Fierce rivals South Hobart FC and Hobart JEEP Zebras collide in a Sunday blockbuster in Round 8 of the PlayStation 4 Victory League.
It is second versus third as two bitter rivals step toe to toe in a match that could prove crucial to both side’s title hopes.
Hobart JEEP Zebras opened the season with a bang when the two teams last met in the season opener in March, downing last season’s champions 2-0. They will be looking to repeat that effort this weekend but Coach Chris Hey says his injury plagued Zebras will need a massive effort to repeat their round one heroics.
“South are becoming stronger and their younger players have now adapted well to the senior level of football in this state,” Hey said.
“They will try and kill us off in the first 45 minutes, so we need to be aware of that. They have winners all across the park and we will need to play out of our skins to get something from this clash,” he added.
Zebras shot out of the blocks this season with big wins against their closest rivals South Hobart and Olympia in the opening rounds. Their form waned at the back end of the first round of fixtures seeing them drop points to teams below them on the ladder, with a loss to Devonport and draws with Rangers and Launceston City. As a result, this week’s tussle and the couple that follow it appear to be crucial for the Zebras tilt at the title.
“Not comfortable as to where we are. We have dropped and other teams are gaining momentum but I feel the next three games are critical to our season,” Hey explained.
Injuries have made Hey’s job difficult but he is not willing to use that as an excuse for their patchy form.
“People will expect the excuse of multiple injuries, but that it not the reason we have performed at an average level in the last two games. Better focus and workmanship for one another is needed.”
South Hobart have recovered well from a poor start to the season, with four good wins on the trot. But despite the contrasting recent form of the two teams, South Hobart Coach Ken Morton expects the Zebras to rise to the occasion on Sunday.
"The win last weekend and Zebras dropping two points saw us slip back into second position. So considering our poor start we have made up some valuable ground on our opponents,” he said.
"The opening round has been well contested, like ourselves Rangers struggled early and are now putting a string of winning games together. Launceston City have improved significantly and the young speedy Devonport side are doing really well. Olympia are setting a high standard so competition is quite fierce this year.”
“We will look forward to Zebras at KGV on Sunday. It will be a very tough encounter. Our opponents seem to find a bit extra in their clashes with us,” he said.
Despite their injuries, Morton still identifies a Zebras lineup with some talent to watch out for.
“They have many outstanding players. Goalkeeper Wright controls and drives the team, setting a very high standard. Walsh was competitive and very dangerous, marauding down the right wing in the last game, back to his more favoured position.
“They obviously have many key players, Captain Henry Fagg a big influence, McKeown, the Engles brothers and Jayden Hey are all stand out players.”
Ladder leaders Olympia FC Warriors face Northern Rangers at NTCA. Rangers have been a bogey side for Olympia in recent times, with most of the pair’s meetings since the inception of the Victory League extremely tight encounters. Their most recent meeting saw Rangers knock the Warriors out of the cup with a last gasp winner, a result that Warriors boss Glen McNeill is keen to atone for this weekend.
“I rate Rangers highly and they are quite rightly climbing the ladder. We are coming off a loss on this ground the last time we played Rangers. We were very disappointed by this loss and will be looking to rectify that this weekend,” said McNeill.
It will be a battle of two talented midfields with Olympia’s engine room of Shae Hickey, Nick Mearns and Gavin Hoy up against the likes of Rangers’ Harry Thannhauser, Yitay Towns and Kenta Yamane.
“Thannhauser and Towns have had good seasons so far, they are playing well and we will need to be very aware of that,” McNeill said.
Olympia sit atop the table after the first round of matches but McNeill is not getting carried away, keeping his eyes fixated on the nearest challenge ahead of his chargers.
“We are happy where we are at the top of the table. However there is a lot of football to be played and there are many twists and turns to come. So we must be solely focused on our next match against Rangers.”
Despite ensuring Olympia’s early exit from the cup in their last meeting, Rangers Coach Dane Hudson expects an uphill battle this weekend.
“We defeated Olympia 2-1 in the Laka Cup. That gives us some confidence but they travelled without their full starting team and I don’t think that will happen this week.
“Well coached and strength on every line, it will be a fantastic test for us.”
Only a fortnight ago Rangers sat on the floor of the table but with two wins they have turned things around shooting up to fourth position. Hudson believes the next round of games will make or break their season.
“We sit in fourth at the moment and after the start we have had, it shows how tight the league is, which is great.
“A few surprises in the opening round but its good to see everyone stepping up.
“The second round will either put us in a strong position to push higher from fourth or leave us nowhere. We have no parachute so like everyone, any fall will hurt.”
Rangers won’t be at full strength for the clash with skipper Nick Lanau-atkinson and English Centre-back Nick Swirad in doubt, while Schalde Anderson has been ruled out long term with a serious knee injury.
In this week’s other games, Launceston City and Glenorchy Knights meet at Mitsubishi Park, City will be out for revenge from round one, with the loser likely to leave the round in last spot.
And Kingborough Lions host Devonport Strikers down at the den, Devonport Strikers are building with Michael Holden in blistering form, the Lions will have to contain the winger if they are to win and leapfrog Devonport on the ladder.
Playstation 4 Victory League - Round 8
Kingborough Lions v Devonport City – 2:00PM/Saturday 23 May 2015 (Lightwood Park, Kingston)
Launceston City v Glenorchy Knights – 2:00PM/Saturday 23 May 2015 (Mitsubishi Park, Prospect)
Northern Rangers v Olympia FC Warriors – 4:30PM/Saturday 23 May 2015 (NTCA, Launceston)
Hobart JEEP Zebras v South Hobart – 2:00PM/Sunday 24 May 2015 (KGV Football Park, Glenorchy)