Top four clear goal for improved Southern

There is certainly a different feel to Southern United heading into this season.

A second consecutive fifth-placed finish last season confirmed the progress shown the year before.

It is no longer seen as an overachiever.

It is certainly no longer the easy-beat it was when it was a permanent fixture at the bottom of the league.

As it kicks off against Tasman United at Logan Park today the goal is clear - to make it into the national football premiership's top four.

It is the first season fourth-year head coach Paul O'Reilly has said that emphatically as a realistic aim.

The side looks to be one capable of doing so.

O'Reilly has always placed an emphasis on being tough to beat defensively.

Effort, work-rate and desire are among the words he has continually used.

That fact should continue, and there is a similar look to the side's defensive unit.

But he has suggested it will add a more expansive dimension to its game.

It may have the pieces to do that too.

Irishman Garbhan Coughlan is returning, opting to re-sign after being pursued by both Auckland City and Eastern Suburbs.

The striker was superb last year as he netted 13 goals, including a glittering hat-trick against Hamilton Wanderers at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Joel Stevens' homecoming is a similarly significant signing.

The Dunedin product will wear Southern colours for the first time since 2013.

Not only does he bring back an abundance of flair, but he is significantly more experienced for his time away.

He has played for both the Wellington Phoenix and Team Wellington, had a stint in Europe and also made three appearances for the All Whites.

While they may be the two eye-catching signings, there is plenty of other firepower in this side.

Abdulla Al-Khalisy is back and showed last year that he is electric with the ball at his feet.

Young duo Ben Wade and Ben Deeley both added significant spark last year and are another year older.

Andy Mulligan is an intriguing one.

The lively striker was one of five Irishmen to join the club prior to O'Reilly's first season.

He returned home following that year with a serious knee injury, although has returned for another go.

Meanwhile, Norwegian midfielder Chris Wingate looks a solid signing, as does Josh Sansucie.

Among all that is plenty of stability.

That could be key in the competition as well, as many of the other teams have undergone significant line-up changes this year.

Irish duo Conor O'Keeffe and Stephen Last return for their fourth year in the side's defensive line, while Erik Panzer is back as well.

Fellow Irishman Danny Ledwith remains in the midfield, bringing long range creativity and plenty of experience.

Then in goal is the ever-reliable Liam Little, the side's oldest player, but also one of its best.

Among them are a handful of local youngsters, many from the side which finished fourth in last year's national youth league.

National premiership
Southern Utd v Tasman Utd
Logan Park
Today, 4pm

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