Suburbs' season may hinge on crunch tie
The pressure is on as two of the Mainland Premier League's most successful sides clash in a fixture where the result will have huge implications for the title race.
AMI Nelson Suburbs host two-time defending champions Ferrymead Bays at Saxton Field at 1pm on Sunday.
It's two versus three on the league ladder and only two points separate the sides. With leaders Cashmere Technical playing and beating wooden spoon holders FC Twenty 11, 7-1 on Tuesday night, only a win for Suburbs will keep them in touch.
With five games to go, Cashmere Technical lead the pack on 39 points. Even with a game in hand a loss for Suburbs (35) or Bays (33) would see title hopes dissipate, while Tech will back a draw.
The gravity of the situation should make for a fine footballing spectacle, according to Nelson Suburbs co-coach Paul Brydon.
"The guys should be looking forward to this, this is what it is all about," said Brydon. "We are not playing the FC Twenties or the Nomads; it is all about playing the top sides.
"We need to win this game, so there is a fair bit of pressure on the lads and we will just see how they react. If we get a good crowd, a good day, I think it will be a great match between two evenly matched sides who need to win."
After stuttering along in the second round, Ferrymead have hit some form, beating Nomads United 5-1 in a deferred game on Wednesday. When Suburbs and Bays last met in Christchurch on May 26, Suburbs were a class ahead, taking apart the-then competition leaders 4-0.
With such a fine blueprint on how to blunt the Bays beast, Brydon said it would be more of the same.
"We will sit back and let them play out from the back. We got people behind the ball last time and then we broke quickly, so that is what we will be looking to do.
"They are the sort of side, where if you get an early goal against them, they tend to panic. They are not used to coming under pressure."
The strategy may be consistent but the personnel have been altered.
Strikers Ben Wright (injured) and Brandon Kay (suspended) are out and the big target man is missing from the frontline. But, planning and foresight have seen two able replacements in the sky blue and in goal-scoring form.
"We still have plenty of attacking flair there with Gagame [Feni] and Jerry Donga. Jerry has looked real sharp at training and has really made a huge impact, so we will start him this week."
Wright and Kay will return to the side before the season is over, yet one man who will not is Chilean winemaker Alberto Zabala. Strong on the ball and with a nice touch on a dry track, Zabala's presence in the midfield will be missed. Stopping that gap will rest on the experience of intermittent starter Neil Connell. Connell brings sound defence and organisation into the middle of the park, his communication also an asset where the action is thickest.
Suburbs will likely move back to the 4-2-3-1 formation with the reliable back four unchanged, dependent on whether "Skippy", Ryan Stewart has recovered from his trip to watch Melbourne play Liverpool in Australia this week.
At right-back Stewart will line up next to captain Mark Johnston, Johnny Gough and left fullback Sean Parkes, a strong line in front of shot stopper Coey Turipa. Connell will be partnered in the midfield by Pete Whyte.
The pace and attacking instincts of Feni and Donga will line the flanks with Sam Ayers earning his position up front with a creative performance, setting up both goals in last week's 2-1, 10-man win over Coastal Spirit.
After a couple of weeks on the outer, the technically gifted Davi Maciel is likely to get a start in the hole behind Ayers, while Alex Ridsdale could just as easily fill that spot.
Because of the recent changes in the lineup, coaches Wright and Brydon felt a run would be beneficial.
Last night the Mainland side played the First XI at Saxton. All reports from the 4-1 friendly victory have the Mainland lads looking good, and now singularly focused on the crunch match to come.
The Nelson Mail