The most lethal attack in the league will come up against one of the best defences when Team Wellington host Waitakere United in the Stirling Sports Premiership semi-finals on Sunday afternoon at David Farrington Park.
Defending champions Wellington have already found the net a staggering 51 times this season, at an average of nearly three strikes per game. A big chunk of those have been notched by the deadly strike duo of Tom Jackson and Ben Harris with the English-born pair having scored nearly 30 goals between them.
Coach Jose Figueira acknowledges the importance of Harris and Jackson – whose tally claimed him the league’s Golden Boot award – but says Wellington’s potency has not just been down to their star strikers.
“They’ve had a huge impact, obviously they’re quality players and are fantastic for the environment off the field as well,” he says.
“But I think it’s really been a team thing – the eleven that are out there work extremely hard for each other and are really selfless. There’s always going to be two or three that grab the headlines in terms of the goal scoring but, if you ask the boys, they’re not bothered whose name is on the scoresheet as long as we keep picking up the results.”
Team Wellington coach Jose Figueira
Waitakere have already witnessed first-hand Wellington’s ruthless streak in front of goal after suffering a 7-2 humbling on their last trip to the capital in February. The west Aucklanders had been looking fairly comfortable in that game at two-nil up on the hour but were then hit with an attacking storm by the hosts, who fired in seven unanswered goals to leave Waitakere shell-shocked.
It was an experience that will take a long time to banish the memories of and Waitakere captain Jake Butler says exacting some revenge on Sunday would go a long way towards doing that.
“It’s definitely added some fuel to the fire for us – we don’t want a repeat,” he says. “We believe we’re better than what that scoreline suggested. So it’s definitely given us some added motivation.”
Ironically, Waitakere would be one of the teams most observers would pick as unlikely to end up on the receiving end of such a damaging outcome as they have been defensively solid in most other matches. Had it not been for that defeat, United would be close to matching the record of the league’s stingiest side, local rivals Auckland City.
While they have largely done well at their own end of the field, getting themselves on the scoresheet has proved a harder task though and midfielder Butler is top scorer with just six strikes. Out of the four semi-finalists, they are the lowest scorers with 31.
“We probably haven’t scored as many goals as we would have liked but we’ve still ground out results and hung on, as well as playing some good football along the way. It’s nice to be back amongst the finals mix and hopefully we can kick on a bit more,” Butler says.
Waitakere United captain Jake Butler
Wellington are looking to do likewise and not just in the Stirling Sports Premiership – they also have an upcoming OFC Champions League semi-final against New Caledonia’s Magenta at the back of their minds. It would be easy for the players to take their eye off the ball and dream of future glories but Figueira is confident that won’t be the case.
“There’s always the temptation to look ahead and the boys were obviously excited once the draw came out to head back to New Caledonia. But we’ll take things one game at a time and do our homework on Magenta when that game comes around. All eyes and all minds are on this Sunday here at Dave Farrington,” he insists.
The Stirling Sports Premiership semi-final between Team Wellington and Waitakere United takes place at David Farrington Park in Wellington on Sunday 26 March from 4.05pm. The other semi-final is between minor premiers Auckland City and Hawke’s Bay United and will be held at Kiwitea Street in Auckland on Saturday 25 March from 4.05pm.