By Rab Smith / asbpremiership.co.nz
DUNEDIN - It’s a match on a tightrope so finely balanced, that home advantage may give Otago a delicate edge over Hawke's Bay United when the two meet on Sunday in Dunedin.
Both teams are level in points with the Bay's goal difference handing them the advantage, a result of Otago's 6-0 battering at the hands of Waitakere.
Otago coach Murray said: "We can live with that defeat from Waitakere, and hope to learn from it. They are a class side, and it was a match we had not targeted to win."
"But if we are to do well this year, we have to beat the teams around us, and this match with Hawke's Bay is a real test of where we deserve to be in the competition."
Certainly Otago showed its cutting edge to grab two early goals in Wellington, and came away with a battling 2-2 draw. They gave Manawatu two goals of a start before bouncing back to grab a 3-2 win, and three valuable away points.
"From all accounts Hawke's Bay took the game to Canterbury last week and won the physical battle to flatten them 3-0 with Bill Robertson leading the charge," Murray observed.
That old quote about only being able to play as well as you are allowed, blunted a Canterbury attack that had score nine goals in two weeks, and Bays keeper Shaun Peta attracted high praise.
Otago will look to generate similar energy this week. Murray will hope his side picks up the gauntlet and matches anything that the Bay can produce.
Murray’s central midfield duo of Darren Overton and Mike Cunningham have enough class to survive in midfield and both like to push forward into attacking areas.
Harley Rodeka is running hot just now, with an engine capable of sustaining pace and pressure on the opposition. Two goals last week were just reward for his efforts.
Back from injury, Ant Hancock is another difficult character for opposition defences to contain, especially if he gets good delivery from searching crosses by Tristan Prattley and Tom Connor.
But its generally agreed that Otago will need a real squad effort to match Hawke's Bay.
After a week off, all Otago players are ready to go. Only the coach will be absent.
Senior coach Murray will be in Singapore with the Otago U15 side for a week, with fellow coach and ace striker Aaron Burgess, for an international tournament.
Otago number two, Andy Duncan will be in charge at Tahuna park. The coaching staff are used to riding tandem so neither sees a problem in that situation.
"Otago will be ready and prepared," Duncan said.
Bay will also have a new face at the helm since long serving Matt Chandler is moving to Brisbane, and replacement Chris Greatholder faces a difficult coaching debut in Dunedin.
Another series of changes are happening at executive level at both clubs.
Bay’s Chairman Colin Stone has been replaced by Peter Grant, and in Otago the long serving Chairman Dave Lamont looks likely to be replaced by Phil Cunningham.
Regardless of changes and absentees this match will be decided purely by the players out on the grass at Tahuna park and referee Matt Conger might just be tested as much as anyone in the opening exchanges.
Hawke's Bay United
Ant HANCOCK returns from injury while James GOVAN and Matt BROOK are both promoted to the first team.
Reilley O'MEAGHER is a late call-up after Chris McIVOR withdrew with injury.
Unavailable is Seamus RYDER who is overseas with Nick HINDSON also not selected for this match. Donnie MacGREGOR (hamstring) and Jude FITZPATRICK (foot) are both injured.
Goalkeeper Richard Gillespie (medial ligaments) and striker Milos NIKOLIC are both sidelined along with Stephen HINDMARCH (groin).
Coach Richard MURRAY is absent and assistant coach Andy DUNCAN will lead the side on Sunday. Harley RODEKA has two goals to his name this season.
Chris GREATHOLDER switches from player to coach, making his ASB Premiership dugout debut.
Last season’s 0-0 draw between these two teams was only the second time in ten previous meetings that Otago United had avoided a defeat at the hands of Hawke’s Bay. With one win, one draw and eight losses racked up since 2007, Otago will be keen to change those statistics off the back of last week’s win over Manawatu.
Hawke’s Bay United hold the wood over Otago with eight wins, a draw and a loss in their last ten meetings. However, Otago has bounced back in the last two seasons, beating Hawke’s Bay 2-1 in 2010, followed by a 0-0 draw in Dunedin.
ASB Premiership - Round 4
Hawke's Bay United
Sunday 27 November, 2011
1- Oswaldo RODRIGUEZ (GK)
26- Shaun PETA (GK)
3- Tristan PRATTLEY
2- Fergus NEIL
5- Matt JOY
3- Alex BARLOW
6- Morgan DAY
5- Bill ROBERTSON (c)
7- Regan COLDICOTT
7- Matt HASTINGS
9- Ant HANCOCK
8- Adam COWAN
11- James GOVAN
9- Sam MARGETTS
14- Sam MEPHAM
11- Connor TINNION
15- Darren OVERTON
12- Adam CHANDLER
18- Harley RODEKA
13- Luke CHAPMAN
20- Matt BROOK
14- Danny WILSON
21- Michael CUNNINGAM
16- Reilley O'MEAGHER
22- Peter EVANS (GK)
17- Tom BISS
23- Joel STEVENS
18- Hamish WATSON
25- Craig FERGUSON
21- Josh MARGETTS
27- Tom CONNOR
30- Matt GOULD (GK)