Unbeaten Taranaki side favoured to stay on top

TONY BIRD
Last updated 05:00 17/05/2014

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Team Taranaki return to their favourite home ground to take on Wanganui Athletic in a top-of-the-table clash in the Federation League football match at Pukekura Park tomorrow.

Team Taranaki will relish playing on New Plymouth's premier football field, where they will look to extend their unbeaten record so far this season.

It's an important game for both teams as they wrestle for title honours in the middle stages of this season's Central Football league.

Wanganui Athletic sit second, and five points behind, Team Taranaki on the competition ladder with a game in hand. The matchup is arguably the toughest the home side has faced so far this season.

"The significance of this game perhaps lies heavier with Wanganui Athletic than ourselves, given that we currently enjoy a five-point cushion at the top of the league," said TT coach Ian McGrath yesterday.

"I feel that it is always harder to chase in these circumstances and the prospect of a defeat for the second-place team will put them eight points behind us at the halfway point of the season."

However, team Taranaki should be wary of Athletic, which has recruited overseas players, and key personnel who have jumped ship from Wanganui City during the off-season.

One of their most influential players is Josh Smith, who has experience at national level in the ASB Premiership with Canterbury United. Smith and has scored well over half of Athletic's goals this season.

McGrath reads nothing into Athletic's 7-2 defeat at the hands of Miramar Rangers last weekend in a Chatham Cup qualifier.

"It was a result that I would have expected given the gulf in class," he said.

"It certainly will not impact on our game this weekend unless they picked up injuries or suspensions."

McGrath said his squad was in good shape.

"When you play at home you want to give every visiting team something to think about, and in that sense we will be positive from the outset, and look to take advantage of our very strong home record at Puke Park," McGrath said.

Team Taranaki dominated last Saturday, beating Palmerston North Boys' High School 5-0. There were several standout performances in the game, including those of Team Taranaki makeshift striker Morgan Hall and Vinnie Sharp, both of whom drilled a hat-trick of goals.

McGrath said a good start to tomorrow's game is important and will set the tone of the game.

"I am looking for a continuation of last week's impressive performance. The players are grounded and excited about a return to Puke Park and they are playing well."

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- Taranaki Daily News

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