Soccer: Double-banger will sort out premiership

By Terry Maddaford

A rare double-banger in Auckland tomorrow could go a long way to finding the winners and losers in this season's ASB Premiership with two rounds still to be played.

A win for unbeaten Auckland City over Hawkes Bay United will guarantee Ramon Tribulietx's City side the minor premiership. Seven points clear of Canterbury United, a win for the Aucklanders would seal the title even if Keith Braithwaite's Canterbury (in second place) wins the South Island derby in Christchurch.

While winning is obviously important, the race for second place, and a claim for the second O-League qualifying spot, is just as high.

In the match of the round, up and down Waitakere United are at home to Team Wellington, who head north in fourth place but only two points out of second and one behind third-placed Waitakere.

If Neil Emblen's Waitakere can shrug off the blues and win their remaining three games, they will be assured of second and another shot at O-League glory, especially if Auckland City go on to complete the league/grand final double.

City's amazing unbeaten run in both the Premiership and O-League has been testament to their squad depth and unstinting application to a testing training regime which has often been a juggling act worked around travel demands.

In eight home games against Hawkes Bay, Auckland City have won seven and drawn one. While Tribulietx is keen to add to that record he is aware that the Bay gave them a decent contest this month.

"Both teams have plenty to play for," said Tribulietx. "They are a very compact team and difficult to play through."

While David Mulligan has returned to the squad after his injury-enforced break, goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley is still a week away but Tribulietx hopes he will be fit to travel for next week's O-League game in Papua New Guinea.

Tribulietx will delay naming his squad until tomorrow morning as three of his players, Alex Feneridis, Adam McGeorge and Andrew Milne, played in last night's game between New Zealand A and Saudi Arabia in Melbourne.

Ivan Vicelich, originally selected to play that game, withdrew from the A team as it was felt it would make for a too-heavy workload given he is in the All Whites squad for Wednesday's game against Jamaica.

Emblen, who coached the under-23 team in Monday's loss to Saudi Arabia, has been in Auckland to prepare for tomorrow's must-win clash.

Emblen also has players in Melbourne although Sean Lovemore, Tim Myers, Andy Bevin and Ross Haviland were not in last night's starting line-up.

Aaron Scott will have a fitness test this morning in the hope he will be ready for his first game of the year after being sidelined by injury. He got through a 90-minute hit-out on Wednesday night, giving Emblen some hope he might be ready.

"If he is fit and ready to play, it will give me some options," said Emblen.

"If Aaron, who was our player of the year last season, does come in, I might look to use Matt Cunneen, who did well in Tahiti last weekend, at centre-back and maybe play Tim Myers at left back which again would give me other options."

YoungHeart Manawatu head to Porritt Stadium still chasing their first win of the season.

Standout premiership player Jason Hicks will again be crucial to Waikato's chances.

Akld v Hawkes Bay Kiwitea Street
Tomorrow 2pm
Referee: Nick Waldron

Waitakere v WgtnFred Taylor Park
Tomorrow 4pm
Referee: Matt Conger

Waikato v Man Porritt Stadium
Tomorrow 2pm
Referee: Mirko Benischke

Canterbury United v Otago United
ASB Football Park
Tomorrow 2pm
Referee: Peter O'Learyby

- NZ Herald

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