Waikato FC aim to stop slide
Waikato FC coach Willy Gerdsen hopes his charges can shrug off a pre-Christmas slump and off-field concerns as they re-start their ASB Premiership football campaign today.
Gerdsen's side faces Hawke's Bay United at Hamilton's Fred Jones Park (3pm kickoff) aiming to rectify a minor slump prior to the holiday season break.
After a promising beginning to their 2010/11 campaign, Waikato FC dropped down the eight-team table to sixth spot following a 5-2 hammering by bottom-placed Youngheart Manawatu in their last match on December 19.
However, bar runaway leaders Waitakere United, the league is tightly contested this season and a victory today would immediately shoot the hosts back into playoff contention.
Gerdsen said his side had been working hard on individual training programmes over the break and as a team this week as they seek to rediscover their form.
The Waikato Times revealed last month that the franchise was suffering financial problems and struggling to make payments on their competition licence agreement with New Zealand Football.
"The off-the-field drama has not been helpful," Gerdsen admitted.
The coach admitted his side "switched off" mentally against Manawatu but also felt "hometown" officiating had cost them, questioning two goals he felt were clearly offside.
Waikato will be without utility player Joe Bresnahan, who is getting married, centre back Nathan Strom is in Canada, fullback/wide midfielder Tewi Te Pou is still trialling with Championship clubs in England and promising teenage striker Eugene Heerschap is away.
However, Tim Pilkington has returned to fitness after a long-term hamstring injury, Sam Margetts is back from a short injury absence and Ryan Zoghby returns to the team from overseas work commitments.
Today's opponents also enter the new year on a downward slide, having lost their last two outings, including a 5-0 away thumping by Auckland City.
They will also have a host of changes to their squad.
Dan O'Brien returns from appendicitis but former Waikato product Matt Hastings faces a late fitness test if he wishes to front against former Melville United team-mate Te Pou.
New signing Scott Gannon is waiting on the confirmation of his international transfer clearance while Tom Biss is back after turning out for the Wellington Phoenix A side in the ASB Challenge series.
Chris Greatholder is another who may make a return from injury, but coach Matt Chandler will be without the suspended Marama Thompson. Dan Wilson (overseas), Joachim Rande and Dan Ball (unavailable) and veteran goal poacher Leon Birnie (injured) are also missing.
The match will be controlled by Hamilton referee Peter O'Leary.