By Jonno Ross
There’s no such thing as a meaningless game in the Lotto NRFL first division — every result counts in this tight competition.
The title race is turning into a two-way scrap between West Coast Rangers and Manurewa, and neither can afford to stumble.
The rest of the division is so competitive, any team can go on a run of two or three games and quickly charge up the table.
It certainly makes for entertaining football every week.
Here’s our preview of the round, with our recommendations for the neutral spectator:
Onehunga Mangere (6th) v East Coast Bays (4th)
Onehunga Mangere will be disappointed with their poor run of recent form, especially after such a great start to their season.
They find themselves in 6th position on the league table when they were flying early in the season, and sitting third for a couple of weeks.
Having picked up only one win in nine outings, confidence levels might be brittle but they have made their home ground difficult to visit — of their eight games at home, they have lost only three.
Having not scored since the victory against Tauranga (the goal against Fencibles was an own goal), they will look to their side’s leading goalscorers Osman Rastagar (9) and Maksim Manko (5) to start firing again.
Despite their recent form, the overall performance after gaining promotion into this league has been brilliant, and if they can finish in the top half of the table, that to me would be a job well done!
Despite being nine points off second, East Coast Bays will feel like they are in with a shout to finish in the promotion spot after they gave league leaders West Coast Rangers just their second loss of the season, beating them 2-1 thanks to a Logan Archer double — his first goals of the season.
As the story of this whole league goes, if you want to climb the ladder, you have to be consistent in your results.
Like most sides, Bays have been guilty of inconsistency in their last four league outings, having lost, won, lost, and won again.
They need to go back to their form before that sequence to restore any hopes of promotion, where they only lost one game out of seven, scoring 17 goals and conceding only once.
A win for Bay’s will keep them in fourth, putting pressure on the teams above them.
However, a loss could see them drop as low as 7th place depending on other results.
Mount Albert Ponsonby (7th) v Waitemata (12th)
Anderson Park, Auckland
Having played only four games at home all season, Mount Albert Ponsonby will appreciate playing the majority of their remaining games at Anderson Park.
Surprisingly, from the four games at home, they have picked up 10 points with three wins and a draw.
On the road has been their downfall this season. From nine away games, they have managed only one win, three draws and they have lost five.
For the rest of the season, MAP will look to make Anderson Park their fortress, especially as they only have to play away twice more.
Mount Albert go into this weekend’s game against Waitemata seeking revenge, after losing 2-1 in the reverse fixture, knowing that they should have put that game to bed by half-time. Instead, they blew their chances to put the ball in the back of the net, and Waitemata were clinical with their two chances.
A win for Mount Albert could see them climb as high as 4th, whereas a loss could see them drop as low as 11th.
Waitemata sit at the foot of the table, with only three wins and two draws after 13 games played.
With Albany just above them in 11th by two points and a game in hand, Waitemata will need to start picking up points sooner rather than later.
They will no doubt be up for the fight this weekend, knowing that they have it in their locker to be that niggly, frustrating team who can be extremely hard to play against.
A win would see Waitemata move to 11th for at least 24 hours, as Albany play on Sunday against Fencibles.
A loss could see them at least four points behind at the bottom by the end of the weekend.
My prediction — 4-0 to Mount Albert Ponsonby; the boys are raring to go and are excited to be back at home …
Up the Albert! (Okay, I declare my interest — I’m the team manager).
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
West Coast Rangers (1st) v Ellerslie (9th)
Fred Taylor Park, Auckland, 3pm
Northern Rovers (5th) v Metro (8th)
McFetridge Park, Auckland, 3pm
Tauranga City (3rd) Manurewa (2nd)
Links Ave Reserve, Tauranga, 3pm
Albany United (11th) v Fencibles United (10th)
Rosedale 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.
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