By David Gearey / asbpremiership.co.nz
NAPIER - Waikato FC will look to be the first side to end a five-game Hawke's Bay United home winning streak when the two teams meet at Bluewater Stadium this Sunday.
Hawke’s Bay remain the only side with a one hundred percent home record this season and with the return of former All White Jarrod Smith on the cards, the home side’s odds of continuing that form look good.
The Bay have turned Park Island’s “Bluewater Stadium” into a fortress, so Waikato’s skipper Sam Jasper is well aware of the potential pitfalls of playing on arguably the best pitch in the country against in-form opponents.
“Hawke’s Bay are a very good side and obviously have made their home ground a tough place to play.
"We need to carry on from the last two games and if we can tighten up at the back a bit more there's no reason why we can't get something from the game,” Jasper said.
Jasper spent much of his mid season break in the social company of Sunday's opponents.
Celebrating the arrival of the New Year at Gisborne’s Rhythm n Vines event, both sets of players were often seen on early morning jogs and even grassy hill sprints.
Jasper reflected on the festive fitness retreat with a laugh.
“Jarrod and I did a bit of work down there with Jack Hobson-McVeigh and Hawke’s Bay fan favourite Sam Jenkins.
"Rumours are going around Cole Peverley couldn't keep up and was last spotted in the St John’s tent trying to call his partner,” Jasper joked.
One player for whom the hard yards over the Christmas break have paid dividends for Hawke’s Bay and Smith in particular.
The former All White now looks destined to pull the Bay shirt on for the first time this summer.
Smith, had been in scintillating form over the winter but has struggled to shake off a reoccurring hamstring injury, now looks to be ready and raring to go.
“I'm personally feeling pretty good, getting through a training game last weekend and training this week the body’s feeling good.
"My fitness is getting back to where I want it to be and I’m sure will improve with every minute I play in the upcoming weeks,” Smith said.
The former Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC forward could be returning at a key moment for coach Chris Greatholder.
With Smith back in the squad and the return of Dakota Lucas prior to the New Year, Hawke’s Bay have plenty of fire power and look more likely to be playoff contenders for the first time since the league’s introduction.
Smith is convinced this is Bay's chance to create history.
“I think we have to believe it to do it, and honestly I think if we make the playoffs we have a good a chance as any.
"We still have to take care of business until then and if we can push to get home advantage in the playoffs, I'd really rate our chances in going all the way,” Smith added.
Both sides will be hungry for points as the league rolls into the New Year, with the Bay looking to extend the margin within the top four and the visitors clinging to their playoff hopes by a fine thread.
Waikato makes the trip south hopeful of no injuries or suspensions after their midweek defeat to Auckland City while Hawke’s Bay will front with a fully fit squad for the first time this campaign.
The match takes place at Bluewater Stadium this Sunday.
Kickoff is at 2pm.
Hawke's Bay United
Jarrod SMITH returns from injury to bolster Hawke’s Bay United’s attacking options. Sean LOVEMORE returns from suspension.
Mark JONES is added to the squad.
Josh MARGETTS and Rudi BAUEFIEND are deselected while Ross HAVILAND is on the injured list.
Mike KRAMER is left out.
Goalkeeper Richard GILLESPIE is set to make his 86th ASB Premiership career appearance.
Sam MARGETTS showdown with brother Josh is off after the Hawke’s Bay United player was omitted from their squad for Sunday’s match.
Sean LOVEMORE is Hawke’s Bay United’s top scorer with six goals, just one behind Tom MOSQUERA of YoungHeart Manawatu.
Goalkeeper Matt UPTON is still looking for his first clean sheet of the season. Sam MARGETTS is one goal away from scoring ten ASB Premiership career goals. He has bagged nine goals in 42 matches for Waikato FC and Hawke’s Bay United combined. MARGETTS scored five goals for Hawke’s Bay last season.
Hawke's Bay United
ASB Premiership - Round 8
Sunday 13 January, 2013
1- Richard GILLESPIE (GK)
1- Matt UPTON (GK)
2- Aaron JONES
5- Eder FRANCHINI
4- Danny WILSON
6- Sam JASPER
5- Bill ROBERTSON (c)
8- Robbie GREENHALGH
6- Stephen HINDMARCH
9- Rory TURNER
8- Cole PEVERLEY
11- Jack HOBSON-McVEIGH
9- Jarrod SMITH
12- Neil MOUNCHER (GK)
10- Stephen HOYLE
14- Sam MARGETTS
12- Harley RODEKA
16- Elliot COLLIER
16- Sean LOVEMORE
17- Mark JONES
17- Fergus NEIL
18- Alexi Caroama VARELA
18- Dakota LUCAS
19- Dave PARKINSON
20- Conor TINNION
21- Raymond HOW
21- Matt BRUIN
22- Jordan SHAW
22- Angus KILKOLLY
23- Hone FOWLER
25- Danyon DRAKE (GK)
24- Adam WALLIS