By Jonno Ross
There’s nothing better than when the top teams play each other … and that’s how the four leading Northern League sides shape up this weekend.
The Northern League, now past the halfway stage, has a full round of fixtures for Saturday with all the teams engaged in Chatham Cup games on Queen’s Birthday Monday.
Here’s our preview of the round, with our recommendations for the neutral spectator:
Melville United (2nd) v Auckland City (1st)
Gower Park, Hamilton
Melville United head into this top-of-the-table clash on a six-game winning streak, having scored a whopping 23 goals in those games and conceding just six.
Last week, they beat crosstown rivals Hamilton Wanderers with a statement 4-1 win, which is significant as Wanderers hadn’t conceded any more than two goals all season.
It’s no surprise to see United in second spot in the league, as they have the second best form, behind this week’s opponents Auckland City.
Melville will want to start the second round of fixtures by exacting revenge on the visitors, who beat them 2-1 in a tightly contested affair at the Croatian Club in the reverse fixture.
A win for Melville would see them close a seven-point gap to just four, but a loss could see them drop to third, but more critically, would put to bed any hopes of taking the title.
The Auckland City juggernaut rolls on. Yet another win last weekend extended their unbeaten run in the league to 11 games, and their sixth clean sheet to go with it.
Mentally, this week’s game against Melville will be one of their biggest tests of the season, because they will know that a win on Saturday will put them potentially 10 points clear of the chasing pack.
Not only is this game of first versus second, but we have the competition between the league’s two top goal scorers Oliver Colloty from Melville, and Angus Kilkolly from City who are neck and neck for this year’s Golden Boot with nine goals each
It’s all on at Gower Park this weekend; I’m going to say a 2-2 draw.
Birkenhead United (3rd) v Auckland United (4th)
Shepherds Park, Auckland
After their little slip against newly-promoted Takapuna in round eight, Birkenhead have got back to winning ways.
Away to Hamilton Wanderers, they inflicted the Blues’ second defeat of the season, scoring the winner in the 90th minute for a 2-1 win.
They backed up with a 5-3 win against Waiheke United 5-3 and then made it three wins in a row, beating Manukau United 4-0 last week.
Birkenhead sit third in the league, level on points with Melville United and separated only by goal difference.
Oddly enough, they may well hope for Melville to beat the league leaders so that they are still in with a chance of fighting for the title.
They have to win this game first though, and if their previous encounter against Auckland United is anything to go by, they will have to be at their best.
Last time they met, they came away with the spoils with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Luke Allport 88th minute winner.
Birkenhead will have extra motivation to get the three points as it will be captain Sam Burfoot’s 100th game for the club.
Despite being 11 points off first position, Auckland United still have everything to play for.
They are currently fourth on 20 points, three points clear of fifth-placed Bay Olympic.
Every game from here on in must be played as if it were a cup final … any slipups could be detrimental to their hopes of playing National League football.
This is a massive game for Auckland, as a loss would most likely see them drop to 5th, as Bay Olympic are playing bottom of the league North Shore United and are expected to win.
United need to be on their game this week to avoid slipping down the table.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Western Springs (7th) v Hamilton Wanderers (6th)
North Harbour Stadium, Albany, 3pm
Eastern Suburbs (10th) v Takapuna (8th)
Madills Farm, Auckland, 3pm
Manukau United (9th) v Waiheke United (11th)
Walter Massey Park 1, Mangere East, 3pm
Bay Olympic (5th) v North Shore United (12th)
Olympic Park, 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.
Our coverage of Northern League and Lotto NRFL men’s football is made possible through the support of our partners at Cube, specialists in print, design and signage. We encourage clubs and businesses to consider Cube when looking for professional help in their branding and promotional planning.