HB Utd v Manawatu
ASB Premiership soccer
Park Island, Napier
IT'S INEXPLICABLY strange is how Sean Lovemore describes his feelings when asked if he is aware the professional Hawke's Bay soccer franchise team has yet to make the play-offs in the eight-year existence of the national summer league.
The former Waitakere United player should know in his debut season with the Kinetic Electric Hawke's Bay United team as they prepare to host Youngheart Manawatu in the ASB Premiership in Napier tomorrow.
"It does seem strange," says the 20-year-old striker from Auckland, alluding to how competitive Bay United have been against Waitakere when he was there for two seasons.
Lovemore, who has scored about 10 goals for Waitakere in his tenure with the high-flying O-League franchise from Auckland, suspects Bay United are perhaps guilty of raising their tempo against tougher opposition in previous seasons but dropping their guard against lesser sides in prolonging their agony of making the cut.
"Hopefully that'll change this summer because we've had a good start so we'll push on to make a bit of history by making the play-offs," says Lovemore before referee Nick Waldron signals a 2pm kick-off at the Bluewater Stadium, Park Island.
You somehow get the impression Lovemore is akin to a calf which has just had the tether loosened from around its neck.
He can't wait to burn up the energy on the paddock after warming the Waitakere bench for two seasons under former coach Neil Emblen.
If anyone had any doubts of his prowess in the 18m box then you only need to look at his performance last Sunday at Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, where he popped in two goals for the new-look, Chris Greatholder-coached Bay United against Waikato United.
He isn't so naive as to take sole credit for the goals, lauding his Bill Robertson-led teammates for providing quality balls.
"I took my opportunities but it's a really good start and a solid performance from the lads," says the Onehunga Sports Club member.
With fellow New Zealand under-20 teammate Dakota Lucas and ex-All White striker Jarrod Smith nursing injuries, Lovemore will have the ideal opportunity to find a niche among the front-line foragers.
The man who repairs kegs for a beer manufacturer in Auckland from Monday to Thursday has no qualms about jetting down every Thursday to train through to play on Sundays.
"It's full on work and training but I can do it and I enjoy it so I can't complain," he explains, thankful to fellow Onehunga Sports stalwart Stu Mair for arranging a flexible job for him.
Just walking in to expect a starting berth and lion's share of the game at Bay United isn't his style.
"It's a decent team and you have to work for 90 minutes of game time," says the man who made an appearance in the 65th minute for the Wellington Phoenix as a loan player last year in the 2-0 defeat to Sydney FC in the transtasman A-League.
Young he is but Lovemore has clocked up all bar one O-League matches in the cut-throat environment of a star-studded Waitakere side, albeit off the bench.
No doubt, it's a no-brainer why he's cut a track here - more game time.
"It was a good place [at Waitakere] so there's nothing personal with the coaches there."
The son of England-born Patrick Lovemore and Japanese mother Naomi played soccer from the age of five when his parents took him to the neighbourhood Buckland's Beach Club in Auckland.
"I had quite a good kick from it so I haven't looked back since then.
"I've played football my entire life."
It does help that Lovemore took part in athletics from a young age, too, which probably explains why he packs a turbo-charged grunt under his hood.
Impartial to his right foot but mindful of the importance of having a useful left in his footballing arsenal, Lovemore belongs to the breed of strikers who prefer the ball to be channelled from behind his feet.
"Stephen Hoyle prefers the ball to be passed to his feet so we complement each other quite well," he says of the English import who was instrumental in creating the scoring opportunities last Sunday against the Declan Edge-coached Waikato.
Needless to say the Stu Jacobs-coached Younghearts are the Bay's nemesis with the treacherous Manawatu Gorge an ever-present reminder of how many different codes have slipped up going into games as favourites.
Greatholder, in his first full season at the helm after assuming the mantle of coach three rounds into last summer when Matt Chandler suddenly left for Australia, is mindful Manawatu will want to continue their winning start, too.
