By Jonno Ross
Two mid-table games stand out this week as the Northern League starts to clarify which teams can still make the top four, and which teams will be doomed to relegation.
It looks to us that unless Waiheke United can win — and Eastern Suburbs lose to Hamilton Wanderers — the relegation spots will be reserved for the islanders and bottom side North Shore United.
Here’s our preview of the round, with our recommendations for the neutral spectator:
Waiheke United (11th) v Western Springs (8th)
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke Island
It’s make or break time for Waiheke United.
Having played 12 games this season, they remain winless with only four points to their name. Averaging a goal a game, things need to turn around fast if they want to stay in this league, as they are seven points behind Eastern Suburbs who are sitting in 10th position.
Waiheke came close to earning another point last weekend against Manukau United, but had their hearts broken in the 94th minute to lose 3-2, their eighth loss of the season.
It’s not all doom and gloom though for the islanders; on Monday, they picked up their first win of the season, albeit being a Chatham Cup game, winning 2-1 against division one promotion probables West Coast Rangers.
Now that Waiheke have that winning feeling back after such a long time, they might go into this weekend’s game with that extra ‘oomph’ to get them over the line against Western Springs.
Western Springs currently find themselves in their worst form of the season, in terms of results.
They have lost four out of their last five games, including the most recent defeat in the Chatham Cup, where they lost 1-0 to Manukau United on Monday.
They need their attacking force to start firing again, having only scored three goals in those last five games, and their defence needs to tighten up after conceding 13 in those five games as well.
Springs will see this game as an opportunity to get back on track, but it won’t be easy, and after drawing this reverse fixture 1-1, Waiheke will be up for the challenge.
I think this is where the islanders pick up their first three points of the season; I’m going to say 3-1 win.
Hamilton Wanderers (6th) v Eastern Suburbs (10th)
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton
Hamilton Wanderers got back to winning ways last week, and did so emphatically with a 5-1 against Western Springs.
That victory couldn’t have come at a better time, as they had lost their previous two matches back-to-back.
The win against Springs was of great importance, as a loss would have put them level on 15 points with seventh-placed Manukau United, and six points off fourth-placed Auckland United.
However, after that victory, they are only three points off the top four, which is their target this season, and they also have a game in hand on every team above them in the table.
Wanderers’ destiny is in their hands, and if they can get back to their early-season form which didn’t see them lose a game until round six, then they should be able to push on and compete for a top-four spot.
Eastern Suburbs have seemingly turned a corner and are in the best form they have been in all season.
Since losing 4-1 to Auckland City in round 10, Suburbs have won back-to-back league games for the first time this season, beating North Shore United 4-2, then following that up with a 4-0 win over Takapuna last week.
They continued their winning streak to three, when they beat Mount Albert Ponsonby 3-0 in the Cup on Monday, earning them their third clean sheet of the season.
The win against Takapuna was vital, as they separated themselves from the bottom two by seven points.
Suburbs need to carry on their new-found form, because if they don’t, and North Shore United and Waiheke start to pick up points, this will be relegation battle they will not want to be a part of.
A win for Hamilton Wanderers could see them take fourth spot depending on other results. A win for Suburbs could see them potentially climb to eighth.
A lot on the line for both teams in this game, but based on their overall form through the season, I have to say Wanderers take the W this time.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Auckland United (4th) v Manukau United (7th)
Keith Hay Park, Auckland, 3pm
Takapuna (9th) v Auckland City (1st)
Taharoto Park, Auckland, 3pm
Birkenhead United (2nd) v North Shore United (12th)
Shepherds Park, Auckland, 3pm
Bay Olympic (5th) v Melville United (3rd)
Olympic Park, Auckland, 3pm
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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