Soccer: Old nemesis blocking City's path to crown

By Terry Maddaford

Auckland City (blue) playing Waitakere United. File photo / Natalie Slade
Auckland City (blue) playing Waitakere United. File photo / Natalie Slade

The 38th chapter of the most enduring battle in domestic soccer will be written at Kiwitea St this afternoon with hosts Auckland City again going in as favourites despite Waitakere United taking in a seven-point lead.

For City coach Ramon Tribulietx and his players this ASB Premiership match-up kicks off a testing three games in eight days which will decide their fate as they chase a fifth minor premiership crown.

After today's square-off in which City hold a 17-9 winning record over their rivals in all competitions, they play Team Wellington at home on Waitangi Day and the return in the Capital next Sunday.

"We have a busy calendar and while I always take it a game at a time, we know six points in these next two games at home will get us right back in contention," said Tribulietx.

There will be changes in the Auckland line-up with Chris Bale, whose marriage kept him at home, and Daniel Koprivcic (also at a wedding) available after missing the trip to Napier.

City farewelled Luis Corrales and Angel Berlanga during the transfer window and are still awaiting a clearance for new Spanish striker Gustav Souto Sampedro who, if cleared, could provide cover for Manel Exposito who underwent a fitness test last night.

Tribulietx has yet to settle on a starting XI but will consider Bale or young Simon Arms as captain Ivan Vicelich's central defensive partner. Arms has impressed in recent outings and if selected Bale would be free to play in midfield against his old club.

Of the 37 matches between the adversaries since 2004, City have won 17, Waitakere nine with 11 drawn. Of those 26 games which have produced a result, 16 have been won by the odd goal.

Kiwitea St has not exactly been a happy hunting ground for United who have won only twice - 2-1 in November 2008 and 3-1 two years later.

Both teams go into today's game unbeaten in the regular season after Waitakere won the pre-season Charity Cup 2-1 at Fred Taylor Park and played out a 1-1 draw at the same ground in round four.

Waitakere coach Paul Marshall, while still without David Mulligan, Daniel Morgan, Matt Cunneen and Daniel Jones, is likely to put out the same team who beat Otago United 4-0 a week ago.

"Of course we are aware of the importance of this game," said Marshall who at one time coached in the other camp. "But we will put out our strongest team and make the tactical changes needed as we do every time."

Tristan Prattley, who has slotted in at left back, has impressed Marshall who feels he is settling into his role well.

"He is training and playing with better players which can only help him," said Marshall.

"All the players here get on well with Tristan, a close friend of Tim Myers after they played together in Dunedin while Tim was studying down there."

The TAB has the teams close on their market with the $3.40 on offer for the draw perhaps the most enticing.

In tomorrow's matches Hawkes Bay will be keen to continue their charge when they play Otago away, Manawatu are at home to Team Wellington and Canterbury will want maximum points from Waikato if they are to remain a serious top four contender.

ASB Premiership

Auckland City v Waitakere United
Kiwitea Street
Today 1pm
Referee: Matt Conger.

- NZ Herald

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