Football: Win real confidence booster

 Joel Stevens shows his scoring style at training at Tahuna Park. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Joel Stevens shows his scoring style at training at Tahuna Park. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

Otago United striker Joel Stevens was the toast of his side last week but he knows he must continue to do his job.

Stevens scored the only goal of the game against Wellington last Sunday, five minutes before the final whistle, to give Otago United its first victory of the season.

After six games, it was a much-needed entry in the win column and one the young striker felt was richly deserved.

''It was a relief for us, to be honest, and there is a lot more confidence in the boys now,'' he said.

''We probably did not play that well last week and we have played much better in other games and lost. But that is football, I suppose.

''We have not been playing badly, really. We play a lot harder than other teams as perhaps in some games we are not as good as them. So we have been trying to grind out results.

''What has been happening to us is that we get behind in games and in the last few minutes go to try to look for an equaliser and get caught out. There is no point holding back when you might be able to get a draw at least.''

Stevens (17) has just finished at Otago Boys' High School, and is weighing up his future.

Into his second season with Otago United, he has been invited to a New Zealand under-20 training camp in Auckland next month.

The under-20 national side will play a series of qualifiers next year and, if it makes it through as the winner of the Oceania section, it will travel to Turkey in the middle of the year for the finals.

Stevens started playing football when he was about 5 for Melchester Rovers, and then moved to Green Island when he started to get serious about the game.

By the time he was heading for high school he was invited by coach Malcolm Fleming to train with the senior side and did not look out of place. In 2010, he was selected for the Asia Pacific Football Academy in Lincoln and spent a year on a full scholarship at the academy.

''It was good with the quality of coaching we got. I improved a lot over that year. I ended up only having a year up there. New guys were coming in all the time so I thought I would move on.''

Stevens is getting used to the pace of the national league and is happy be playing up front.

''Just having that experience makes things a wee bit easier. I am starting to feel a little bit more comfortable when I play.

''When I was at the academy they had me everywhere apart from centreback. But I like to be an attacking midfield or striker.''

Stevens will be keen to again get on the scoresheet tomorrow against a Waikato team which has been through plenty of drama in the past couple of weeks.

Coach Declan Edge was sacked last month and eight of Waikato's players have walked out in sympathy.

New coach Mark Cossey, who engineered Waikato's first win of the season against Manawatu on December 2, has been forced to bring in some new players.

But turmoil often brings out a united spirit, so Waikato can not be taken lightly.

Otago needs to build momentum after its first win and will know a win over Waikato will get it off the foot of the table.


Otago United v Waikato
Forsyth Barr Stadium, tomorrow, 1pm
Otago United: Liam Little, Tristan Prattley (captain), Jude Fitzpatrick, Matt Joy, Seamus Ryder, Victor da Costa, Ant Hancock, Aaron Burgess, Sam Mepham, Tom Connor, Tim Horner, Andy Ridden, Joel Stevens, Regan Coldicott, Craig Ferguson, Morgan Day.
Waikato: Matt Upton, Josh Greene, Eder Franchini, Sam Jasper, Ryan Thomas, Robbie Greenhalgh, Rory Turner, Jack Hobson-McVeigh, Neil Mouncher, Sam Margetts, Alexi Caroama Varela, Jordan Shaw, Hone Fowler, Adam Wallis, Ray How, Mike Kramer.