Coach Keith Braithwaite and four of his Canterbury United players have been handed a timely boost heading into tomorrow's home ASB Premiership semifinal with Auckland City.
In the monthly awards announced by New Zealand Football yesterday, Canterbury, who ended Waitakere United's season-long unbeaten run last Sunday, scooped the February honours with Braithwaite named coach of the month, captain Aaron Clapham player of the month and, along with teammates Adam Highfield, Nick Wortelboer and Russell Kamo, selected in the team of the month.
In contrast, Auckland City had only Andrew Milne and Waitakere only Ryan de Vries named in that 11-man team.
City coach Ramon Tribulietx is obviously wary of a Canterbury team who shrugged off a mid-season slump to win three of their last four games, scoring four goals in each, and drawing the other - away to fellow semifinalists Hawkes Bay United.
"I have a lot of respect for Canterbury," said Tribulietx. "When we played them down there they went ahead and remained very competitive through the first half.
Even when we played them up here they were very competitive."
Tribulietx is well aware of the threat Kamo, Clapham and Darren White pose. With 21 goals between them this season, the trio are ever dangerous and led Tribulietx to admit they are an attacking threat and one his team must not ever relax against.
He also says he expects it will take his players 10 or 15 minutes to readjust to the different pace of the artificial surface at ASB Football Park.
"At the end of the day, it is a good surface and one that suits our style," said Tribulietx. "We will play our normal style in trying to win and at the same time be aware of how important an away goal might be."
Auckland City bowed out of last season's race at the semifinal stage, beaten 1-0 and 3-1 by Team Wellington. They will not want a similar slip-up this time as they chase a fifth title - and their first since 2008-09.
Waitakere coach Paul Marshall, disappointed after the loss to Canterbury at home on Sunday, was at a loss to understand his team's lacklustre effort coming, as it did, a week after what he had tagged "our best effort of the season".
Tellingly, that was the 3-0 away win over Hawkes Bay United in the league's penultimate round. Tomorrow, back at Bluewater Stadium, the Waitakere players have the chance to repeat that effort of a fortnight ago.
"Sure, I was disappointed last week but you have to be philosophical," said Marshall. "It was a small blip it what otherwise has been an outstanding season. We will be up for this one for sure.
"We have players coming back at a crucial time of the season. Roy Krishna, Daniel Morgan and Sam Mathews will all be in the squad but, obviously, won't all be ready for 90 minutes."
Marshall is, however, likely to start golden boot winner Krishna, despite his missing a handful of games with a hamstring injury. He will wait until after some fitness tests this morning before naming his starting XI but did confirm that Brian Shelley and Aaron Scott, who left the field with injuries on Sunday, are fit and ready to play.
Hawkes Bay conceded three goals in both games against Waitakere this season. If they can tighten their defence and get the best from strikers Jarrod Smith and Dakota Lucas they will fancy their chances of keeping the tie alive before heading north for the second leg.By Terry Maddaford Email Terry