"They haven't had much joy over the last season and in the last match they had a glorious win against Otago so they will be cock-a-hoop against us at the weekend," Greatholder said last night as his men trained at Park Island.
Predictably unpredictable is how he summed the visitors who have a propensity to speed things up with the likes of one-season Bay United and former Vanauatu international striker Seule Soromon and hattrick hero Tom Mosquera.
He dismisses any suggestions of Manawatu lacking structure, saying coach Stu Jacobs has had a great build up to the summer with a fit squad that has 3 to 5 youngsters.
"Most people may have been surprised with their result last week but I'm sure they weren't."
Having said that Greatholder was upbeat his team would rise to the occasion tomorrow, having placed pressure on themselves to make the top four to avoid the tag of also rans.
Bay United - it's a new regime - have this week signed former Bluewater Napier City Rovers player Matt Bruin who completed studies for a degree at Otago University in Dunedin.
Greatholder describes the 22-year-old, who has been playing for Caversham, as a defender-cum-midfielder who will start on the bench.
"Matt was with Harley Rodeka at Caversham. We were always going to sign him but he couldn't commit until he finished his exams and stay fit and healthy, which is what he is."
Greatholder said taking three points tomorrow would be paramount before heading north the following Sunday to play O-League giants Auckland City.
"We love Kiwitea St because that's where all the singing and chanting is for a proper match atmosphere," he said before clarifying the Bay didn't want to get too far ahead of themselves before tomorrow's match here.
WHO: Hawke's Bay United v YoungHeart Manawatu.
WHERE: Bluewater Stadium, Park Island.
WHEN: Tomorrow, 2pm kick off.
Referee: Nick Waldron.
Head to head: Played 20, HB 9 wins, Manawatu 7 with 4 draws.
HB UNITED form: W.
The players: Coach Chris Greatholder has signed former Hawke's Bay player Matt Bruin, a midfielder-cum-defender, who will be on the bench. Matt Hastings, of a similar mould, is out with a knee injury.
The vital statistics: The Bay are on a five-game unbeaten streak against Manawatu but they will be wary of a side who have beaten Otago United 3-0 in the first round. The Bay haven't lost the ``derby'' in three years.
Squad list: 1 Richard Gillespie (GK), 2 Aaron Jones (guest player), 4 Danny Wilson, 5 Bill Robertson (c), 6 Stephen Hindmarch (G), 8 Cole Peverley, 10 Stephen Hoyle, 11 Conor Tinnion, 12 Harley Rodeka, 16 Sean Lovemore, 17 Fergus Neil, 19 Rudi Bauerfiend, 23 Angus Kilkolly (A), 26 Danyon Drake (A) (GK), Matt Bruin (new signing).
Coach: Chris Greatholder. Assistant coach: Perry Cotton.
MANAWATU form: W
The players: Nathan Cooksley returns from suspension to boost YoungHeart's confidence, otherwise it's an unchanged squad from the Dunedin game last Sunday. Matt Kennedy and Michael Fraser are on the injured list.
The vital statistics: Manawatu last defeated the Bay in 2009 when the then Bob Sova-coached outfit won 1-0 at Memorial Park, Palmerston North, thanks to a Seule Soromon goal. Two-goal premiership veteran
Cooksley is on track to make his 85th ASB Premiership career appearance.
Squad list: 1 Matt Borren (GK), 2 Liam Higgins, 4 Kade Schrijvers, 5 Andrew Frampton, 7 Josh Chettleburgh, 8 Nathan Cooksley, 9 Seule Soromon, 10 Adam Cowan (c), 11 Tomas Mosquera, 14 Tyson Brandt, 15 Billy Scott, 17 Jordan Martens (A), 18 Dale Higham (A), 19 Ben Wilkes (GK), 20 Sam Redwood, 22 Grant Robson.
Coach: Stu Jacobs. NZFC