HB Utd v Canterbury Utd
Park Island, Napier
WAS STRIKER Sean Lovemore going to miss the game tomorrow on the foundation of four cumulative yellow cards?
That was the question from a Canterbury scribe as early as Thursday afternoon on the Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United golden boot contender.
Did someone miss something on the record of speedy Bay United 2012-13 soccer signing in the ASB Premiership?
"News to me," was Bay coach Chris Greatholder's text message reply when the ball bounced into his court, before the 2pm kickoff at Park Island, Napier, tomorrow against Canterbury United.
More importantly, the spontaneous feeler from the south is a testimony to pre-match nerves at the Bluewater Stadium.
To which Greatholder texted: "No doubt! We haven't been beaten at home for over 12 months. Fortress!"
Maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with fellow striker Jarrod Smith not likely to get through on a fitness test tomorrow with a strained Achilles tendon?
Two goal-savvy players out means the Keith Braithwaite-coached Cantabrians should be in with a sniff.
It is a pivotal match between third-placed Bay United and the fourth-placed Dragons. But then, again, the Bill Robertson-captained Bay won't want to be getting too far ahead of themselves in the hunt for their maiden play-off berth in the history of the premiership.
That's because in round five the visitors thumped the Bay 4-0 in Christchurch.
Supposedly you could argue there's no one better to remember that day than goalkeeper Richard Gillespie.
Wrong, Gillespie's recollection is somewhat vague but you've got to cut the guy some slack because it's human nature to cognitively switch off an unpleasant experience.
"It wasn't very good, Not a good feeling," the 31-year-old Onekawa School teacher and sports co-ordinator says.
He casts his mind back, deeper, chews on a few factors before adding: "Things just didn't feel right on the day for 90 per cent of the boys.
"We looked tired and lacked any sort of creativity," Gillespie says.
In fact, Bay United were lucky to come away just conceding four goals that day.
Adapting to an artificial surface on an uncharacteristically hot day in Christchurch to what the Bay are accustomed to didn't help their cause.
"It was five degrees hotter on the artificial pitch, the ball bounced differently ...
"Look, you can overanalyse these things but at the end of the day we just didn't turn up."
The vice-captain of Bay United, Gillespie's breath-takingly honest assessment is symbolic of how far the team have come this season.
With seven undefeated games on the trot at home from round five in the 2011-12 season going into tomorrow's match, the claims of "fortress" isn't some whimsical ploy from the marketing arm of the franchise.
Gillespie has conceded only three goals at Bluewater Stadium but he knows both teams have a lot to play and crunching all the numbers will count for nothing because it'll be the digits on either side of the park's clock that'll matter tomorrow.
It bodes well for the premiership when Team Wellington, who gave Auckland City a fright in their 3-2 loss after they were reduced to 10 men and led for a good part of the game at Kiwitea Street, are in the hunt for a semifinal berth, too, with three games in hand.
Should the Matt Calcott-coached capital city men win all three for nine points, Bay United or Canterbury could be left crying in their beers.
"Wellington will beat Auckland City at home this weekend," says Gillespie who has an O-League title with the Auckland franchise.
Bay United play Wellington away in the last round after overwhelming them 3-0 in round on December 16.
The Ramon Tribulietx-coached Auckland City have shown a soft underbelly since bowing out in the first round of their O-League play-offs in Japan.
"I think that sort of thing takes its toll on players," Gillespie reckons.
Under Barcelona-born Tribulietx's structure, he suspects players are finding a big change in playing the passing game.
"Everyone wants to be in the O-League because that's the pinnacle. That's where we want to be, too."
That is looking promising, he says, with more Bay fans getting behind them.
"The more people support us the stronger we will be because this is a daunting place for other teams."
Canterbury have a few old heads at the core of their structure to provide the impetus.
Greatholder's men also have a constitution of "playing for each other".
Tomorrow's balmy weather is unlikely to trouble the Bay's young contingent who can run all day.
"We're building a good culture where the boys are working for each other.
"They are putting their hands up to demand starting spots so the hard work should pay off in the weekend."
With rightback Fergus Neil serving a controversial red-card suspension following the 3-0 victory over Otago United in Dunedin, Gillespie says Matt Bruin or Ross Halivand are in the bracket.
