Just four Central League teams remain in the Chatham Cup Round of 16. Two of those teams are still head to head in contention to win the League title, while the other two have only the Cup left to play for.
In the early game at Hutt Park, Stop Out are tasked with knocking over Western Suburbs, the bar-setting Central League leaders.
Stop Out coach Chris Sambrooke might have spent the last couple of days relaxing in his living room smiling at the stormy weather battering Seaview. Greasy grounds might restrict Wests’ ability to play their brand of quick, slick, counter-attacking football.
But Western Suburbs coach Declan Edge doesn’t think so. “We played on Newtown Park last week and that wasn’t great. I think we’re quite adaptable. I will say that I have never, in all my time in Wellington, played against a Stop Out team that hasn’t caused me and my team problems. But we will manage the conditions whatever they are.”
There’s no denying though that the chances of an odd result are increased by poor ground conditions: a ball slipping under a goalkeeper, a handball, a defender losing his feet, a wayward tackle.
In the last round of the Cup, Stop Out only just pipped North Wellington 3-2, while Western Suburbs have scored seven goals against every single one of their Cup opponents this winter.
Nobody would blame Wests for eyeing a league and Cup double but Edge was having none of it: “We lose some players soon, but I’m not sure who or when. We’re about developing the player. Good players make good teams and good teams can win some football matches. But for us it’s just one training session at a time.”
Only a brave pundit would pick a Stop Out win, but the conditions are ripe for an upset, Stop Out have little else left to play for, and at home they might just beg the question of Declan Edge’s academy kids: “can they do it on a cold Saturday in Seaview?”
In the evening under lights in Masterton, Wairarapa United host Miramar Rangers in the other local match in this round of the Cup.
Wairarapa are unlikely to start Paul Ifill whose hamstring will only be strong enough for him to sit on the bench in case of emergency.
“I’m gutted, to be honest,” Ifill said. “I was saying the other week how lucky we’d been as a club with injuries and then in the next game we get three. We’re hoping to win and I’ll be right for the next round.”
Miramar’s last outing in the Cup was a comfortable 3-0 win over lower-league Tawa. Wairarapa had a tough encounter with Napier City Rovers that ended 5-4 after extra time.
At home with a local crowd and without travel to deal with you’d expect Wairarapa to progress but, even after Miramar Rangers’ torrid Central League season, they remain a club with a proud Cup history who will always be a threat at this stage of the competition.
Stop Out v Western Suburbs at Hutt Park, 2pm Saturday
Wairarapa United v Mirarmar Rangers at Masterton Memorial Park, 5.30pm Saturday