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Testing times ahead

Wairarapa United skipper Sam Mason-Smith, right, on the attack during the 7-1 thrashing of Palmerston North Marist at Memorial Park on Saturday. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

By Gary Caffell

Wairarapa United might be setting the pace in the Central League men’s football competition but it’s too early to be cracking open the bubbly yet.

They will confront three of their toughest rivals, Stop Out, Miramar Rangers and defending champions Wellington Olympic, in their next three games and the results of those will obviously play a huge part as to whether their bid for a very first CL title has a successful ending.

As things stand at present Wairarapa United have 18 points with Western Suburbs second on 17, followed by Stop Out 14, Miramar Rangers and Wellington United 13, Wellington Olympic and Taranaki 10, Napier City Rovers 8, Lower Hutt 7 and Palmerston North Marist 2.

Stop Out were not generally expected to be amongst the serious title contenders come the start of the 2017 season but they have been playing extremely well, having chalked up four wins and two draws from their eight games.

One of their two losses was against Western Suburbs on Saturday by a solitary goal.

Making Wairarapa United’s task more formidable against Stop Out is that they will be without two of their star players, suspended midfielder Cory Chettleburgh and gun striker Paul Ifill who has a previous commitment in Hong Kong.

Ifill will be sorely missed as the former Phoenix gun has the uncanny ability of creating goals out of nothing and against a team with Stop Out’s impressive defensive record that is something which could have come in very handy.

Miramar Rangers began their season slowly which was hardly surprising considering they had a number of players on O-League duty with Team Wellington but they are now back to full strength now and have strung together three successive wins.

They beat Wellington Olympic 2-1 in their latest game, a result which has left Olympic below mid-table, a position which hardly reflects the strength of their playing resources.

Wairarapa United will also have an important game just two days after they play Miramar Rangers.

They will play Island Bay United in a second round Chatham Cup fixture which has “banana skin” written all over it.

With Island Bay United playing a grade below Wairarapa United, most pundits will be expecting the latter to win by a comfortable margin but IBU are coached by a smart operator in former All Whites coach Mick Waitt and they are sure to have a few surprises in store — something which has not been lost on Wairarapa United coach Phil Keinzley.

“We won’t be taking anything for granted, they (Island Bay) are not a bad side and Mick will have them up for it, no doubt about that.

“Knockout games are never easy and this one won’t be any different.”

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