By Jonno Ross
Few teams have been able to achieve consistency in the opening weeks of the Lotto NRFL first division and fixtures are already becoming ‘must win’ affairs for teams wanting to stay in touch with the leaders.
Leaders West Coast Rangers and Tauranga City both have games against lowly-placed teams while those in mid-table could see their position shift markedly by Saturday night.
Here’s our preview of the round, with our recommendations for the neutral spectator:
Tauranga City (2nd) v Waitemata (10th)
Links Ave Reserve, Tauranga
After finishing eighth in last season’s campaign, few would have picked Tauranga City to be sitting pretty in second spot, four points clear of the nearest challenger.
After winning their opening three games, they slipped in round four against Manurewa when they lost 2-1.
Since then, they have gone three games without conceding a goal, picking up one draw and back-to-back 3-0 victories.
If they continue this momentum, they will be difficult to stop and the dream of promotion to the Northern League will start to feel achievable.
Waitemata are in search of some consistency this season.
Having won just two out of their six matches, with those two wins being against ‘better’ sides, consistency is definitely key for this team.
Their league position doesn’t reflect their quality and if they could just find the right recipe, they can cause damage to their opponents.
Their season has been slightly disrupted due to the ‘spicy cough’, having only played twice since round four.
Last week’s fixture against Albany United was their first game back after not playing for two weeks, and this could have had something to do with the reason they went down 1-0.
They need to get their season back on track this week, and this will be one of their biggest tests yet.
Fencibles United (6th) v Ellerslie (5th)
Riverhills Park, Auckland
Despite having a game in hand, Fencibles find themselves in sixth place in the league.
Like Waitemata, their early season has been disrupted by COVID so it’s been difficult for them to find consistency.
If they are can now get into their routine, they could move upwards quickly.
Depending on other results, a win for Fencibles could potentially take them as high as 3rd position though a loss could also see them drop as far as 11th in the league.
That shows how congested the table is between 5th and 11th.
Fencibles should be looking at this game as a ‘must win’.
After a heavy 3-0 home defeat to second-placed Tauranga last week, Ellerslie need to rediscover the form that got their season off to a flying start.
They will also see this fixture as a ‘must win’, especially as their next three fixtures are tricky, pitting them against East Coast Bays, Onehunga Mangere United and Manurewa.
A win against Fencibles could prime them well for the games ahead; a bad loss could send them on a losing streak.
It’s hard to choose a winner for this game but I am picking a win for Fencibles, 2-1.
Other fixtures (with current league placings):
Metro (12th) v East Coast Bays (8th)
Phyllis Street reserve, Auckland, 7.30pm
Northern Rovers (9th) v West Coast Rangers (1st)
McFetridge Park, Auckland, 3pm
Albany United (11th) v Mount Albert Ponsonby (7th)
Rosedale Park, Auckland, 3pm
Onehunga Mangere (3rd) v Manurewa (4th)
Game to be rescheduled
How they stand
Last weekend’s games
Friends of Football writer Jonno Ross is a former New Zealand U-20 goalkeeper who is the team manager for Mount Albert Ponsonby. He supports the All Whites, the Football Ferns, the Wellington Phoenix and Arsenal.
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