By Jonno Ross
Local rivalry could close the gap in form between Claudelands Rovers and leaders Ngaruawahia United when the Waikato clubs meet in this weekend’s Lotto NRFL second division fixtures.
If Rovers can cause an upset, it’ll open the gate for any of title challengers Hibiscus Coast, Bucklands Beach and West Auckland to gain ground.
The division is turning into a high-pressure competition where mistakes are costly when it comes to table position.
Here’s our preview of the round, with our recommendations for the neutral spectator:
Claudelands Rovers (6th) v Ngaruawahia United (1st)
Galloway Park, Hamilton
Claudelands Rovers have suffered a dip in form of late.
They started the season with a bang, winning five out of their six opening games, positioning themselves nicely for a promotion spot.
Since their last win, against Hibiscus Coast where they won 3-1, they have lost three games in a row, conceding 12 goals and only getting on the scoresheet twice.
They face a stern test this weekend, when they come up against league leaders and local derby rivals Ngaruawahia United.
Rovers will know they can get the three points, as they have beaten everyone in the league above them apart from West Auckland.
But Rovers will need to watch out for striker Mark Withers who has already scored against them in the opening game of the season when he played for Oratia United.
A win for Rovers could see them move as high as third, while a loss could see them go down two places to 8th, all depending on other results.
Ngaruawahia United had the opportunity last weekend to go four points clear at the top of the league but missed their chance when they could manage only a draw against Hibiscus Coast, conceding in the 88th minute to make it 1-1.
Despite that result, they still sit on top by two points, and will go into the game this weekend with the motivation of staying on top of the league, and remaining the only team undefeated after nine games.
Striker Withers has scored an average of a goal per game. He sits on eight goals, one behind the league’s top goalscorer Josh Clarkin (Cambridge), who has nine goals to his name.
Important game for both teams this week but I have to tip my old club Ngaruawahia to take the points in a 3-1 win.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Bucklands Beach (3rd) v Cambridge (5th)
Lloyd Elsmore Park, Auckland, 3pm
Hibiscus Coast (2nd) v Oratia United (10th)
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparoa, 3pm
West Auckland (4th) v Northland (8th)
Brains Park, Auckland, 3pm
Franklin United (7th) v Beachlands Maraetai (9th)
Dr John Lightbody Reserve 1, Tuakau, 5.30pm
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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