Football: Bragging rights at stake for United

Richard Murray
Richard Murray
Invercargill hosts its first ASB Premiership match when Otago United and Wellington meet at Rugby Park tomorrow.

Enterprising administrators have pulled out all the stops to make the match an occasion that will attract football fans who have been starved of top quality games in recent years.

Added southern interest is the probable re-entry of Southland's Old Boys club into the Footballsouth Premier League, which starts in April and already has clubs training hard.

Spectators will find tomorrow's match to be no limp encounter, as both sides aim to finish the Premiership in style by taking the three points required to stay clear of bottom place.

At the moment there is a trio tied in bottom place. Otago United, Waikato and Manawatu all have six points and are separated only by goal difference.

Key figures could be the men in gloves, Otago keeper Liam Little and Wellington custodian Scott Basalaj, who are both in dynamic form at the moment.

Last week, Little defied the might of Waitakere, and superbly saved a penalty in his team's eventual 4-1 loss.

Wellington's Basalaj has also been earning plaudits for his dynamism and three clean sheets this season.

Those clean sheetssparked Wellington's best burst of form, when coach Matt Calcott's team racked up wins over Canterbury (2-0), Waikato (1-0) and Manawatu (6-0).

Otago has only registered two wins so far. It beat Manawatu 4-1 away, and its most important result was in Wellington, when Joel Stevens sliced through to score the only goal of the match.

Unfortunately, young frontrunner Stevens has been out of action due to injury in recent matches, but he still hopes to gain New Zealand under-20 honours, based on his earlier form.

Otago coach Richard Murray has targeted six points from the last two games, starting with Wellington tomorrow, then the season-ending road trip to Waikato, which could boost Otago's finish.

The spirited Otago finish last week against top team Waitakere belied Murray's team selection dilemmas, and showed that his team is capable of long spells of effective play.

Stand-outs have been keeper Little, the lofty defensive duo Matt Joy and Jude Fitzpatrick, and the deceptive running and finishing of striker Regan Coldicott, now looking to add to his six-goal tally.

''Since we lost striker Aaron Burgess with a leg fracture, and earlier Tristan Prattley and Harley Rodeka in northern transfers, our squad has been paper-thin, with many of the team playing on despite niggling injuries,'' Murray said.

''It's as much mental as physical, though. We need to concentrate for the whole game to minimise silly errors that cost goals. The chances we will inevitably create have got to end up in Wellington's net.''

Wellington also seems to be on a wave at the moment. It was desperately unlucky last week, holding Auckland to 2-2 despite having just 10 men from the 34th minute when Adam McGeorge was red-carded.

It took a late inspirational score from Ivan Vicelich to rob Calcott's team of at least a share of the points.


Otago v Wellington
Invercargill, tomorrow, 2pm

Otago United: Liam Little, Jude Fitzpatrick, Matt Joy, Regan Coldicott, Seamus Ryder, Victor Da Costa, Ant Hancock, James Govan, Scott Gannon, Sam Mepham, Tom Connor, Aajay Cunningham, Tim Horner (captain), Andy Ridden, Zayne Officer, Morgan Day, Taylor Mccormack, Craig Ferguson.

Wellington: Scott Basalaj, Tim Schaeffers, Darren Cheriton, Wiremu Patrick, Cory Chettleburgh, Henry Fa'arodo, Adam Thomas, Karl Whalen, Dominic Rowe Luis Corrales, Luke Rowe, Justin Gulley, Hamish Watson, Tom Biss, Alec Solomons, Daniel Clarke.