By Jonno Ross
Four of the top five sides play each other in this weekend’s Lotto NRFL second division, ensuring plenty of pressure in the race for the title.
Leaders Ngaruawahia United host fourth-placed West Auckland, while third-placed Bucklands Beach face a tricky encounter with the unpredictable Franklin United.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Bucklands Beach (3rd) v Franklin United (5th)
Lloyd Elsmore Park, Auckland, 3pm
After losing two in a row, Bucklands Beach bounced back last week beating Cambridge 3-0.
That result was vital as it kept them one point behind second-placed Hibiscus Coast, and level on points with West Auckland.
Bucklands Beach need to make the most of this weekend’s home advantage as they have only two more home fixtures.
Home is where they have picked up most of their points. From seven home games, they have won six and lost just one, and that was to league leaders Ngaruawahia United, going down 2-1 in a tightly contested game.
Conversely, Bucklands Beach have taken only three points from a possible 12 on the road — and six of their remaining fixtures are away from home.
To maintain their bid for a top two placing, this weekend’s game becomes a must-win, especially as Ngaruawahia meet West Aucklands, ensuring at least one of those will drop points.
Bucklands Beach can draw confidence from the fact they beat Franklin United 3-2 in the opening game of the season.
Franklin United are struggling for consistency this season.
Their last five results read: win, loss, win, loss, win, though one of those defeats was against Northern League side Melville United in the Chatham Cup.
This must be of concern for a side with aspirations of making the top two.
Will they build on last week’s 4-1 win against Beachlands Maraetai and make it two wins in a row for the first time this season?
Much depends on whether the leagues’ top goalscorer Tim Richardson can add to his tally of 10 goals. He has been talismanic this season.
At the other end of the pitch, United will need to be strong defensively, needing to combat Bucklands Beach duo Sean Latimer and Sander Waterland who are building a fine striking partnership, with nine goals each this season.
My bold prediction — Bucklands Beach can mirror their opening day result with a 3-2 win.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Beachlands Maraetai (9th) v Northland (8th)
Te Puru Park, Auckland, 3pm
Hibiscus Coast (2nd) v Cambridge (6th)
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparoa, 3pm
Claudelands Rovers (7th) v Oratia United (10th)
Galloway Park, Hamilton, 3pm
Ngaruawahia United (1st) v West Auckland (4th)
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 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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