Dragons have all to play for in final-round clash

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2014

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Canterbury United are aiming to cash in on the counterattack when they face Waitakere United in their do-or-die final-round national football league match in Auckland tomorrow.

The fourth-placed Dragons hold a two-point lead over Waitakere in the standings and firmly control their own destiny.

They would book a place in the top-four finals with a draw and could move to  third with a victory and if other results fall in their favour. Lose, however, and they are gone.

Defending champions Waitakere know they must beat Canterbury to move into the top four and experienced Dragons' striker Russell Kamo believed that would play into his side's hands.

Waitakere will come out with an attacking mentality and look to score early goals and Kamo said his side would be ready to pounce if they threw too many numbers forward.

''Waitakere are going to have to go out there and win the game and that can often open the game up and open it up at the back. If we defend well, they'll have to throw caution to the wind and that could really open it up at the other end.''

Canterbury coach Keith Braithwaite said his side would enter the game with a positive mindset, admitting it was dangerous to sat back and hold on for a draw.

Like Kamo, he believed there could be opportunities for his team to capitalise if Waitakere's gameplan was too attacking.

'''If they come forward there's going to be gaps and hopefully we can get forward and punish those gaps. We'll expect them to come at us. We'll be looking to defend well and stop them from creating chances and get forward ourselves.''

Canterbury United have been boosted by the return of Kamo and defender Julyan Collett, who missed last week's 2-1 home loss to Hawke's Bay through suspension.

Midfielder Stu Kelly has been under an injury cloud with a ''dead leg'', but Braithwaite said he trained on Thursday night and would be available.

Waitakere have a talent-laden side, with striker Richie Cardozo second equal on the goal scoring charts with eight finishes. Their midfield is anchored by All White Jake Butler, while central defenders Brian Shelley and Tim Myers are both classy operators.

Kamo said Canterbury always lifted against Auckland City and Waitakere, who have had a mortgage on the national football league title since the current format's inception in 2004.

''We don't generally have too much trouble getting up for a game like that. We have more trouble playing the lower teams. We're all highly motivated.''

Kamo said it would be a major blow for Canterbury United if they failed to make the finals. They had only lost three games this season but had suffered from drawing four games - the most in the competition.

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''We've actually had a pretty good year. Unfortunately, we've drawn a few too many games. It would be a real shame if we didn't make the top four.''

Tomorrow's game at Fred Taylor Park kicks off at 4pm.

Canterbury United: Pieter Bierma, Dan Terris, Danny Boys, Julyan Collett, Tom Schwarz, Chris Murphy, Aaron Clapham, Russell Kamo, Stuart Kelly, Federico Marquez, Pablo Moya, Kris O'Neill, Steve Morrison, Dan Schwarz, Shawn O'Brien, Adam Highfield, Ken Yamamoto, Cory Mitchell.

Waitakere United: Danny Robinson, Alec Solomons, Tim Myers, Brian Shelley, Adam McGeorge, Jordan Lowdon, Sam French, Richie Cardozo, Ian Hogg, Sam Mathews, Sansern Limwatthana, Maksim Manko, Tristan Prattley, Jake Butler, Dylan Stansfield, Allan Pearce, Adam McDonald, Harshae Raniga

Standings: Auckland City 30 points, Hawke's Bay 26, Wellington 23, Canterbury United 22, Waitakere United 20, WaiBop United 14, Southern United 7, Wanderers SC 5.

- The Press

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