HB Utd v Waitakere Utd
Park Island, Napier
IT'S NOT just old dogs who have to learn new tricks these days.
So do pups - just ask Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United soccer midfielder Conor Tinnion.
The 21-year-old left winger will be the first to confess he's not very versatile, although he'll step into the centre-mid position if required.
"More often than not wingers feel they don't need to defend," the Englishman says before Bay United host minor ASB Premiership champions Waitakere United today at Park Island, Napier.
"I'm much better at attacking but I'm enjoying doing the job defensively and no one on the field can just attack."
That aspect of his game is a work in progress, emphasising a team philosophy that makes it abundantly clear that putting up the shutters isn't the sole responsibility of the back four.
The Chris Greatholder-coached Bay United are already in the top four playoffs but the result of the next two games, including the away match against Team Wellington next weekend, will determine if they'll play 2012 O-League campaigners Waitakere United or Auckland City.
Finish fourth and it'll be Waitakere, while a third place will see them lock horns with City.
The job has become a little harder for the Bay men with news that prolific goal scorer Sean Lovemore's premiership season is over.
"Sean has ligament damage and a possible fracture of the foot," Greatholder says of the Auckland striker, who is two goals behind golden boot leader and former Waitakere teammate Roy Krishna.
"It's a big blow to us with Jarrod [Smith] still struggling to shake off his Achilles injury."
Midfielder Stephen Hindmarch will be serving a match suspension after picking up his fourth yellow card last Sunday in the 1-1 draw at Bluewater Stadium against Canterbury United.
That will see Stephen Hoyle pushing up to the front with Dakota Lucas and perhaps Rudi Bauerfeind coming off the bench to centre-mid.
Tinnion has a penchant for firing speculators from up to 30m out but he feels he should have scored a few more goals.
"You don't lose anything by having a shot, do you, if you're in a decent range," says the man who scored three last summer and the same number so far this season.
Without doubt the most exciting midfielder to grace Bluewater Stadium in the premiership was Scotsman Graham Fyfe.
A grinning Tinnion says the strikers are "quite understanding" if a pass to potentially score goes begging when he opts to unleash.
Suffice it to say Tinnion displays shades of explosiveness and unpredictability that Fyfe championed.
"A few guys have told me I play a bit like Fyfey so I suppose it's a bit of a compliment," he says, adding he had heard rumours Fyfe is now playing for Redlands with former Bay United coach Matt Chandler at the helm.
It is no secret Bay United haven't played their best this summer but Tinnion reckons with two games to go and having made the historic maiden playoff, they may spread their wings a bit more.
Nevertheless, he struggled to recall any game when they could pick from a full squad, due to injuries or suspensions.
While he doesn't want to get ahead of himself in predicting a victory over Waitakere tomorrow, he wants to reassure fans of the belief that they can beat not only the Aucklanders but any team in the premiership.
After all, Bay United did defeat Waitakere 1-0 here last summer.
"We're not scared of Waitakere or anyone else ... so why not have a go."
The Bay are also well and truly over making history last Sunday, although Tinnion reveals they were on tenterhooks waiting for the desirable 3-2 result in favour of Auckland over Wellington at Dave Farrington Park.
"It's good to be in the top four but we can't be happy."
Primarily Tinnion says he'd be lying if he didn't say the Bay prefer to play Auckland in the semifinals but it hardly matters because in the bigger picture they'll have to beat both Auckland sides if they are to lift the title.
It rankles with him that Bay players have fallen foul of premiership whistleblowers this season.
Tinnion, Hindmarch, Robertson and Cole Peverley have each served a match suspension after collecting four yellow cards. Harley Rodeka, Peverley, Lovemore and Fergus Neil have received reds in a match.
"We're not a dirty team," says a player who helps coach schoolboys in the Bay.
While physicality is their trademark, it's open to debate whether the referees are on the same page in the premiership this season.
Needless to say, Tinnion is lapping up a summer of plenty. "I'm enjoying this season more than any in my life playing in New Zealand or in England," says the man who plays for Western Suburbs in winter's Central League.