Football: United spoilt for choice

Aaron Burgess
Aaron Burgess
Otago United plays its 150th game in the national league tomorrow, and striker Aaron Burgess will make his 50th appearance.

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 recently.

Canterbury has had recent losses to Wellington (2-0), Auckland (3-1) and Waitakere (3-1), leaving it stagnant on 15 points.

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 2010.

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, Zayn Officer.

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.