By Cameron Russell / asbpremiership.co.nz
WELLINGTON - Enthsiastic and passionate, coach Paul Marshall can’t wait to see his table toppers Waitakere United tussle with Team Wellington on Saturday.
Waitakere have started the season unbeaten, winning six games and only dropping points on one occasion when they drew 1-1 against local rivals Auckland City.
The league leaders can’t afford to take their foot of the gas, with Canterbury United only four points behind them.
“I wouldn’t say the festive break didn’t just come at the wrong time for us, but it came at the wrong time for everybody.
“It’s just too long a gap when there is only 14 games in a season,” Marshall said, "We have done really well in the first half of the season, but we’re very much looking forward to the second half of it.”
That enthusiasm is born from a desire to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive ASB Premiership title, the perfect platform for a foray into the OFC Champions League in March.
To boost that aim, Marshall believes more games should be added to the ASB Premiership programme.
“I think we should play a minimum of 24 league games. I think it needs to be looked into," he said.
With optimism overflowing for Waitakere, by contrast Team Wellington haven’t had the best of starts.
The capital side has played six games (with one postponed fixture against Auckland), winning two and losing four.
With those statistics, a repeat of last season's stirring run to the Grand Final looks remote.
Cut seven points adrift from a playoff spot, Wellington coach Matt Calcott will want to overturn that disadvantage with a winning sequence between now and the end of the minor premiership title chase.
And Calcott's colleague Marshall has plenty of praise for a Wellington side brimming with youthful talent.
“Team Wellington is a good team, they're young and have some good players available to them who can be very good on their day.
“But it’s hard to know what to expect from them because you don’t quite know who’s going to be taking the field, so it’s not like a lot of other teams when you can anticipate the starting line ups,” he said.
That unpredicatability saw Wellington slip up 1-0 at home to Otago yet thump Waikato FC 4-1 away.
When Wellington met Waitakere earlier this season, it was the West Aucklanders who came away winners in a 3-0 romp.
Marshall recalls the game but views a return trip to the capital with understandable caution.
“We did beat Wellington in the first round but that was at Fred Taylor Park and this time it’s away at David Farrington Park so it’s a little bit different," Marshall said.
Marshall's resources are thinner with former All White David Mulligan injured, striker Maksim Manko overseas and Dan Morgan still receiving treatment for a knee injury.
Team Wellington's closer relationship with the Wellington Phoenix Academy has meant a new challenge for coach Matt Calcott who has cautiously named an extended squad to manage call offs.
Calcott's side may just look forward to the Miramar venue after two 1-0 loss ‘home games’ at Wellington Stadium earlier in the season.
The game gets underway at 4pm at David Farrington Park on Saturday.
Team Wellington face an anxious wait as players return from outside the capital ahead of Saturday’s clash. An extended squad has been named with a final group named by Friday. Darren CHERITON, Adam McGEORGE, Cory CHETTLEBURGH and Daniel CLARKE return.
Kyle SEGEBART, Steven GULLEY and Will JONES are unavailable.
Waitakere United must face Wellington without injured influential midfielder and former All White David MULLIGAN, while Maksim MANKO has departed overseas along with Harshae RANIGA. Dan MORGAN is also missing due to a knee injury.
Hamish WATSON is Team Wellington's top scorer with two goals. Five other players have scored one goal each - Justin GULLEY, Henry FA'ARODO, Karsten VIBORG, Tobias BERTSCH and Cory CHETTLEBURGH.
Jake BUTLER needs just 2 more goals to reach 20 ASB Premiership goals. He has made 117 appearances in the ASB Premiership.
Team Wellington has lost their last seven matches with Waitakere United with their last victory over the visitors a 2-1 win at home in 2010. Team Wellington’s last win was a 3-1 defeat of YoungHeart Manawatu in Round 4 on November 25, 2012.
A win from this game could put Waitakere a possible five point gap over Auckland City, should Canterbury lose to the navy blues in Christchurch on Sunday.
1- Scott BASALAJ (GK)
1- Danny ROBINSON (GK)
2- Tim SCHAEFFERS
2- Aaron SCOTT
3- Jamie DUNCAN
3- Jack BEGUELY
4- Darren CHERITON
4- Tim MYERS
5- Andy DAMGAARD
5- Brian SHELLEY
7- Wiremu PATRICK
6- Matt CUNNEEN
8- Adam McGEORGE
8- Chad COOMBES
9- Cory CHETTLEBURGH
10- Allan PEARCE
10- Henry FA'ARODO
12- Roy KRISHNA
13- Karl WHALEN
15- Salesh KUMAR
14- Dominic ROWE
17- Jake BUTLER (c)
17- Jimmy HAIDAKIS
18- Sam MATHEWS
18- Tom DOYLE
20- Ryan de VRIES
19- Tobias BERTSCH
21- Dylan STANSFIELD
20- Luke ROWE
22- Louis CAUNTER (GK)
21- Justin GULLEY
25- Milos NIKOLIC
22- Hamish WATSON
23- Tom BISS
24- Alec SOLOMONS
25- Daniel CLARKE