A reinvigorated Eastern Suburbs AFC look to stretch their unbeaten run to five Stirling Sports Premiership matches when they pay Tasman United a visit in Nelson on Sunday.
Three wins and a draw from their last four matches is an excellent return for coach Malcolm McPherson and his team as they remain strong contenders for a tilt at the minor premiership and the automatic OFC Champions League qualifying berth that comes with it.
The Lilywhites are boosted by the return of skipper Tim Payne and can also point to the two point gap that has opened up between themselves, Auckland City FC and Team Wellington and fourth placed Waitakere United as a measure of the great season they’ve had to date.
Making this Sunday’s crunch match with Tasman United even more important is the day’s other fascinating clash that pits Canterbury United up against Waitakere United in Christchurch.
Canterbury United will view this as a must-win to keep their playoff hopes alive and leapfrog Waitakere United, a situation Eastern Suburbs AFC want to capitalise on to strengthen their own cause.
Coach Malcolm McPherson admits the last three matches shape up as must-wins for all their leading contenders.
“The way the table has panned out means all the leading sides have got to play each other so teams are going to take points off each other over the next three games.
“Hawke’s Bay United have a reasonable run-in but as we’ve already seen there are no easy games in this league,” he said.
Tasman United were well-beaten in their last clash with Eastern Suburbs AFC by 4-2 thanks to a double from Sean Lovemore and goals by All Whites pair Moses Dyer and Luke Adams.
Since then the Nelson-based side have picked up a 1-0 win over Hamilton Wanderers and held Waitakere United to a 2-2 draw.
McPherson is cautious about Tasman United’s new-found confidence and form.
“We’re playing a Tasman United team who have enjoyed their best run and they have a new coach and picked up four points out of the last six.
“Tasman United are off the bottom of the table and at home they’re going to be a very tough ask. It was the same for us at Southern United last weekend. It was very tough for us to come away with a clean sheet and a win.
“That’s a testimony to the quality of the teams in the league. The next three games are very big but we’re only concentrating on Tasman United at the moment,” he said.
Eastern Suburbs AFC kick off their match with Tasman United at 2pm on Sunday 19 February, 2017.
The game is at Trafalgar Park, Nelson.
Stirling Sports Premiership
Sunday 19 February, 2017
Tasman United v Eastern Suburbs AFC
Trafalgar Park, Nelson