Suburbs step up for early battle
In a season that promises to be as intriguing as it is unpredictable, as many as seven players will make their Mainland Premier League debut in Nelson Suburbs' opening fixture, against FC Twenty 11, in Christchurch tomorrow.
Despite the lack of familiarity with the top Mainland club competition, incoming players will bring experience from the national youth league, local first division, and knowledge from overseas.
The spine of the AMI Nelson Suburbs team looks solid, with former New Zealand age-grade goalkeeper Coey Turipa at the back, and captain Mark Johnson pairing with former FC Nelson player Johnny Gough in the central defence positions.
Ireland's Peter Whyte and Chilean Alberto Allende Zabala will combine in the middle of the park, while Suburbs striker Brandon Kay will lead the attack, with Coastal Spirit import Ryan Stewart playing just behind him.
On the right-hand extremes, Nelson Falcons youth league players Fletcher Slierendrecht and Neil Mason could get their chance in defensive and advanced positions respectively.
Depending on the fitness of co-coach Ben Wright, Sean Parkes will either play at left back, or on the left wing. If a groin twinge rules Wright out, Suburbs will call on former first division player Ben Hamson to come in at the back, and Parkes will start up front.
With Wesley Olea unavailable and Wright in doubt only Turipa, Johnson, Kay and Stewart are guaranteed starters familiar with the demands of the premier grade.
FC Twenty 11 finished seventh of eight teams in 2012 and did not manage to take any points off Suburbs last season. Head-to-head the two sides have played three times, with Suburbs claiming three wins.
In contrast to Suburbs' busy off-season, the movement of players has been relatively quiet in the Garden City, though FC Twenty 11 have gained the services of former Canterbury United defender Paul Dirou.
Wright said if their opposition played with the same pattern they did last year, they would be hard to break down.
"They were very well organised, playing 4-3-3," said Wright. "They sat off us, were quite prepared for us to have the ball, and were organised defensively.
"It is difficult, because we don't know what they will be like. I've not been able to see them, but apparently they are quite strong in midfield."
Of his own team, Wright said he and co-coach Paul Brydon had fostered a group that would not die wondering.
"No matter who we are playing against, I like to play attacking football," said Wright. "I like to get the four backs forward, have a go and take the game to the opposition. I don't want to make it a game of chess."
The opening round of the 12th Mainland Premier season will see all eight teams in action on the same day, at the same venue, for the first time.
Nelson Suburbs and FC Twenty 11 kick off at ASB Football Park at 2pm tomorrow.
- The Nelson Mail