Auckland City get ready for Hawke’s Bay

Auckland City's Joao Moreira is mobbed after scoring from the spot. Stirling Sports Premiership, Round 18, Auckland City FC v Eastern Suburbs, Kiwitea Street, Auckland, Sunday 5th March 2017. Copyright photo: David Joseph / www.photosport.nz

The depth of the minor premiers Auckland City will be tested in the Stirling Sports Premiership semi-finals this weekend when they host Hawke’s Bay United without three of their starting line-up.

All White Clayton Lewis is playing in the FIFA World Cup Qualifying in Fiji, while striker Joao Moreira and midfielder Fabrizio Tavano are ruled out of the Navy Blues due to suspension.

Ramon Tribulietx’s team are trying to win a record breaking seventh National League title if they can take out this season’s grand final.

“We’re delighted to have won the minor premiership to secure our spot in next season’s OFC Champions League but we must put that aside to focus on what becomes a very different challenge – a knock-out domestic semi-final in what is essentially a Cup competition format,” he said.

Auckland City celebrate Emiliano Tade's winning goal. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

Auckland City celebrate Emiliano Tade’s winning goal. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

“Hawke’s Bay United have become a difficult opponent in recent seasons having developed a very well structured team that can get players behind the ball then look to cause problems on the counter attack or in transition. It goes without saying this semi-final is going to be a tough one.”

Hawke’s Bay United come into the match on the back of a superb run of form. They have won seven of their last eight games and defeated Auckland City FC 2-1 at Bluewater Stadium in Napier last month.

Meanwhile, Auckland City come into the game fresh from OFC Champions League where they knocked over Western United (2-1), Lae City Dwellers (2-0) and Malampa Revivors (11-0).

“Hawke’s Bay United are always a difficult side in one-off games because they tend to defend deep and it makes imposing our style very difficult,” Tribulietx said.

Two players have made a big impression on the domestic front during this campaign and the Navy Blues coach expects they will be big players for the visitors in the semi-final.

“Sam Mason-Smith and Angus Kilkolly are players who thrive in this sort of match and are very effective when the game is in transition. Set-plays also present us with a challenge so this is an encounter where we have to be switched on at all moments of the game, not just defensively, but also when we have the ball. This quality will be key to our chances in this game,” he said.

Angus Kilkolly celebrates scoring for Hawke's Bay United against Hamilton Wanderers. Photo: Kerry Marshall / www.photosport.nz

Angus Kilkolly celebrates scoring for Hawke’s Bay United against Hamilton Wanderers. Photo: Kerry Marshall / www.photosport.nz

Tribulietx has a great record at Kiwitea St, but the record of Hawke’s Bay coach Brett Angell is also impressive. For the third year in succession, with three different groups, he takes them to the semi-finals.

“Every year we have started with the end in mind,” said Angell. “That goal is to make the playoffs. We have had three slightly different groups and we have achieved that aim. I try to make them better footballers and every player that comes in I try to help with a little bit more knowledge and understanding.

“We have a difficult group to play against and individuals who can cause issues for the opposition.”

Angell said the consistent run since Christmas has been really pleasing. He believes his team has improved week-in, week-out and made gains in two key areas.

“We’ve stopped giving away soft goals and made the opposition work hard if they are to score. At the other end we have kept the ball a lot better, the statistics show that, which has had a big impact on our attack,” he said.

Angell said his team has a huge amount of respect for six-time champions are expecting a huge challenge at Kiwitea St in front of their home fans.

“They are again the league winners. I still feel that whoever has won the league over the 18 games is the deserved winner and Auckland have done that,” he said.

“We have to respect them but we don’t have to completely fear them. If we execute our game plan well both in and out of possession I do feel we have enough to worry Auckland. If they are not on their game we can beat them.”

Hawke’s Bay United will be looking to turn around their poor record in Stirling Sports Premiership semi-finals. The Bay has played in seven playoffs for the final and won only once. Angell expects the experience of his group to be ready for the occasion.

“Auckland have an experienced group so I don’t think semi-final football is going to faze them but equally we have experience in our group and I don’t think it will faze our group either. Over the course of the past three seasons, many players in this group has been in this situation,” he said.

“We need to expect that Auckland City will keep the ball and keep it very well. We need to be patient, disciplined and when we win possession of the ball we use it for the best purposes.”

In the other semi-final, defending champions Team Wellington hosts Waitakere United at David Farrington Park on Sunday 26 March.

Stirling Sports Premiership Semi Finals
Semi-final 1
Auckland City FC v Hawke’s Bay United
Saturday 25 March 2017, kick-off: 4.05pm
Kiwitea Street, Auckland
Live on SKY Sports

Semi Final 2
Team Wellington vs Waitakere United
Sunday 26 March, kick off 4:05pm
David Farrington Park, Wellington

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