By Jonno Ross
Momentum is critical in league competitions and this weekend’s Northern League schedule presents some interesting challenges for sides at both ends of the table.
Unbeaten Auckland City and second-placed Melville United (who have won their last four) have opportunities against lowly-ranked sides to maintain their high-flying status.
But there are others, like Bay Olympic, who have lost their early-season momentum and quickly need to re-find it.
Here’s our preview of the round, with our recommendations for the neutral spectator:
Bay Olympic (6th) v Auckland United (4th)
Olympic Park, Auckland
After a flying start to the season, when they won three of their four opening games, Bay Olympic developed a case of the jitters, dropping points in games they should have won.
Since round four, they have picked up only five points from a possible 12 and these included last weekend’s 3-0 win against winless Waiheke United.
That win might have come at just the right time, giving them a confidence boost coming into this big clash against an Auckland United side that has pushed into the top four.
A win for Bay could see them draw level on points with United but, depending on results around them, a loss could see them drop as low as 9th in the league.
Auckland United come off the back of a solid 4-2 win against North Shore United last week, a timely win as they had a bit of a speed wobble in rounds seven and eight, surprisingly drawing against bottom side Waiheke United and then going down 2-0 at Melville United.
Like Bay Olympic, United will know the stakes are high — a win would potentially take them to 2nd place, depending on results. At the very least, they would remain in the top four.
North Shore United (11th) v Melville United (2nd)
Allen Hill Stadium, Auckland
The relegation battle looks like it’s turning into a three-way affair, with North Shore United, Eastern Suburbs and Waiheke United propping up the table.
A win for any of those three will provide oxygen and hopes of survival.
But for Shore, they first thing they’ll have to sort out is their defence — so far, the worst in the competition. They have conceded 34 goals … that’s an average of nearly four goals a game.
What’s worse is they can’t expect to out-score the opposition as they have found the net only 11 times, averaging little more than a goal a game.
Shore need to find the key to lock their defence, and try to grind out a 1-0 win or a 1-1 draw, and they will have to do it against teams higher up the ladder.
They might as well chance their luck against Melville, for a win should see them climb out of the bottom two and leapfrog Suburbs who face almost-certain defeat against leaders Auckland City.
Melville United have climbed into second spot, level on points with Birkenhead United, after largely going under the radar this season.
The Hamilton side have won their last four while the teams around them have dropped points.
Melville have conceded only twice in their last four games — and they haven’t picked the ball out of their own net for 255 minutes.
Shore should take a lesson from them. Melville have become a difficult team to break down.
Supporters of Melville will hope complacency doesn’t seep in, and their players don’t underestimate the risks against North Shore United. If they want to challenge Auckland City for the title, they’ll have to be ruthless.
It should be a one-sided win to Melville, with lots of goals. Much depends on whether the Shore players believe that too.
The Manukau United v Hamilton Wanderers fixture has been postponed due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Wanderers squad.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Western Springs (9th) v Takapuna (8th)
North Harbour Stadium, Albany, 3pm
Eastern Suburbs (10th) v Auckland City (1st)
Madills Farm, Auckland, 3pm
Birkenhead United (3rd) v Waiheke United (12th)
Shepherds Park, Auckland, 3pm
Manukau United (7th) v Hamilton Wanderers (5th)
Walter Massey Park 1, Mangere East, 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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