Soccer: Lower Hutt have a mountain to climb

By Daniel Richardson

Central coach Chris Zoricich said the impact of Vicelich, who has amassed a record 80 caps for the All Whites, couldn't be underestimated. Photo / Getty Images.
Central coach Chris Zoricich said the impact of Vicelich, who has amassed a record 80 caps for the All Whites, couldn't be underestimated. Photo / Getty Images.

Knockout cups often produce their fair share of upsets, and if Lower Hutt City can find a way to beat Central United in the Chatham Cup final in Wellington on Sunday they might have a claim to being the most unlikely winner in the competition's history.

Central United could barely have a more stacked team if they tried, as their line-up is laced with former and current All Whites, including the 35-year-old Ivan Vicelich, and it is effectively a shadow Auckland City side from the ASB Premiership.

Meanwhile, Lower Hutt, who are only fifth in the lower North Island's Central League, will have six schoolboys in their squad this weekend - some as young as 15 - and will be without their first-choice goalkeeper Scott Basalaj, who is on duty with the Wellington Phoenix in India.

Central, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, have hoisted the trophy four times and appeared in eight finals, while Lower Hutt will be making their maiden appearance on the biggest stage of the 89-year-old competition.

Lower Hutt coach Brendan McIntyre said his young squad, who could be referred to as "Brendan's Boys" given their youthful tinge, won't be overawed by the occasion.

"We don't want to just go there and make the numbers up," McIntyre said.

"We are there to go and make it a good contest and go and give a good account of ourselves. We are there to cause an upset if we can, we would love to be able to turn them over. But we realise it's a big ask. We also realise they're a very, very experienced side and we're under no illusions it would be probably one of the biggest upsets in New Zealand football."

Steve Bayard will stand between the sticks for Lower Hutt given Basalaj's absence, which will cap a hefty elevation for the custodian who spent most of the year playing for the club's third team.

Lower Hutt captain Hamish Watson, who has spent the past few weeks training with the Phoenix, will be looked upon by the young guns to provide strike power up front. He also found the back of the net in their quarter-final and semifinal victories.

Central, who finished third in the Northern Premier League this year, stormed their way to the Cup final with a 6-0 win over Miramar Rangers at the final-four stage, while they also beat Eastern Suburbs 2-0 in the quarter-finals.

Veteran striker Paul Urlovic has overcome an ankle complaint and will line up on Sunday in search of his fifth winner's medal, while Vicelich could make it No 4 if Central were to claim victory.

Central coach Chris Zoricich said the impact of Vicelich, who has amassed a record 80 caps for the All Whites, couldn't be underestimated.

"He was great last year as well. Ivan could take the easy road and not bother coming down and playing for Central to be honest ... Just having him around and his aura and experience around the changing room. He's really professional, he's always the first one at training, he's always there so it's just great for the young lads to see that he's still doing it at that age and is still fully committed."

Kickoff is scheduled for 2.30pm at Newtown Park with the final of the women's national Knockout Cup between Massey University and Three Kings United set to start at 11am.

How they line up: Central United: (from) Jacob Spoonley (GK), Nick Dale, Kris Carpenter, Takuya Iwata, Jason Hicks, Paul Urlovic, Stuart Hogg, David Mulligan, Adam Dickinson, Jacob Hall, Ivan Vicelich (c), Albert Riera, Daniel Koprivcic, Mauro Rodriguez, Emiliano Tade, Riki van Steeden, Blaz Bugarin (GK)/Patrick George (GK); Coach: Chris Zoricich

Lower Hutt City: (from): Steve Bayard (GK), Caleb Duncan, Jared Mitchell, James Vernon, Hayden Stuthridge, Kade Schrijvers, Taban Makoii, Hamish Price, Tobias Bertsch, Hamish Watson (captain), Cam Lidstone, Jarrod Smith, Shaun Melrose, Jack Imray, Martin Pereyra, Shaquille Sterling, Taylor Hall-Jones, Taylor Schrijvers, Andrew Coad; Coach: Brendan McIntyre

- APNZ

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