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Otago United faces another stepping stone to maturity when it hosts Waitakere United tomorrow.
Waitakere has breezed past second-placed Auckland and now leads the ASB Premiership by a margin of seven points, while Otago United only has a total of six points.
Missing from the Waitakere line-up in Dunedin is the injured Roy Krishna, who has 48 goals from 72 appearances.
Other non-starters through injury are David Mulligan and Dan Morgan. Chad Coombes will also be absent through suspension, and coach Paul Marshall will call on Matt Cunneen and Sam Mathews to compensate.
But the depth in Waitakere's squad shrugs off those minor changes, and the northerners will still be tipped to add another intimidating chapter to its existing record against Otago, which has beaten the champion just once in 21 attempts.
Waitakere has bulldozed its way to the top of the league in uncompromising style this season. An away win against Otago and a defeat for Auckland City in the capital will seal the minor premiership title for the West Aucklanders.
So, it could be a character-building match for coach Richard Murray's young Otago side, which has its usual group of walking wounded waiting to be rubbed and strapped by physio Dusty Quinn for what is sure to be a physical encounter as well as a tough mental exercise.
''We still have a few wee injury worries with Matt Joy (toe), Victor Da Costa (ankle), James Govan (hip), Andrew Ridden (dead leg) and Scott Gannon (hamstring).
''So things could be worse,'' Murray said with a wry smile.
Otago is also without inspirational striker Aaron Burgess, who suffered a fractured leg during the 4-1 loss to Hawkes Bay last weekend.
To a degree, the Otago youth team's midweek 1-0 win over the previously unbeaten Wellington may have helped improve the senior side's team selection. Taylor McCormack's impressive display and well-taken goal may earn the young striker a gallop against Waitakere.
Otago's youth team plays bottom-placed Manawatu in the curtain-raiser at 10am. Other youngsters in the reckoning are utility Andrew Ridden and the injury-plagued James Govan. Ant Hancock could also aim at a return as target man.
Otago's main scoring hope is quicksilver striker Regan Coldicott, with five goals already in his locker this season.
He will need to fire if Otago is to end the dismal run of 15 winless games against Waitakere. Otago last beat Waitakere in the 2005-06 season, and a win tomorrow would equal the northerners' club record of eight wins in a row.
In a flash of French inspiration, midfielder Da Costa scored his first goal for Otago last week, after a mazy run through trailing defenders and a superb curved shot into Hawkes Bay's net.
Murray could this week use the simple advice of ''encore'', knowing the ebullient Parisian is capable of scoring against any team.
The possible return to Dunedin of a recent Waitakere signing, left back Tristan Prattley, could produce an interesting duel with former team-mate Tom Connor, who likes to shunt forward in attack. Simply put, it is a Goliath and wee Davey confrontation, with Waitakere odds-on favourite and Otago still searching for slingshot ammunition.
Otago v Waitakere
Forsyth Barr Stadium, tomorrow, 1pm
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.
Waitakere United: Danny Robinson, Aaron Scott, Jack Beguely, Tim Myers, Brian Shelley, Matt Cunneen, Milos Nikolic, Allan Pearce, Luiz Del Monte, Tristan Prattley, Jake Butler (captain), Sam Mathews, Ryan De Vries, Dylan Stansfield, Masaki Nomoto, Alex Carr.