Soccer: Playoffs the priority

By Craig Stephen

It may seem reckless to rest key players for a tie that could have gained a seemingly easier playoff fixture, but soccer coach Chris Greatholder has the bigger picture in his sights.

A win against Team Wellington in the capital on Saturday could have pitched Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United in with Auckland City, rather than the impervious Waitakere United, who had blown away all opposition this season with a ruthlessness seldom seen in ASB Premiership soccer until yesterday.

The Keith Braithwaite-coached Canterbury United ended Waitakere's 16-match unbeaten streak yesterday with a 3-2 win in Whenuapai so it would have hardly mattered if the Bay had won on Saturday.

Auckland, well, they've drawn with Bay twice this season and have struggled to dominate their nearest rivals.

However, the Bay looked like a team with nothing to play for, as they fell three goals behind after just 35 minutes at David Farrington Park, eventually losing 4-2.

Luis Corrales scored after 16 minutes, with Dominic Rowe and Adam McGeorge netting within six minutes of each other later in the half.

Despite the Bay hitting back quickly through Stephen Hoyle and Dakota Lucas, a Hamish Watson strike almost straight after the second half whistle went, killed off their hopes.

Nevertheless, there was a logic behind the Englishman's thinking as he prepares his team for their first playoff campaign. He opted to rest three key players - captain Bill Robertson, midfielder Conor Tinnion and former All White front man Jarrod Smith. He also tinkered with their style.

"We've changed things, such as having more discipline and aggression all over the park, and changed those things because of next week. Some players have been asked to do things they've not done before," he said.

"I'd rather play Waitakere with a fit side, than face Auckland with six or seven of our key players out. It was far from ideal. I mean, I wanted to play our strongest 11 but that wasn't the case."

Greatholder hauled off Aaron Jones and Stephen Hindmarch, who were both booked for their involvement in a needless skirmish in the second half, to avoid being suspended for the Waitakere clash.

Despite this lacklustre defeat, Greatholder is in no doubt his side can beat minor premiership winners Waitakere.

"We are ready for Waitakere because we've rested key players and we've got our best 11 players for next week. We know what we need to do to get better and I firmly believe we will win the game."

He will, however, have to place more emphasis on defence, especially as his side conceded two "horrendous goals".

Auckland yesterday beat Manawatu 4-1 in Palmerston North for the men in green to finish dead last two seasons in a row while in the battle for the minor spots, Waikato FC downed Otago United 3-1 at Ngaruawahia to finish sixth.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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