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Southern United is on the up and Ross Howard has had a lot to do with that.
The 23-year-old delivered several dangerous crosses, one of which resulted in a goal, to spark a 4-0 win over Hamilton Wanderers last weekend. That came on the back of an impressive performance in the last game before Christmas, when Southern picked up its first win.
As the team looks to make it three in a row against Canterbury United in Christchurch tomorrow, Howard is hoping to keep feeding off the team’s confidence.
"I think playing well comes with how the team plays," the defender said.
"We’ve had a bit more confidence after winning the first one before Christmas, which took a bit of time coming.
"We had a slow start to the year and got frustrated with everything. But once we started to get our patterns right and defending as group, everything came together.
"When we started taking our chances too, we started scoring goals. Everything, even trainings, became more positive — there’s a good buzz around the group."
In his fourth year with the club, he was confident things were looking positive, Howard said. The team’s six Irish players had been a huge influence, while work by the board behind the scenes had helped ease the pressure on the players. However, it was still a large step up from the local competition.
"It’s a massive jump [to national league], especially for the local Dunedin players. Our competition is quite weak down here.
"We’ve got seven teams and only the top three or four actually push each other. So when you look up north and you look at the quality of the players up there, it’s no wonder their national league teams are so strong. They can pick from so many good players."
Howard grew up in the city and attended Otago Boys’ High School. He played for Otago age-grade football teams, before dabbling with hockey for several years. After finding he enjoyed football more, he has made the sport his focus since his last year of school. Playing for Southern had been his goal and he enjoyed representing his home region.
"Being down here, a local boy for most of my life and watching Otago United growing up, that’s the level you want to get to as a local player. You want to get to the national league and play for Otago or Southern."
He had completed a personal training degree at Otago Polytechnic and was now balancing his football with a job at Rebel Sport. In May he planned to travel to the UK to do an OE and was unsure whether he would be back for next season. Playing football while there was something he would look into. To start with he would look to find a job and settle in.
For now though, his mind was firmly on the task at hand.
"[It is a] huge game this weekend against Canterbury. It’s probably our biggest game of the season in terms of results. If we can get three points, or get a point out of it, then we can get a bit closer to that middle pack of the table.
"Our first game against them last year didn’t turn out great, 3-1 loss. We didn’t step up — we didn’t really turn up to be honest. It’s going to be tough up in Christchurch, but hopefully we can go up and get a result and just play the way we’ve been playing with confidence."
Southern v Canterbury
English Park, tomorrow, 2pm
Southern United: Liam Little, Ross Howard, Harley Rodeka, Stephen Last, Conor O’Keeffe, Danny Ledwith, Michael Hogan, Andrew Ridden, Andy Mulligan, Eric Molloy, Danny Furlong, Josh Dijkstra, Sam Cosgrave, Cam McPhail, Cam Higgins, Ben O’Farrell.
Canterbury United: Tom Batty, Felix Komolong, Tom Schwarz, Matthew Wiesenfarth, Aaron Clapham, Sean Morris, Aaron Spain, Juan Chang Urrea, Andre de Jong, Andreas Wilson, Jack Anderson, Stephen Hoyle, Colin van Gool, Roderick Lockhart, Danny Knight, Sebastian Schacht.