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Jul 29, 2006

Sydney FC coach impressed by NZ Knights

Terry Butcher now has a clearer appreciation of the New Zealand Knight's footballing capabilities - and joined the chorus of optimists giving last year's A-League soccer strugglers a better chance this season.

Butcher, the former hard-nosed England defender who now manages Sydney FC, was lavish in his praise of last year's also rans after his reigning champions were held to a 0-0 draw at North Harbour Stadium in Saturday's Pre-Season Cup pool game.

The stalemate, coupled with Newcastle's 0-0 draw with Queensland across the Tasman on Saturday night, enhanced the Knights chances of making the semifinals though they still probably need at least a point from Friday night's visit to Adelaide to be assured of finishing in second spot behind Sydney.

The Knights have three points from three draws while Newcastle and Queensland have two after two draws and losses to Sydney.

Bonus points are also on offer depending on how many goals are scored so the final play-offs picture will not be clear until the end of the round.

There is a degree of clarity however about the Knights' fortunes under new manager Paul Nevin with the remodelled side's pre-season form hinting at a vastly improved showing when the league kicks off on August 27.

Butcher joined Queensland coach Miron Bleiberg in anticipating the Knights would not be the easybeats of last season after witnessing a combative defensive display and glimpses of attacking prowess.

New Portugese striker Dani Rodrigues struck the underside of the bar in the third minute while Sean Devine had an injury time shot steered clear by Clint Bolton.

Butcher admitted he knew little of the Knights, apart from last year's wretched results, thanks to vague information provided by a scouting report.

"We had a DVD on them but it was from the most obscure camera angle ever and from a long way away. I think you needed binoculars to see it.

"We got the gist of the way they played and having seen them (at close range) they're a different side this year.

"They go for the 90 minutes. They're going to be a presence in the A-League this year.

"They worked hard for each other and made it very difficult for us."

Knights manager Paul Nevin was heartened by the display though disappointed victory continues to elude the squad.

"We've got enough about us to win a game," he said.

"We haven't created as many chances as we'd have liked but I like the fact we respect everyone we come against but there's absolutely no fear.

"I know for a fact meeting with other coaches that the word is out: we're not a pushover."

Knights captain Darren Bazeley, who was making his first start of the season after tweaking a hamstring, said the mood in the camp was unrecognisable compared with last season.

"We've been through a lot of sweat and we've built up a good spirit. We've got an honest and hard working bunch of players.

"We've put a base down and in the last three performances and there's a lot more to come from us," the defender said.

"People have stood up and said we're a different team but we have to keep proving that when the league starts (on August 27)."

Meanwhile, the two spots still to be filled on the 20-man playing roster could be finalised this week.

Nevin was originally looking for a central defender and a striker but hinted his thinking had changed without elaborating.