Paul Ifill came off the bench to score for Wairarapa United in a pre-season match against Stop Out. PHOTO/FILE
Wairarapa United kicked off their pre-season campaign on Saturday with an encouraging 2-1 win over Stop Out in the first round of the Hilton Petone Cup at Petone Memorial Park.
Midfielder Matt Tod-Smith, a new signing from North Wellington, opened the scoring from a freekick, and veteran Paul Ifill came on as a substitute in the second half to double the lead with a penalty.
Stop Out scored a late goal after some hesitant passing in defence by United.
Coach Phil Keinzley said United dominated, and it was good to get a win but he wasn’t getting carried away with the result.
“You don’t know if Stop Out were at full strength, and we didn’t have six of our potential starting XI available, so you can’t read anything into it. But winning becomes a habit, so it was good on that front,” he said.
“It’s purely to get match fitness and to try out little things.”
He also wanted to give all the fringe players a run so they could express themselves in a competitive environment and give him a better idea of his core 16 players.
Keinzley was disappointed United conceded a sloppy goal and stressed that curing the defensive lapses was his priority.
“At the moment, I’m concentrating on our defensive attitude and transition into defence and making sure we’ve got a good tight defence before we move to the attacking end of the field.”
Keinzley intends to gather a squad of 22 players, so there is ample cover for injuries and suspensions throughout the season.
However, assembling a competitive squad was more challenging in the current environment, he said.
The change in format to the Central League, which will have the top three teams qualify for a new-style national championship, had a ripple effect.
Clubs such as 2020 champions Miramar Rangers were raiding the market and assembling powerful squads to cover for the potential absence of their Team Wellington players for the Oceania Champions League, which is likely to be played throughout the Central League season.
“Miramar will probably have two teams good enough to beat anyone else in the Central League, and at a guess, they’ve signed up seven strikers who would walk into any team in the league.
“A lot of the problems around at the moment are unique because of covid-19 cutting down the supply of overseas players, so there’s a shortage there.
“And there’s a shortage of good youngsters with the right attitude, and it has created abnormal competition.”
Although Keinzley said he wouldn’t have a team as strong as previous United teams he coached, he was still aiming high.
“It’s not going to be like the teams I had years ago, and we’re not going to be a team challenging for the top two spots, but I’m trying to get a squad that’s good enough to have a crack at that third spot.”
Wairarapa United will travel to Nelson this weekend for a training camp, which includes a game against a local team.
They will then play Lower Hutt City A next Wednesday and Seatoun on March 6 in their final round-robin games in the Hilton Petone Trophy.