A "homesick" German and a Phoenix academy prospect hold the keys if Lower Hutt City's merry band of youngsters are to complete a fairytale Chatham Cup run with victory in the 85th final at Newtown Park tomorrow.
Opponents Central United are Auckland City in disguise, an experienced and talented unit boasting several overseas imports, current All White Ivan Vicelich and ex-internationals David Mulligan, Jacob Spoonley, Riki van Steeden and Paul Urlovic.
Youthful Lower Hutt, meanwhile, have been stripped of their gun goalkeeper Scott Basalaj, in India with the Phoenix on their pre-season tour.
"With Scott in the team our average age was 18 but with him out it's 19.
"Compared to Central - Ivan Vicelich could be a dad to a few of them - so it's a bit of a contrast," Lower Hutt coach Brendan McIntyre chuckled.
Prior to their departure, McIntyre met with the Phoenix coaching staff to discuss the possibility of junior international Basalaj playing the cup final before joining the club in India.
But Mark Paston's unavailability put paid to that plan.
"Scott has been a shining light in the last couple of years with what he's done.
"He's a huge loss but he's gone over to India and will probably get some game time as well," McIntyre said.
So the mantle falls to German midfielder Tobias Bertsch and red-hot striker Hamish Watson, who have both piqued the interest of the Phoenix.
"Toby's been tremendous for us, he went back to Germany for three weeks and believe it or not he got homesick and came back again," McIntyre said.
"The Phoenix had shown interest before he left and they've got him going along to their trainings so once they get back from India it might develop into something else. He's been fantastic for us and he brings that wee bit of German efficiency and work ethic."
Watson is leading the Central League golden boot race with 15 goals and will be top of Vicelich's "must-stop" list tomorrow.
Watson has been an unofficial member of the Phoenix academy and is likely to be bumped up to a place proper once the club hands out its two remaining under-21 contracts.
"He set himself a target of 20 goals so he's on track," McIntyre said."He's obviously in the frame at the Phoenix and for him and Toby this is a showcase for their skills against a good side, it'll be a yardstick."
McIntyre expected his side to have a few nerves tomorrow and admitted watching tape on Central's 6-0 semifinal demolition job on Miramar Rangers had been a little frightening.
Lower Hutt advanced to the final with a comfortable 4-0 win over Caversham.
"We're under no illusions, Central have got a top side, a lot of ex-All Whites and that Spanish influence which gives them a wee bit of an X-factor.
"You can just get so caught up in the hype and how good they are that you change your game. "You've got to just play your game and try to take it to them. If we're lucky enough at the end of the day to win it then we'll be chuffed to bits."
Massey University play Three Kings United in the final of the women's knockout cup, with kickoff at 11am.
Lower Hutt City (from): Steve Bayard, Caleb Duncan, Jared Mitchell, James Vernon, Hayden Stuthridge, Kade Schrijvers, Taban Makoii, Hamish Price, Tobias Bertsch, Hamish Watson (c), Cam Lidstone, Jarrod Smith, Shaun Melrose, Jack Imray, Martin Pereyra, Shaquille Sterling, Taylor Hall-Jones, Taylor Schrijvers, Andrew Coad.
Central United (from): Jacob Spoonley, Nick Dale, Kris Carpenter, Takuya Iwata, Jason Hicks, Paul Urlovic, Stuart Hogg, David Mulligan, Adam Dickinson, Jacob Hall, Ivan Vicelich (c), Albert Riera, Daniel Koprivcic, Mauro Rodriguez, Emiliano Tade, Riki Van Steeden, Blaz Bugarin/Patrick George.
- The Dominion Post
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