Otago United plays its 150th game in the national league
tomorrow, and striker Aaron Burgess will make his 50th
But the number Otago coach Richard Murray really wants is
three - the number of competition points his side can bank
with a win against Canterbury United at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
For weeks, the Otago boss has been delving into his reserve
strength to field a team, and in one game he had seven
first-choice players unavailable.
But this week, there were numbers aplenty at training at
Tahuna Park. The only definite non-starter is youngster Joel
Stevens, who badly wrenched his shoulder in New Zealand
under-20 trials, and will remain sidelined for several weeks.
More reserve strength arrived in the transfer window, when
young Green Island striker Taylor McCormack and Canadian
Donnie Macgregor were signed up.
The surfeit of players may even deepen those furrows in
Murray's brow, since several reserve players performed very
well to beat Manawatu 4-1, and also kept Auckland honest with
industry and flair that might have snatched a draw last week.
''Radical changes in our team selection has certainly opened
doors, and with players also returning from injury, we are
almost spoilt for choice,'' Murray said.
In the gap left by Tristan Prattley's transfer to Waitakere,
Otago youth captain Geordie Mansford has shown appetite and
enough class to be in the reckoning for a starting position.
Another former fringe defender, Benjudah Fitzpatrick, also
grabbed his chance at top level and was man of the match
against Manawatu in Palmerston North.
Fitzpatrick, alongside Matt Joy, certainly gives Otago good
height in defence, and both are effective in the air during
attacking at set pieces.
Frenchman Victor da Costa has also hit his best form in
recent matches, and with some quality passes being played
forward, all midfielders are capable of scoring.
The main strikeforce will likely be Regan Coldicott, who
leads Otago's attack with pace and finishing power, and the
''old head'' of Burgess, who has been playing slightly deeper
Canterbury has had recent losses to Wellington (2-0),
Auckland (3-1) and Waitakere (3-1), leaving it stagnant on 15
Coach Keith Braithwaite has suffered player losses, as his
Bulgarian duo chose to return to the northern hemisphere, and
more recently, Aaron Clapham was suspended.
However, Canterbury's addition of Nathan Knox during the
transfer window will be valuable, and the midfielder might
even get a cheer from Otago locals who remember when he wore
blue, and scored to give Otago a 2-1 win over Canterbury in
Canterbury holds recent bragging rights with a 2-1 win in
November, when two goals in two minutes crippled Otago.
Otago football fans are in for a double treat. Tony Martin's
unbeaten youth team will also play Canterbury at the stadium
tomorrow, in a curtainraiser kicking off at 12.30pm.
Otago Utd v Canty
Forsyth Barr Stadium, tomorrow, 3pm
Otago: Tim Horner (captain), Liam Little, Benjudah
Fitzpatrick, Morgan Day, Tom Connor, Craig Ferguson, Matt
Joy, Regan Coldicott, Seamus Ryder, Victor Da Costa, Ant
Hancock, James Govan, Scott Gannon, Sam Mepham, Aajay
Cunningham, Geordie Mansford, Andrew Ridden, Aaron Burgess,
Canterbury: Aaron Clapham (captain), Tom Batty, Dan
Terris, Nick Wortleboer, Tom Schwarz, Chris Murphy, Darren
White, Aaron Clapham, Russell Kamo, Michael Fifii, Andy
Barton, Josh Smith, Julyan Collet, Ashley Welborn, Paul
Dirou, Louie Bush, Ken Yamamoto, Tristan Nicol, Adam
Highfield, Aaron Spain, Cory Mitchell, Eddie Ashton.