Soccer: Waitakere, Wellington face daunting task

By Terry Maddaford

Waitakere United player, Christopher Bale.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Waitakere United player, Christopher Bale. Photo / Dean Purcell

Auckland City already have a slice of the big cake. Canterbury United have the knife poised to cut off the rest but for defending champions Waitakere United and longshots Team Wellington the equation is simple - win three games and off to the O-League you go.

As top dogs in the ASB Premiership regular season, Auckland City, who are the first team to go through a season unbeaten, have already booked their place in next season's O-League which remains the glittering incentive for teams in the local competition.

They will be joined by a second New Zealand team. The winner of the April 29 one-off ASB Premiership grand final also steps on to the big stage.

For Waitakere United and Team Wellington that route remains their only way of winning through. Canterbury United remain the joker in the pack.

They can join City by winning the grand final or, should they fail in that, would then throw their support behind Ramon Tribulietx's City, as a grand final win for them would hand Keith Braithwaite and his Canterbury team the other ticket as the regular season runner-up.

Auckland City have lost only twice this season and not on New Zealand soil. They went down fighting against Japanese powerhouse Kashiwa Reysol at December's Fifa Club World Cup and a fortnight ago 1-0 to Vanuatu champions Amicale in a dead rubber.

As is their right as the higher of the 1 v 4 qualifiers, Auckland City play the second leg of their series with Team Wellington at home while in the 2 v 3 match-up, Canterbury United have the same advantage against Waitakere United, who are at home for tomorrow's first leg.

As defending champions - they beat Auckland City 3-2 in last year's final - Waitakere have plenty to play for but given their recent efforts they face a huge battle to get by a fired-up Canterbury team who have in their last four games beaten Waitakere 2-1 away, drawn 1-1 with Team Wellington (also away) and Auckland City and avenged their early season 1-0 loss to Otago United by beating them 3-0.

Waitakere's record is nowhere near as impressive with a 4-0 win over AS Tefana - all goals scored in the last 22 minutes - and an expected 6-1 win over YoungHeart Manawatu in front of their smallest crowd in eight seasons their only reason for optimism heading into the play-offs.

Yet, despite losing five times in the league and twice in the O-League, Neil Emblen arrived at the end of the season fully aware that wins, provided the result of tomorrow's postponed O-League fixture between Ba and Tefana falls their way, in their last six games would wipe out any bad memories.

They are a long way from that but at least will be back to close to full strength for tomorrow's game with only Roy Krishna ruled out, with a hamstring injury.

Canterbury United, too, are close to their best although Joe Murray has returned to Scotland. Golden boot winner George Slefendorfas is back from suspension to join Aaron Clapham and Russell Kamo in an ever-likely attacking unit as the southerners, already 2-1 winners over Waitakere twice this season, chase a third, and most important, victory which would hand them the psychological advantage heading into next Sunday's second leg.

Tribulietx takes an unchanged City squad to Newtown Park to meet a Wellington side playing in the finals for the fifth straight season, although they would not want to be reminded of last season's efforts when they lost at the same stage 2-0 and 5-1 to City.

Matt Calcott is without impressive Louis Fenton but has drafted in former Phoenix defender James Musa.

Waitakere United v Canterbury United

Fred Taylor Park
Tomorrow 2pm
Referee: Matt Conger

Team Wellington v Auckland City

Newtown Park
Tomorrow noon
Referee: Mirko Benischke.

- NZ Herald

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