Canterbury United on red alert for Waitakere
Canterbury United goalkeeper Adam Highfield is wary of the Waitakere United attack as he chases a fourth consecutive clean sheet in tomorrow's top of the table national premiership match.
The Canterbury Dragons are bidding to win a record sixth successive game in the ASB premiership to overtake champions Waitakere in first place at the end of the second round.
Highfield hasn't conceded a goal since Canterbury's 2-1 home win over Otago United last month and is determined to extend that record at English Park.
Waitakere have an electric-heeled strikeforce led by Fijian international Roy Krishna, ex-All White Allan Pearce and Ryan de Vries.
"We will be looking out for their strikers on the break. They are a good counter-attack team with speed up front that we need to nullify," Highfield said.
"You can't just stop one of them, there's three or four them [who are threats]."
Waitakere are probably saying the same about a Canterbury attack that has scored 11 goals in the last three games. Russell Kamo, Dimitar Bayrev, Darren White and Andy Barton are beginning to click and Aaron Clapham is the premiership's best playmaker.
Highfield said, like last season, Canterbury was benefiting from having a stable defence. Captain Dan Terris has been ever-present at right back, Tom Schwarz and Vladimir Bayrev are building an understanding in central defence and both Julyan Collett and Nick Wortelboer have performed strongly at left back.
The Dragons' defence had a shaky start, conceding five goals in their first game - a 5-2 loss to Auckland City - but Highfield, who saved a penalty at Waikato FC, has fished the ball out of the net just once in the last five matches.
"The fruits are starting to show," he said, citing the competition for places as a key factor in the Dragons' defensive form.
"It keeps the guys hungry, everyone just wants to do well."
The competition extends to the goalkeeping berth. Highfield has been the first-choice for the last two years but he knows understudy Tom Batty is also a proven performer.
The midfield scrap could hold the key to tomorrow's outcome. Waitakere captain Jake Butler will almost certainly be assigned to be Clapham's shadow.
Waitakere also boast former All White David Mulligan, whose long-range shooting and deadly dead-ball delivery should not be taken lightly. He is the premiership's top scorer on five goals.
They have a new coach this season, with former Auckland City boss Paul Marshall taking over from All Whites assistant Neil Emblen.
Canterbury coach Keith Braithwaite has plenty of respect for Emblen, but he said Waitakere "by all accounts are playing better than they were last year".
"They're playing a 4-3-3 [formation], the same as last year, but they're definitely a bit tighter than they were at the back and they are really going at teams from the get-go and put them under pressure."
Canterbury have won four of their last five matches with Waitakere, but the visitors thrashed the Dragons 5-2 at English Park last year in the semifinal second leg. They remain the only team to beat Canterbury on their artificial pitch installed last year.
Highfield, who rates his Waitakere opposite Danny Robinson as "a class keeper and one of the best in the league", said Waitakere had trained on artificial pitches in Auckland this week.
He said a win over Waitakere would do wonders for their confidence before the Christmas break. "It would be great to get a win and go top of the table because we've got two tough games after Christmas against Auckland and Wellington, which are both at home as well."