Window of belief offers Utd top view

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor


Manawatu v HB Utd

Palmerston North

AS TRANSFER markets go in soccer, New Zealand is unlikely to ever hit the crescendo of Europe and South America.

Anything to heighten interest before a kick-off will be godsend but to fan the flames of gossip in the ASB Premiership transfer window will require something more than just a collaboration of whispers.

However, there's something immensely satisfying in finding a franchise which shows an almost total state of inertia.

The Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United team falls into the category of that elusive state of inactivity this summer after the transfer window was flung wide open this week.

No additions or subtractions in the equation of Bay coach Chris Greatholder who will go to the other side of the Manawatu Gorge tomorrow for a 2pm kick-off in their on-going quest to clinch a premiership play-off berth for the first time in the history of the competition.

For the record, the Bill Robertson-captained side have no divisions although, it seems, the multiplication of belief is akin to a tomato glut in the world market threatening to break out into a festival of Valencia, Spain, proportions.

Happy for a snap interview at the Soundshell, along Marine Parade, in Napier, Greatholder echoes the Bay's booming summer, confirming they did put out their feelers during the transfer window and simply "left it at that".

Conversely, a franchise sounded out a Bay player but the home franchise politely thanked it for its interest.

"He [the player] remains with us and is happy to be here," he says, declining to name him or the interested party.

Perhaps he is one of the four strikers, considering golden boot hopeful Sean Lovemore and English import Stephen Hoyle came off the bench in the 4-0 win over lowly Waikato last Sunday?

A grinning Greatholder says while there was talk about starters Jarrod Smith and Dakota Lucas and substitute Lovemore's prowess in the media, he feels Hoyle was "brilliant" in the last 20 minutes.

"His movements and ethics were second to none."

Greatholder says five players who didn't make the playing squad will be disappointed but it is a good headache in finding the best XI for the play-offs.

"The players understand that as well. The decisions I make are good for [Bay United] so if I feel they need a rest one week and another player needs to come in to add something different then that's how it is," says the Napier bank manager, who is looking more and more like Moses delivering the franchise to a promised land so far beyond their reach much to the disbelief of other franchises around the country.

If anything, the pattern of behaviour during the window transfer this summer is a testimony to how far Bay United have come from previous seasons of uncertainty amid frustration.

"This time last year we were chasing around trying to improve ourselves to get more ability in the squad and to get the dynamics right but, it seems, we've got it right the first time this time."

While the game against the Stu Jacobs-coached Youngheart Manawatu will be of the same ilk as the lowly Waikato United in Napier last Sunday, no one can argue the Bay are looking like the best of the rest after losses to Waitakere United, Auckland City and Christchurch United.

Even Robertson's bullish post-match declaration of going further than the play-offs has some credence.

No doubt, letting their guard down even against a last-placed Youngheart, as previous franchise teams have done, will be their undoing.

"The worst thing we can do now is to not treat this team [Manawatu] like we would treat a game against one of the best sides," he says after going through the seasonal ritual of video analysis and crunching other numbers amid perception of how the opposition are likely to behave.

He accepts the Manawatu match tomorrow will become a work bench for moulding a team that will carry their hopes and dreams into their maiden play-off.

"At the end of the big games, we should find ourselves there," says Greatholder, lifting his head as he tries to find an elusive focal point where the sea supposedly meets the blue sky.

An advocate of playing attractive soccer, he likes to see his men roll their sleeves up to track their runners but he also prefers them to bring the ball down to express themselves.

He isn't exempt from the learning process - "from going to thinking I knew a lot, but realised quickly I knew bugger-all" - and is sitting his senior level 3 qualifications late this month.

He has had heard of rumours that three newcomers from the Waikato region were on trial in the equation of the misfiring green machine but you somehow get the impression he doesn't care. "There's no reputable source, though, just hearsay."

Working on the philosophy of what Bay United can control, Greatholder is comfortable with their pool of knowledge and if Robertson and his troops play to their ability then the rest will fall into place. "I'm pretty sure we know what to expect when we get down there because we've done our due diligence and we've had a look at who will play and how they play and, also, how to combat that," he says nonchalantly.

In the 6.30pm kick-off against Wellington Phoenix A at Bluewater Stadium, Park Island, on Wednesday, the clipboards will be out to see who will be the protagonists on the platform for perfecting Bay United's craft.

The A-League franchise's development team, with Bay-born Tom Biss as player and former Bay United coach and ex-Scottish international goalkeeper Jonathan Gould as coach, lost 3-1 to Manawatu in Palmerston North on Wednesday.

English import striker Paul Ifill played for 30 minutes after returning from ankle surgery.

While it didn't look like the Bay were stretched defensively last Sunday against Waikato, Greatholder says his Beefeaters did well to negate their strikers while the Bay midfielders also fell back to bolster the backline although it is unsettling to see someone like Lovemore camping in his half rather than harassing opposition defenders.

Palmy North, like many codes have experienced before, can be a rude awakening for favourites and Memorial Park is no exception in soccer.

Greatholder accepts with Jacobs' prowess and a few fine individual players the hosts are capable of pulling off an upset victory.

"We know we have to be as good as we can be if we're to come back with three points," he says, confirming the Bay have a fit squad although defender Danny Wilson isn't in the equation for tactical reasons before he jets off to England to marry fiancee Lauren next weekend.

Onehunga Sports defender Ross Halivand, who has yet to make his debut, is about a fortnight away from joining the fray. "His foot has been rebroken and put back together so he's started training and should be competitive soon," Greatholder says.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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