Words: ACFC Medi
Friday 25 January 2019
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Auckland City FC head into the Gridlock Derby sweating on the fitness of key players in what shapes as a season defining clash with Eastern Suburbs on Saturday.
Auckland City FC downed the Lilywhites 1-0 at Riverhills Park back in November courtesy of a Dylan Manickum goal but with Reid Drake, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, Albert Riera and Omar Guardiola all injured, coach Ramon Tribulietx may be forced into a reshuffle.
That's nothing new for Tribulietx who last week saw fit to rest striker Javier Lopez as the Navy Blues rolled over Hawke's Bay United 4-1 in Napier last Sunday.
Any thought of resting players with an eye on the Tonghai Financial Chinese New Year Cup and OFC Champions League are very far from his thoughts.
"With the availability of players we have we'll field a team we believe gives us the best chance of winning the match, with the ball or without it.
"There's no doubt this is a big match that will be played at a high intensity so we'll pick the best team we can.
"Reid will be out for a few weeks. His ankle was hit hard and he's been in a moon boot all week. We'll have to wait awhile before Reid comes back but the indications are he requires at least a few more weeks.
"Te Atawhai has been out for three weeks and is working on his calf but he's not quite there yet.
"We still have a few players out like Albert Riera and we'll have a look at him at training and make a decision whether we bring him in," Tribulietx told www.aucklandcityfc.com.
While Tribulietx ponders just what his starting eleven may look like, he took time to run the rule over an Eastern Suburbs side that seems to have kicked on to another level.
Wins over Hawke's Bay United (4-1), Southern United (6-1), Wellington Phoenix (4-0) and Canterbury United (5-1) have propelled them up the ladder leaving Oceania champions Team Wellington trailing in their wake.
That winning sequence leaves the Lilywhites seven points ahead of TeeDubs with just six games left in the regular season suggesting they could clinch their first ever OFC Champions League spot if they can keep up the momentum.
A key figure in that recent surge of goals is former Navy Blues front man Callum McCowatt.
"Callum is the player they needed to make them even more dangerous. He comes from the same background as the other Ole Academy players so he combines very well with the likes of Elijah Just.
"Owen Parker-Price, Dalton Wilkins, Elijah and Callum have the chemistry, talent and understanding of how to hurt teams and Callum has extra quality when it comes to finishing chances.
"He complements Andre De Jong very well but can also create and finish an opportunity for himself. He's got a great future ahead of himself. He's still young but his present is very good and his future even better," Tribulietx said.
Eastern Suburbs record in the Gridlock Derby is poor.
In six matches, the Lilywhites have yet to pick up a single point, losing six times and scoring just once. They've conceded 11 times. While the tale of the tape is very much in favour of the home side, Tribulietx's respect for what Danny Hay's team has done so far is clear.
"Eastern Suburbs have their way of playing and will want to regain the ball high up the pitch so will want to press us when we try to play out from the back.
"They press in a different way, an intense way and we have to be alert at all times in a small playing area. Their intensity makes life harder for us. I'm expecting an intensity and a quick combination play from them and a very tough match with a difficult opponent," he said.
In milestones for this clash, if selected, Dan Morgan will make his 50th competitive appearance for Auckland City FC while Cam Howieson marked his half-century in last week's win over Hawke's Bay United.
Angel Berlanga is now 15 games short of equalling James Pritchett's club record of 203 appearances, a milestone he can pass this season if he plays in every remaining match in the campaign, if Auckland City FC reach the finals of both the ISPS Handa Premiership and OFC Champions League.
The game kicks off at Kiwitea Street at 4pm NZST on Saturday 26 January 2019.
ISPS Handa Premiership
Saturday 26 January 2019
Auckland City FC v Eastern Suburbs
Kiwitea Street, Sandringham
Kick-off: 4.00pm NZST
AC (squad chosen from:) 1. Enaut ZUBIKARAI (GK), 3. Takuya IWATA, 4. Mario BILEN, 5. Angel BERLANGA (c), 6. Brian KALTAK, 7. Cam HOWIESON, 8. Albert RIERA, 9. Javier LOPEZ, 10. Micah LEA'ALAFA, 11. Fabrizio TAVANO, 12. Dylan MANICKUM, 13. Patrick LUNDEMO, 14. Jordan VALE, 15. Dan MORGAN, 16. Yousif ALI, 18. Ruben PARKER (GK), 19. David BROWNE, 21. Maro BONSU-MARO, 22. Omar GUARDIOLA, 23. Alfie ROGERS, 24. Cameron BROWN (GK).
COACH: Ramon TRIBULIETX.
v. Eastern Suburbs (A) won 1-0 (Emiliano Tade)
v. Eastern Suburbs (H) won 2-1 (Joao Moreira, Emiliano Tade / Moses Dyer)
v. Eastern Suburbs (A) won 2-0 (Emiliano Tade, Micah Lea'alafa)
v. Eastern Suburbs (H) won 1-0 (Callum McCowatt)
v. Eastern Suburbs (H) won 4-0 (Emiliano Tade 2, Callum McCowatt, Dalton Wilkins)
v. Eastern Suburbs (A) won 1-0 (Dylan Manickum)
Sunday 4 December 2022, Wellington Olympic, Mount Smart Stadium