» Season enters business end

Loaded WaiBOP United sit in the top four after the ASB Premiership’s round 9 series of games at the weekend and we’re now looking forward to a run of games against our fellow play-off contenders.

After winning three in a row since the Christmas break we’re set to give ourselves a good chance of making it to the post season. This would be the first time for us and first time since predecessor, Waikato FC, made it in the league’s opening season in 2004/05.

Head coach, Peter Smith, is pleased with the way things have gone for his team turning January but mindful the challenge takes a step up over the next three weeks. “I guess you could say we’ve got part one out of the way and now we move on to part two,” said Smith of the post-Christmas period of the 2015/16 season. “Our first goal was to win the three games we had against the sides below us and we did that with increasingly polished performances and results. I couldn’t have mapped it out any better if I’d have tried. We scored a lot of goals in those games and have tightened up at the back, so we’re feeling positive about what lies ahead.

“We’re on the cusp now and the next three games will determine our season, I’m sure of it. With trips to Wellington and Napier, sandwiching a home game against Canterbury, we still have it all to do.”

Smith is careful not to place too much pressure on his young side, while also making clear what his expectation is. “There’s no doubt we’re still the outsiders. I mean, all the other franchises in the mix have been regulars in the play-offs over the years,” he said. “So, at this point, we haven’t achieved anything. In a way the pressure’s on everyone else, because if we make it then that means one of the favourites will miss out.

“Our focus is simple: keep improving our performances. Yes, externally, it’s all about results now, but if we keep getting better then we’ll give ourselves every chance.”

Smith has integrated several new faces to his squad since the break and is pleased with the mix he now has in his playing group. “We’re looking for everyone to stand up, make a contribution, and influence game when called on and that’s what we’re getting now,” said Smith. “With the new lads, obviously Yogi [Tyler Lissette] has fitted straight in and been a rock at the back, Sanni [Issa]’s shown glimpses of his class and Sean [Morris] was superb in his debut. They’ve just added that little bit extra to an excellent group, both on match day and, just as critically, on the training pitch.

“Like most sides we’ve had injuries and suspensions but we have the depth now to cover that. I seem to keep losing centre-halves to injuries, with Adam [Mitchell] being the latest, but that’s football. He’ll be a massive loss for the games he misses, both in terms of quality and leadership, but as a group we just have to get on with it.”

Mitchell is expected to miss several games due to the dislocated shoulder he suffered during to 5-0 win over Waitakere United.

Our next game is on Sunday January 31 at David Farrington Park against Team Wellington. Kick-off is at 2pm. The preview for that match will appear on the website on Thursday.

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