By Rab Smith / asbpremiership.co.nz
DUNEDIN - There was good news and bad news for Otago United as coach Richard Murray's squad prepared to play Youngheart Manawatu in the first ASB Premiership game of the season on Sunday at noon in Dunedin's FB Stadium.
Multi Golden Boot winning striker Aaron Burgess signed up for this years campaign and will play against Manawatu, but Scottish fullback Craig Ferguson will be absent due to a suspension that has been carried over from last season.
The suspension came as a surprise to coach Murray, who queried the decision, but at the time of writing, Ferguson is still a non starter.
However United has had more than a few defenders training hard in pre-season, and from Tristan Prattley, Matt Joy, Ben Fitzpatrick, Californian newcomer Jake Morrison, and Tom Connor, there is ample choice.
Its at the 'sharp' end that United is banking on a phalanx headed by frontrunners Burgess, and Ant Hancock from Timaru, with fast breaks from a broad midfield group that has both pace and finishing power.
Mosgiel's midfielders Regan Coldicott and Morgan Day both have experience at top level, while Seamus Ryder captained Caversham's successful winter season.
Similarly Sam Mepham captained Roslyn-Wakari and team mate Aajay Cunningham is an impressive emerging player. However it is newcomer Frenchman Victor da Costa and his gallic flair and energy that might lead the real attacking thrust from midfield.
Goalkeeper Liam LIttle will likely be first choice between the sticks for United, but Otago did well to sign the vastly experienced Peter Evans, and with a keen group of Youth keepers beavering away at training - there is keen competition for that Number One jersey.
Another returning defender after lengthy injury problems is Tim Horner, but while the classy utility is fit again, he is not available this week.
The calm experience of Morrison will help Murray with his defensive jig-saw, with prime contenders for central defence being regulars Matt Joy, and possibly Ben Fitzpatrick.
Wild cards in the squad are Joel Stevens who generates warp speed on the wing, Invercargill's box to box utility Andrew Ridden and the highly experienced Scott Gannon whose skills are unquestionable, but a question mark hovers over the Australians fitness after a bad leg injury in winter.
YoungHeart Manawatu coach Stu Jacobs refuses to dwell on last years bottom ASB finish, and is confident that his team building will produce positive results for his side - starting in Dunedin.
Veteran Adam Cowan will drive the greens, and Jacobs will be assisted by Steve Burnley and as Academy coach Shane Rufer. Former Vanuatu international striker, Suele Soromon, is also back on board with Manawatu and with 19 goals in 36 ASB Premiership appearances, may be a handful for Otago on Sunday.
Otago's Murray said: "We hardly have the pre-season options that many northerns sides have, but this year has been an improvement, and the aim is to hit the ground running on Sunday, with a noisy Otago crowd cheering us onwards."
After a one season hiatus veteran striker Aaron BURGESS returns to the blue and golds line-up. Another experienced campaigner, Tim HORNER, also returns to the Otago squad but is left out of the squad for this Sunday’s match.
ASB Premiership appearance record holder Adam COWAN returns to Manawatu after a season with Hawke’s Bay United. Suele SOROMON and Dale HIGHAM also make returns to Memorial Park with
Craig FERGUSON is suspended.
Barry LEWIS, Jimmy HAIDAKIS (Team Wellington) and Jamie O'CONNOR.
Debuts loom for Jake MORRISON, Victor da COSTA, Geordie MANSFORD and Scott GANNON.
New faces Kade SCHRIJVERS, Billy SCOTT, Sam REDWOOD and Grant ROBSON paused for their ASB Premiership debuts.
Otago United have not lost to YoungHeart Manawatu since Round 3 of the 2008/09 season when the visitors recorded a 3-2 win. Since then, Otago have notched four wins and two draws from the previous six showdowns with the Palmerstonians.
Manawatu have just one win from their past 28 ASB Premiership matches. They haven’t won a league fixture since a Michael WHITE hat-trick gave them a 5-2 away win over Waikato FC last year. Prior to that, their last win was in 2010 when Manawatu thrashed a depleted Auckland City 4-1 at Kiwitea Street.
ASB Premiership - Round 1
Sunday 4 November, 2012
1- Liam LITTLE (GK)
1- Matt BORREN (GK)
2- Jake MORRISON
2- Liam HIGGINS
3- Tristan PRATTLEY
4- Kade SCHRIJVERS
4- Benjudah FITZPATRICK
6- Matt KENNEDY
5- Matt JOY
7- Josh CHETTLEBURGH
7- Regan COLDICOTT
9- Seule SOROMON
8- Seamus RYDER
10- Adam COWAN (c)
9- Victor da COSTA
11- Tomas MOSQUERA
10- Ant HANCOCK
13- Michael FRASER
12- Aaron BURGESS
15- Billy SCOTT
14- Sam MEPHAM
17- Jordan mARTENS
15- Tom CONNOR
18- Dale HIGHAM
16- Aajay CUNNINGHAM
19- Ben WILKES (GK)
20- Geordie MANSFORD
20- Sam REDWOOD
21- Joel STEVENS
22- Grant ROBSON
22- Peter EVANS (GK)
Coach - Stu JACOBS
24- Andy RIDDEN
26- Scott GANNON
28- Morgan DAY
Coach - Richard MURRAY