Christchurch United hopes to continue its fairytale Chatham Cup run on Saturday, but coach Danny Halligan says quarterfinal opponents Melville United will pose a whole new challenge for his young squad.
Whatever the outcome of the quarterfinal, Christchurch United is already experiencing an historic dream season, remaining unbeaten in 23 matches across all competitions.
The team has wrapped up the second-tier Canterbury Championship, eliminated four top-flight sides in their Chatham Cup run, including powerhouse Cashmere Technical and qualified for the final of the local English Cup.
Melville United may only sit in eighth place in the Northern Region Football League, but Halligan witnessed on Saturday that the Hamilton club will be another step up, after watching the Hamilton side demolish East Coast Bays 4-0.
“We have not played at that level of intensity or pace on a weekly basis and we have not been subject to the defensive pressure that they will put us under,” says Halligan.
“We have managed to rise to the occasion for some key games this season such as Cashmere Technical and Nelson Suburbs in the Chatham Cup as well as Selwyn United in the English Cup, but we will need to lift even more for the challenge that Melville United will pose.”
Halligan says that winning their own league early and playing against weaker second-tier teams most weeks was not the ideal preparation for a major cup tie, but that the lure of the Chatham Cup had also kept his players excited and training intensity high.
“We go into the game with excitement as well as a degree of tension and nerves, which is very normal before a game such as this,” says the United coach.
“The majority of the squad has never been in this type of game before and has never progressed this far in the Chatham Cup, so it is very much an unknown for them. Travelling away from home and playing against a team they have not seen before and at a foreign ground just adds to the anticipation,” says the former All Whites star who was part of two Chatham Cup winning United teams.
On top of the obvious gap in quality on paper, Halligan will also have to cope with long-term injuries to three key players, including former A-League player Michael White, as well as Taylor Catlow and Sho Mathieson, while experienced Mark Peers is also in doubt with an ankle injury.
The injuries have tested the depth of his squad, but Halligan is not the type of coach to look for excuses and instead points at the opportunitises this has created for the younger players.
The best example of youngsters grabbing their opportunities is Christchurch United Academy player Oscar Obel-Hall, who only just turned 15, and has already has successful trials in Germany and Denmark. Obel-Hall performed well in the previous two dramatic Chatham cup ties against Cashmere Technical and Nelson Suburbs, and in recent weeks even earned himself a spot in the starting line-up.
“Those young players will now be tested at a completely different level but I am confident that they will acquit themselves well,” says Halligan.
“The key to this game is to not get distracted by the occasion and to ensure that we are ready to meet the challenge head on.”
For any CUFC fans that would like to leave messages for the team, below is the team’s hotel details:
Ibis Hamilton Tainui
18 Alma Street
Chatham Cup quarter-final
Melville United v Christchurch United
Saturday, 2pm, Hamilton.
Live-streamed on Melville Facebook page.