"Ideally Ross could do with another week of full training but the circumstances are such that if CG [Greatholder] asks him to step up then he should do all right."
Delighted to have scored a permanent position at Onekawa School since moving from Taradale Intermediate midway through last year, Gillespie is in his element as sports co-ordinator at the new school.
The home front is equally exciting with wife Wendy expecting a baby boy in May to complete the Gillespie nuclear family.
"It'll be perfect, won't it? I'll have my good, little footballer," he says with a smile as the bundle of joy will become their second child after 19-month-old daughter Kayla.
Bay fans will recall the heartache of missing out on the play-offs in March 2011 when then coach Matt Chandler and his men trained on a Thursday night at Park Island only to find the Dragons had pipped Auckland City 1-0 in the 88th minute at Kiwitea St to secure the fourth place.
Having already qualified, Auckland fielded a "B" team while Canterbury had dedicated the match to their earthquake victims.
Dragons coach Braithwaite said last night every Bay versus Canterbury match had something at stake so tomorrow would be no different.
"Three points will strengthen both sides' position but Hawke's Bay are having an excellent season so you have to have a lot of respect for the coach, too, who's doing a wonderful job."
Having had a disappointing start to the second part of the summer, Canterbury, Braithwaite said, had found a spring in their steps again like the Bay.
"It's never easy to go up there and come away with three points so it'll be a tough ask."
Defender Dan Terris is still nursing a torn calf so All White striker Aaron Clapham will slip on the captain's armband while Louie Bush will step into Terris' defensive boots.
Chris Murphy will come off the bench.
WHO: Hawke's Bay United v Canterbury United.
WHEN: Tomorrow, 2pm kick off.
WHERE: Bluewater Stadium, Napier.
Referee: Nick Waldron.
Head to head: Played 21, Canterbury 12 wins, HB 7 wins, 2 draws.
Previous, rd 5: Canterbury 4 HB Utd 0.
HAWKE'S BAY UTD form: W-W-W-D-W.
Players: Cole Peverley named in the premiership team of the month last month, returns from suspension but veteran striker Jarrod Smith is nursing an Achille's injury and will undergo a fitness test on game day but isn't likely to pass. Fergus Neil is serving a match suspension after collecting a red card in Dunedin last Sunday. Midfielder Conor Tinnion also returns from a suspension.
Vital statistics: HB Utd are undefeated at home since rd 5 of the 2011-12 season when they lost 3-1 to Auckland City. That seven-game unbeaten streak includes conceding just three goals at home this season as they set a record for their longest unbeaten run of five games to the last round.
Squad list: 1- Richard Gillespie (GK, v-c), 2- Aaron Jones, 3- Josh Margetts, 5- Bill Robertson (c), 6- Stephen Hindmarch, 8- Cole Peverley, 10- Stephen Hoyle, 12- Harley Rodeka, 15- Ross Haviland, 16- Sean Lovemore, 18- Dakota Lucas, 19- Rudi Bauerfiend, 20- Conor Tinnion, 21- Matt Bruin, 22- Angus Kilkolly, 26- Danyon Drake RGK).
Coach: Chris Greatholder. Assistant coach: Perry Cotton.
CANTERBURY UTD form: L-L-L-W-W.
The players: Danny Knight drops out of the squad while skipper Dan Terris is still injured with a calf tear.
Louie Bush takes his position in coach Keith Braithwaite's line up.
Vital statistics: Darren White is walking a suspension tightrope and one more caution will earn the midfielder a seat on the sidelines.
Aaron Clapham is Canterbury's top scorer this season with six goals from 10 games. The All White, who has 25 goals from 67 games, will also wear the captain's arm band tomorrow.
Squad list: 22- Adam Highfield (GK), 4- Nick Wortelboer, 5- Tom Schwarz, 7- Darren White, 8- Aaron Clapham (c), 9- Russell Kamo, 11- Michael Fifii, 12- Andy Barton, 13- Nathan Knox, 14- Josh Smith, 15- Julyan Collett, 16- Ashley Wellbourn, 19- Louie Bush, 20- Ken Yamamoto, ?- Chris Murphy.
Coach: Keith Braithwaite.