Words: ACFC Media
Friday 12 January 2018
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Southern United's best campaign in six years puts Navy Blues on alert as they chase their first win of 2018.
The perennial cellar-dwellers have undergone an Irish-inspired transformation over the past two seasons with coach Paul O'Reilly at the helm and pose a tricky challenge for an Auckland City FC side looking to adapt following the loss of defender Daewook Kim and imminent departure of star striker Ryan De Vries.
Southern United could be in for their best campaign after they reached 11 points in just ten games, their highest total in six seasons. They also snatched a rare point off Auckland City FC when they held the Navy Blues to a 2-2 draw in their first encounter in November.
Coach Ramon Tribulietx noted the upturn in Southern United's fortunes and believes his team is in for a serious examination at Kiwitea Street when the two teams clash on Saturday.
"Paul O'Reilly has made Southern United a very competitive opponent over these last one-and-a-half seasons and I expect nothing less than a tough match.
"Southern have good organisation defensively and are very strong on the counter-attack and at set-pieces which on our ground makes them very dangerous.
"The second round of matches is always much tougher because teams are chasing playoff positions so we need to be mentally tough and show the level of performance we did in the first four months of this season," he explained.
Making life difficult for Tribulietx and Auckland City FC is the loss of Kim and De Vries alongside earlier departures of Clayton Lewis and Joao Moreira to professional opportunities abroad.
With the OFC Champions League on the horizon and a spate of catch-up games and midweek fixtures locked into the calendar, Tribulietx admitted he had an eye on drafting in replacements but kept his cards close to his chest.
"We're keeping a close eye on the domestic scene to see if there is someone that can fit the way we play. These developments mean a very good test for the depth of our squad and our team.
"The strength of our football will need to take care of the changes as it always has," he said.
Nabbing maximum points has become more urgent following the docking of three points following a player eligibility breach against Tasman United prior to the festive break.
"Losing the points due to an administrative error is very disappointing but the team will work very hard again to overcome that frustration.
"The team worked very hard to get back up for the game with Tasman United to overcome jetlag and the mental low we get through after any Club World Cup.
"We now must turn it onto an extra motivation for ourselves - we can't do anything else," he said.
Southern United aren't without challenges of their own.
Despite a stronger showing this season they have struggled to notch a win with their last five matches producing three draws and two defeats.
They held Team Wellington to a goalless draw in the capital bookended by two 2-0 defeats to Eastern Suburbs AFC and Canterbury United.
Danny Furlong and Garbhan Coughlan have bagged four goals each for Southern United this season and could be the ones for the Navy Blues defence to keep an eye on.
Southern United haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2005-06 although they went close in 2008-09 when they missed out on goal difference to arch-rivals Canterbury United.
The match kicks off at Kiwitea Street on Saturday 13 January 2018 at 2pm.
Ticket information can be found here.
ISPS Handa Premiership
Saturday 13 January 2018
Auckland City FC v Southern United
Kiwitea Street, Sandringham
Kick-off: 2pm NZST