By Jonno Ross
While leaders Auckland City are expected to win again, the focus goes on their four nearest challengers in the race to fill the Northern League’s qualifying spots for National League football later this year.
Assuming the Navy Blues don’t self-destruct, each weekend now becomes a case of waiting for other teams to crack and fall away from the chasing pack.
We’re inclined to believe the two in-form Hamilton clubs will keep up the pressure at the expense of Auckland clubs.
Here’s our preview of the round, with our recommendations for the neutral spectator:
Hamilton Wanderers (2nd) v Birkenhead United (4th)
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton
After their first loss of the season in round 6, when Auckland United beat them 2-1, Hamilton Wanderers bounced back to winning ways in their last two rounds, hitting North Shore United for six, and then beating Eastern Suburbs 2-1 last weekend.
Those wins lifted them to 2nd in the league, seven points behind Auckland City.
The last five fixtures between these two sides suggest this game will be evenly matched, with both teams having drawn once, won twice and lost twice, so Wanderers will be keen to get the result, giving them the upper hand when it comes to facing Birkenhead in the next round.
Between second and fourth in the league, the sides are tied on points and only separated by goal difference, so Hamilton Wanderers will want to continue their momentum with good performances to try and break away and create a gap between themselves and the following pack.
For the first time this season, Birkenhead United have lost two games in a row, with a 3-0 loss to Auckland City and going down 2-1 to Takapuna last week.
Though they have lost twice on the bounce, they are still in the top four and will want a win against Wanderers, and then hope Eastern Suburbs can do them a favour by beating Melville United so they can reclaim second spot.
It’s a hard one to pick this week but winning is a habit, and so is losing. I think Hamilton Wanderers come away with the three points in this one.
Takapuna (7th) v Manukau United (9th)
Taharoto Park, Auckland
Takapuna are riding a wave of winning form, with their best win last weekend a 2-1 victory over Birkenhead United.
They have not lost since round five, when they went down 3-1 to Auckland United.
Problem with waves is that they all eventually crash, and Takapuna will be anxious that does not happen this week when they face Manukau United.
Takapuna’s assistant coach Grant Robertson told me: “‘Takapuna are going into every game they play as if it’s a cup final, one after another. Some teams ‘are better, player for player, but we have a culture and determination that others wish for.”
It’s hard to disagree that their mindset for each game and their togetherness in the group is the reason they are holding their own since earning promotion to this league, and we can expect more big things from them this season.
Manukau United need to find some consistency going forward, as their last four games read win, loss, win, loss.
They haven’t managed back-to-back wins this season yet but this is their chance to fix that with a win this weekend.
Interestingly enough, in all three of United’s wins this season, they have kept clean sheets.
They will need this sort of defensive effort this weekend when they come up against this Takapuna team who don’t know how to quit.
Another tough game to pick a winner but I will have to say that Takapuna snatch the points again this week, and I have a feeling it might be a late dramatic goal that seals the win.
The Takapuna-Manukau game will be live streamed by NZ Football. Click on image for more details:
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Waiheke United (12th) v Bay Olympic (8th)
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke United, 3pm
Auckland United (5th) v North Shore United (11th)
Keith Hay Park, Auckland, 3pm
Melville United (3rd) Eastern Suburbs v (10th)
Gower Park, Hamilton, 3pm
Auckland City (1st) v Western Springs (6th)
Kiwitea Street, Auckland, 3pm
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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