» Preview: Hawke’s Bay United (h)

We head to Rotorua International Stadium on Saturday for our final match before the ASB Premiership breaks for Christmas. Hawke’s Bay United are our opponents for what promises to be a real Christmas cracker.

Both sides enter this fixture off the back of comfortable victories last weekend. The Bay dispatched Southern United 3-1 at Bluewater Stadium to go with our 2-0 win over the Wellington Phoenix at Eden Park.

All that is, however, in the past for WaiBOP United head coach, Pete Smith. “We enjoyed our time in Auckland last Saturday, and to get a result was as special as it was needed. But that was last week,” said Smith. “This Saturday it’s back to business. We’re still bottom and that’s a spot no-one here wants to be and where none of us believe we should be. The only way to remove ourselves from this position is to keep winning games, so that’s what our focus will be, week by week, as we move through the rest of the season.”

It won’t be easy though, as Smith is acutely aware of the challenge presented by Hawke’s Bay United. “They’re a good club and Brett has got a largely new squad working well already. They’ll be buoyed by their win over Southern and will be expecting more of the same at Rotorua on Saturday,” explained Smith. “Our job is to keep our standards high, put in another good performance and take our chances when they come.”

Smith is looking forward to taking his side back to Rotorua International Stadium. “We’ve played here once before and did pretty well [in a 2-1 opening day win over Canterbury United last season], so if we can repeat that I’ll be very happy,” smiled Smith. “Hopefully the fans in Rotorua will be out in force. I can’t think of any better excuse to slip away from the Christmas shopping for a couple of hours!”

The players will, no doubt, be inspired by Auckland City’s performances at the FIFA Club World Cup, something that will hopefully place more of a spotlight on the league. The match kicks off at 3pm.

Our ASB Premiership encounter is preceded by an ASB Youth League fixture between the two clubs. The visitors have had a tough season while a healthy win to the Bay SportsMed WaiBOP United Youth Team in what is the final match of their campaign could see the lads finish as high as third.

Youth League coach, Paul Drake, said his side’s focus is on a strong finish to the season. “The boys have done well this season, but we’ve been a little inconsistent at times and that’s meant we won’t finish as high as we’d have liked and, to be honest, as I feel we should,” said Drake prior to the match. “The key thing, however, is to give these players exposure at this level and see if they can kick on to the first team. We’ve put them under pressure and placed on them an expectation to win games. For the most part, they’ve responded well.”

The ASB Youth League match kicks off at 12.30pm.

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