOL
25- Milos NIKOLIC