By Bruce Holloway / asbpremiership.co.nz
HAMILTON - Under-pressure Waikato FC coach Declan Edge has drawn comparisons with the experiences of Brisbane Roarís coaching mastermind, Ange Postecoglou, ahead of a difficult home match against ASB premiership aristocrats Waitakere United.
Bottom-of-the-table Waikato FC have been well beaten in their three league matches to date and will find it no easier at Porritt Stadium on Sunday against a team which has one of the best attacks in the premiership and has already potted 10 goals.
But Edge has defended his approach in fielding an exceptionally young team and demanding they adhere to the same possession-style dictates employed by A League leaders Brisbane Roar.
Detractors have suggested his inexperienced players are simply not capable of executing the difficult demands of short-passing, quick movement, and often high-risk game style.
However Edge is taking comfort from the experience of Brisbane Roar, now on a 35-match unbeaten streak of smooth, attractive football.
While he stressed he was not comparing himself to Postecoglou, he did see strong similarities in the process of footballing change and the paradigm shift a club needed to go through.
"Go and have a look at Ange Postecoglouís record at Brisbane," he said.
"See how many games they lost on the trot when he started out. People were questioning his management regime when he was taking a big broom to Brisbane and he certainly didnít turn it around in three games Ė in fact they were second to bottom in the A league.
"But would you sack him now?"
Edge also reflected upon his experiences and strategic decisions during his first stint as Waikato coach back in 2005.
"One weekend we took a real hiding at Waitakere and I said, Ďstuff it, no we will kick the ball longí. So we brought in the big boys and tried to become a tough team and not take risks.
"Well, we wonít be doing that this time. We will certainly try and be competitive against Waitakere, but we will stick to our principles of play."
He noted how Ricki Herbert had recently complained about the dearth of ASB Premiership players capable of playing at a higher level.
"One of my objectives at Waikato this season has been to try and introduce a style of play and a regime that is capable of developing exactly such players."
However Edge did hint at a slight tinkering of starting personnel for Sunday.
"There wonít be any change in style, but there are places up for grabs this week."
Having said that, Waikato have limited options. Matt Williams is still a couple of weeks away from being ready after a recent nose operation, and David Samson is waylaid with a groin injury.
Mark Jones and Adam Wallis come into the Waikato squad, with veteran keeper Neil Mouncher set to be on the bench.
Edge dismissed suggestions his team may be down on confidence after conceding 13 goals in three games.
"We have worked bloody hard in training to try and improve where we think we are making mistakes."
Edge is full of admiration for the manner in which Waitakere has established itself as one of the pillars of the ASB Premiership.
But it hasnít escaped his attention that the visitors will boast four players who have previously turned out for Waikato, in Danny Robinson, Ross McKenzie, Hamilton-based Aaron Scott and latest addition, Steven Holloway.
"I have no problem with that," Edge said. "Itís a sign Waitakere has got its act together in terms of building the strongest possible squad.
"But it does make you wonder if there might be merit in a regulation to encourage ASB franchises to field a certain quota of players that have been developed within their own federation.
"New Zealand is a developing country in terms of football, but in many ways we havenít admitted that yet. At the moment we have a player drain to Auckland and Waitakere.
"If anyone has a great season in the ASB Premiership you know they will be at Auckland or Waitakere next season.
"Good on them for that, because both franchises were quick to see the potential of investing in good players early on. But it raises the question of whether there is a better way to regulate our development beyond just insisting each team have a quota of youth players."
Waitakere coach Neil Emblen watched Waikato lose to Auckland at the start of the season and is wary of them, even with the playing resources stacked in his favour.
"It is always dangerous when you are expected to win," he said.
"They are a young team, but they have 2-3 players we have been looking at for the (New Zealand) U-23s. If they get an early goal you never know what might happen."
But ominously, Emblen said Waitakere were still capable of playing a lot better than they did in their 4-0 win over Ba last weekend.
And he expected his squad to "react the right way" to their derby defeat against Auckland.
The fact Waitakere are now effectively playing catch-up with Auckland added pressure.
"Hopefully we can deal with that. Waikato are a potential banana skin and we know we canít afford any more slip ups if we are serious about retaining our minor premiership. I canít see Auckland losing this week"
Emblen has broadened his attacking options by pulling former Waikato striker Holloway into his squad.
"He gives us a different sort of platform to play off. We have not had a striker of his type since Brent Fisher."
Meanwhile there will be much interest in how the playing surface scrubs up at Porritt Stadium.
After its only match to date this summer, it attracted harsh criticism from visitors Auckland, with Edge agreeing it had been substandard.
However in the financial environment of the post-V8 blow out, Hamilton City Council is almost as hard up as Waikato FC - and it remains to be seen whether a significant improvement has been possible.
43-year-old back-up goalkeeper Neil MOUNCHER returns along with youngsters Adam WALLIS and Mark JONES. Mohammed AWAD and Danyon DRAKE return to the youth team while Raymond HOW is unavailable.
Coach Neil EMBLEN adds former Waikato FC striker Steve HOLLOWAY to his squad to add depth and quality to an already formidable frontline. HOLLOWAY is joined by goalkeeper Louie CAUNTER
Coach Declan EDGE is without key figures Matt WILLIAMS (nose), Dave SAMSON (groin) and goalkeeper Max TOMMY (foot) due to injury.
Bill TUILOMA returns to the ASB Youth League set-up. Ryan ZOGHBY remains on the long term injured list with goalkeeper Matt UPTON also sidelined with a broken toe.
The last time Waikato enjoyed victory over Waitakere United was back in 2009 when goals by Graham PEARCE and Stu WATENE gave Waikato a 2-1 win
Waitakere have amassed 24 goals in three competitions in just five games - with Roy KRISHNA, Allan PEARCE, Ryan de VRIES leading the way.
With just one win and eleven defeats in their previous 12 encounters, Waikato FCís hopes of securing a first win of the season appear remote.
Four wins from their previous four meetings with Waikato FC, sixteen goals for and just six against Ė powerful statistics that suggest the reigning champions could make it five wins on the trot.
ASB Premiership - Round 4
Sunday 27 November, 2011
1- Mark FULCHER (GK)
1- Danny ROBINSON (GK)
2- Tyler LISSETTE
2- Jason ROWLEY
3- Jesse SMITH
3- Aaron SCOTT
6- Mike KRAMER
4- Tim MYERS
7- Jason HICKS
7- Martin BULLOCK
8- Matteo BALLAN
8- Chris BALE
9- Daniel FRISCHKNECHT
10- Allan PEARCE
10- Adam THOMAS (c)
11- Ross McKENZIE
13- Mark JONES
12- Roy KRISHNA
14- Josh GREENE
15- Gagame FENI
15- Jesse EDGE
17- Jake BUTLER (c)
17- Mike THOMPSON
18- Steve HOLLOWAY
19- Harry EDGE
20- Ryan de VRIES
21- Tyler BOYD
24- Luke ADAMS
22- Adam WALLIS
25- Sean LOVEMORE
24- Ryan THOMAS
28- Louie CAUNTER (GK)
25= Neil MOUNCHER (GK)