HB Utd v Waikato AFC
Park Island, Napier
CHRISTMAS might have been a little weird and the soccer ground rock hard but Aaron Jones is still loving it here.
The English import for Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United soccer wasn't for a second about to blame the tools of his trade.
Jones could have ergonomically speaking argued he needed a pair of sensible boots to counter the concrete pavement-like parched surface during training sessions behind Bluewater Stadium but he thought otherwise.
Instead, the centreback from Chesterfield, about half an hour's drive from Derby, showed his resilience to adapt by the first pre-season match of the ASB Premiership.
"I'm still wearing the same boots from the UK where it's pretty wet and boggy," says Jones who turns 20 on February 26.
That's the sort of steely resolve the rest of the Bay United squad members will have to emulate if the Chris Greatholder-coached side is to make the premiership play-offs for the maiden time in its eight-season history.
The Bill Robertson-captained Bay franchise team host Waikato AFC in a 2pm kick-off tomorrow as they resume their campaign after the Christmas break in fourth place on the ladder.
Having beaten the Declan Edge-coached visitors 2-0 in Hamilton on November 4, the Magpies will have ticked this game as a certain three points even though Mark Cossey has assumed the mantle of coach.
Waikato lost 4-1 to Auckland City on Wednesday night.
Christmas hasn't stalled the drive to create history this summer although Jones discloses he and teammate Connor Tinnion "pigged out a little bit" at their Napier pad after fellow flatmates and players Stephen Hindmarch and Harley Rodeka went to Wellington and Dunedin, respectively.
"Christmas seems to be a little bigger [in England] with more lights and more shopping," he says but emphasises they adhered to training regimes at the gym in a professional manner.
Aware under Edge, Waikato kept the ball a lot more "without hurting us much".
No doubt, the Bay have done their homework on the new coach.
"We're looking to keep the ball and create scoring opportunities in an attacking type of football," says the man who has played four seasons with striker Stephen Hoyle at Doncaster Rovers.
The Bay are spoilt for choices with strikers, with golden boot contender Sean Lovemore, Dakota Lucas and ex-All White Jarrod Smith in the mix, too.
Smith will be making his season debut if he starts or comes off the bench after an a lengthy injury lay-off while Lucas made his Bay debut against former club Team Wellington in the last home game following keyhole knee surgery.
Adopting a fortress mentality is also yielding dividends.
"We haven't lost a game or point at home so we're looking for maximum points to push our way into the play-offs, which is something we aspired to do from the start of the season," says Jones, who enjoys playing alongside premiership savvy Robertson with Danny Wilson on the left and Fergus Neil on the right.
"Bill's been great and he's helped me settle in and also he has been good on the pitch," he says of an aggressive captain whose bark knows no boundaries on the field.
He's no fan of the long-ball approach adopted in English soccer so when Greatholder impressed on him the need to play an attractive, passing game with a dose of controlled aggression there was an instant rapport.
"I settled in quickly after speaking to CG [Greatholder] and that suits my game perfectly," Jones says of a preference to obtain the ball from goalkeeper Richard Gillespie to play it out from the back.
He is gleaning skills off assistant coach Perry Cotton, too.
"PC's an ex-All White defender so he's a great role model to learn from."
With father Peter Jones a centreback for Wolverhampton Wanderers in his schoolboy days, Jones and 23-year-old brother Dean needed no inspiration to play the beautiful game.
Dean broke the mould as a striker, playing in the amateur Sunday league.
Watching his brother play, Jones gravitated to Dean's training sessions and at the age of 13 he signed for Sheffield Wednesday before shifting to Doncaster Rovers three years later.
He puts his love of the game down to "natural progression".
While he hopes to play to as high a level as he can Jones is focused on the Bay United campaign right now.
His father and mother Angela Jones, who he Skypes regularly, remain his biggest fans.
WHO: Hawke's Bay United v Waikato FC.
WHERE: Bluewater Stadium, Napier.
WHEN: Tomorrow, 2pm kick-off.
Referee: John Rowbury.
Head to head: Played 21, HB 8 wins, Waikato 8 wins, 5 draws.
Round 1: Waikato 0 HB 2.
HAWKE'S BAY UNITED form: D-W-L-L-W.
The players: Jarrod Smith returns from injury to bolster Bay United's attacking options. Sean Lovemore returns from suspension. Josh Margetts and Rudi Bauefiend are out while Ross Haviland is still on injury list.
The vital statistics: Lovemore is the Bay's top scorer with six goals, one behind Tom Mosquera of YoungHeart Manawatu. Goalkeeper Richard Gillespie will make his 86th ASB Premiership appearance.
Squad list: 1- Richard Gillespie (GK), 2- Aaron Jones, 4- Danny Wilson, 5- Bill Robertson (c), 6- Stephen Hindmarch, 8- Cole Peverley, 9- Jarrod Smith, 10- Stephen Hoyle, 12- Harley Rodeka, 16- Sean Lovemore, 17- Fergus Neil, 18- Dakota Lucas, 20- Conor Tinnion, 21- Matt Bruin, 22- Angus Kilkolly, 26- Danyon Drake (GK).
Coach: Chris Greatholder. Assistant coach: Perry Cotton.
WAIKATO FC form: L-L-L-L-L.
The players: Mark Jones joins the squad while Mike Kramer leaves. Sam Margetts, Josh's brother, is also out.
The vital statistics: Goalkeeper Matt Upton is still looking for his first clean sheet of the season. Sam Margetts is a goal away from scoring 10 premiership career goals. He has bagged nine goals in 42 matches for Waikato and Bay United. He scored five goals for the Bay last season.
Squad list: 1- Matt Upton (GK), 5- Eder Franchini, 6- Sam Jasper (c), 8- Robbie Greenhalgh, 9- Rory Turner, 11- Jack Hobson-McVeigh, 12- Neil Mouncher (GK), 14- Sam Margetts, 16- Elliot Collier, 17- Mark Jones, 18- Alexi Caroama Varela, 19- Dave Parkinson, 21- Raymond How, 22- Jordan Shaw, 23- Hone Fowler, 24- Adam Wallis.
Coach: Mark Cossey. - NZFC