Football: Otago in race to avoid the wooden spoon

Liam Little
Liam Little
Otago United faces its last match of the season against Waikato at Porrit Stadium, in Hamilton, tomorrow.

Warning signs are up regarding the Otago club's position among a trio trapped at the bottom of the competition, all on six points, with Otago leading the group on goal difference.

Otago's goal difference is -24, and both Waikato and Manawatu are at -32, so it is as tight as a drumskin in that group, focusing attention on this weekend's games.

Manawatu could go into the record books as the first club to collect three consecutive ASB Premiership wooden spoons if it takes a heavy beating from Auckland City in Palmerston North.

A win or draw for Manawatu - and a heavy defeat for Waikato - would lift Manawatu off the bottom and into its best finish since the 2009-10 season.

Confidence is building in the Waikato camp after an impressive 4-1 victory over the Phoenix reserves on Wednesday. Two goals from Rory Turner and one apiece from Alexi Caroama Varela and Sam Margetts lifted Waikato to a comprehensive win.

On a day when three former members of the Waikato side - attackers Tyler Boyd and Ryan Thomas and midfielder Jesse Edge - were named in the New Zealand under-20 squad, Waikato's current band of players showed that, despite a tough second half of the season, there's still enough spirit to suggest a positive end to their campaign.

Clearly, Otago would prefer to leave nothing to chance, and get a win over Waikato that would hoist coach Richard Murray's side up to nine competition points, close to the 11-point finish of last year, and similar to the 12 points gained in 2010-11, when Otago was second bottom.

In the last three seasons, Otago has won just eight matches, and it has starved local support this season by not winning any home matches.

Otago's record against Waikato is worrying. In December, Waikato inflicted the heaviest defeat of the season, beating Otago 6-1 in Dunedin. But Waikato last week was given a 7-1 caning by Auckland City, so current form is hard to assess.

Otago could again be stymied by its usual queue of injured players - Aaron Burgess (broken tibia, out for season), Tim Horner (knee), Regan Coldicott (calf), Tom Connor (groin) and Craig Ferguson (groin). Striker James Govan has a university exam.

Goalkeeper Liam Little will make his 50th career appearance, if selected. Little has accumulated his half century after spells with Auckland City, Waitakere United and Otago United.

Essentially, the injured players are the experienced core of Murray's squad, and youth team players Cam Attwood, Geordie Mansford and Joel Stevens are likely to be called up.

Stevens is still celebrating his inclusion in the Junior All Whites, who play matches in Fiji next month.

Much depends on how well his shoulder injury has healed, and whether he will risk playing for United this weekend. But he could be an attacking option for Otago, especially if Coldicott does not play.

Tony Martin's youth side is well placed to win a place in the finals of the national youth competition. After six rounds, Canterbury leads the Southern group with 13 points, and Otago is one point behind on 12.

Otago has a bye this week, plays the Nelson Falcons at Tahuna Park on March 3, then has a classic derby finish against Canterbury in Christchurch on March 9.

The youth side is probably the best Otago has had for some time, but most are still a few seasons away from full senior standard, and the real pressure on United is to immediately initiate a plan to recruit at least a couple of experienced players for next season.

The return of Old Boys to Footballsouth's winter Premier League shows that it can be done, since the Invercargill side expects to field four new experienced imports, two from Uruguay.

Otago v Waikato
Hamilton, tomorrow, 1pm

Otago United: Liam Little, Jude Fitzpatrick, Matt Joy, Seamus Ryder, Victor Da Costa, Ant Hancock, Cam Attwood, Scott Gannon, Sam Mepham, Geordie Mansford, Aajay Cunningham, Joel Stevens, Andy Ridden, Zayne Officer, Morgan Day, Taylor McCormack.

Waikato: Jason Mann, Jordan Shaw, Adam Luque, Eder Franchini, Gurjeep Singh, Rory Turner, Mark Jones, Jack Hobson-McVeigh, Sam Margetts, Byron Paulus, Wade Molony, Alexi Caroama Varela, Dave Parkinson, Hone Fowler, Neil Mouncher.


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