Words: ACFC Media
Thursday 20 February 2020
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC's drive towards another undefeated ISPS Handa Premiership regular season campaign goes under the microscope when they take on playoff chasing Tasman United on Sunday.
Tasman United were the last team to defeat Auckland City FC in a regular season match, if only by technical knockout, after the Navy Blues fielded Micah Lea'alafa as an ineligible player on 17 December, 2017.
The Nelson-based team were beaten 3-1 on the day but took the points after deliberation by New Zealand Football found the Kiwitea Street outfit on the wrong side of the regulations.
That issue aside, only Team Wellington - then coached by Jose Figueira - has managed to down Auckland City FC when they beat them 3-1 at David Farrington Park on 15 October, 2017, some 27 months ago.
Taking the Tasman United result at face value, Auckland City FC have gone 49 matches undefeated in the regular season, an astonishing record that includes six consecutive minor premierships.
Auckland City FC have set unbeaten regular season campaigns before, the first time in 2011-12 when they won 11 and drew three of their 14 matches, seeing off runners-up Canterbury United by seven points.
They repeated the feat again in 2015-16 notching 12 wins and two draws with second placed Hawke's Bay United eight points further back.
Last season, Auckland City FC racked up a competition record points haul of 52 with their most impressive run yet: 17 wins and a draw from 18 games. Eventual champions, Eastern Suburbs AFC, were 12 points adrift of the pace-setters.
Ironically, in each of their unbeaten campaigns, Auckland City FC were beaten in the playoffs by Team Wellington each time - in 2011-12 (4-1 over two legs in the semi-finals), 2015-16 (4-2 in the final, after extra time) and in 2018-19 (3-1 in a
one-off semi-final at Kiwitea Street).
Figueira, though, said while milestones are nice to have, there's no room for losing focus.
"Milestones, records and these achievements are nice to have but certainly it's not the group's focus and it's definitely not my focus.
These are good to look back on but right now we want to keep our sights firmly focused on what we're doing and pushing the boundaries even further in terms of how we're playing and evolving.
If these achievements and accolades come along the way then these are only something to look back on down the track," he told www.aucklandcityfc.com.
Last week's clinical 5-1 dismantling of Canterbury United suggests Auckland City FC will be unstoppable at Trafalgar Park as they pursue a half-century of domestic games without defeat but Figueira is, as ever, wary of what Tasman United bring to the table.
Under coach Jess Ibrom, Tasman United have looked a far more organised, resilient, if inconsistent, side and if they can harness their at times strong team spirit, they may yet sneak a result that can boost their hopes of reaching a first ever ISPS Handa Premiership playoff.
Figueira praised Ibrom and his team and believes they are hot on the trail of a top four finish.
AUDIO - Jose Figueira assesses Tasman United showdown
"Tasman an excellent start to the New year bar a couple of results. There's been an upturn in confidence and performance matched with a couple of good new signings that have come in for Jess's side.
"They're right in the mix for a top four finish, no bones about it. Sunday is going to be a big challenge for us it's going to be a difficult game against a group that is solid, well-organised and difficult to break down which we found in the home game last year.
"But they are also a team that pack a real punch going forward. Jean Phillipe Saiko is someone who didn't come up against us last time and he for me has been a pick for them going forward," he said.
The match is Auckland City FC's final domestic hit out before they head to Tahiti to take on Ba, AS Venus and Lupe Ole Soaga in the OFC Champions League.
Figueira said with the OFC Champions League well underway in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, it was important to stay grounded.
"It's always exciting times when the OFC Champions League campaign kicks off. We've been watching the other groups and it brings a real sense of excitement.
"The players are looking forward to getting their teeth stuck into that side of the season and we've seen from the other groups already there are no easy games.
"Ba and Venus pose really big challenges for us. our homework has already started in the background but in the forefront of our minds is Tasman United and nothing else.
"Exciting times lie ahead but we have a very important game to focus on and be part of this Sunday in Nelson," he said.
The Navy Blues have a full strength side to pick from with the exception of Cam Howieson who is suspended after picking up his fifth caution of the season in last week's win over Canterbury.
Sunday's game kicks off at 2.00pm NZST at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
ISPS Handa Premiership
Sunday 23 February, 2020
Tasman United v Auckland City FC
Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Kick-off: 2.00pm NZST
AC (selected from): 1. Enaut ZUBIKARAI (GK), 2. Mario ILICH, 3. Adam MITCHELL, 4. Mario BILEN, 5. Angel BERLANGA (c), 6. Brian KALTAK, 8. Albert RIERA, 9. Myer BEVAN, 10. Dylan MANICKUM, 11. Tom DOYLE, 13. Emiliano TADE, 14. Jordan VALE, 16. Yousif AL-KALISY, 17. Andrew BLAKE, 18. Conor TRACEY (GK), 20. Logan ROGERSON, 21. Maro BONSU- MARO, 22. Clayton LEWIS, 23. Alfie ROGERS, 24. Cam BROWN (GK).
COACH: Jose FIGUEIRA.
OFC Champions League - Group A
Friday 21 February, 2020
Henderson Eels v Lautoka
Luganville, Vanuatu - kick-off: 1.00pm local
Malampa Revivors v Lae City
Luganville, Vanuatu - kick-off: 5.00pm local
OFC Champions League - Group B
Saturday 22 February, 2020
Hienghene Sport v Eastern Suburbs AFC
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea - kick-off: 3.00pm local
Hekari United v Galaxy FC
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea - kick-off: 6.00pm local
ISPS Handa Premiership
Sunday 23 February, 2020
Canterbury United v Team Wellington
English Park, Christchurch - kick-off: 4.00pm NZST
v. Tasman United (A) won 3-1 (David BROWNE 2, Javier LOPEZ)
v. Tasman United (H) won 3-1 (Javier LOPEZ 2, David BROWNE)
v. Tasman United (H) match awarded to Tasman United 3-0*
v. Tasman United (A) won 1-0 (Callum McCOWATT)
v. Tasman United (H) won 4-0 (Emiliano TADE, Ryan DE VRIES, Darren WHITE, Joao MOREIRA)
v. Tasman United (A) drew 1-1 (Own Goal)
*Auckland City FC fielded an ineligible player
Tu 12 Dec 2023, Al Ittihad, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, KO: 9.00pm local