By Jonno Ross
A few teams have struck a bout of the mid-season wobbles, dropping points to spoil good records in the first half of the Northern League season.
One such team is Melville United who need to recapture the form that saw them win six in a row, and they get their chance against Manukau United this weekend.
Here’s our preview of the round, with our recommendations for the neutral spectator:
Manukau United (6th) v Melville United (3rd)
Walter Massey Park 1, Auckland
Last weekend, Manukau United made it two wins in a row in the league for the first time this season, beating Bay Olympic 4-2, thanks to a hat-trick from Joao Moreira.
Not a bad way to score your first goals of the season! That is now 10 goals in two games for Manukau, and they will look to carry on this run of form this weekend when they host Melville United.
Manukau will want history to repeat itself, with the South Auckland team travelling to Hamilton in the reverse fixture to take the points in the 89th minute, back in round five.
If Manukau can pick up another win this weekend, their aspirations for a top-four finish will start to look possible, as it would put them just six points behind their visitors whilst remaining in sixth place.
Suddenly, the placings between 3rd and 6th would look congested.
A loss could see Manukau drop as low as 8th, depending on other results from teams around them.
Melville United lost for the first time in four games last time out against Birkenhead United, going down 2-0 at home, their fifth defeat of the season.
That result basically snuffed out any chance of winning the league (or at least challenging for the title), so now the goal for them will be to make a top-four finish, and challenge Birkenhead for second spot.
Things didn’t get much better last weekend when they lost to Waiheke United in the last 16 of the Chatham Cup.
Melville need to return to winning ways this weekend after losing two in a row, and hope Oliver Colloty can reignite his early season form that delivered him nine goals. He’s experiencing a seven-game (league and cup) goal drought.
Melville can’t afford too many slip-ups in their remaining schedule but if they can recapture the form that won them six games in a row, they will definitely be up there competing for the mantle of second best team in the league, behind Auckland City.
Eastern Suburbs (9th) v Bay Olympic (7th)
Madills Farm, Auckland
Eastern Suburbs won’t be happy with this season’s campaign. They sit 9th on the table, and have already lost twice as many games (10) as they did last season, when they finished third in the league.
You would have to say that their safety in the top flight is assured due to North Shore United and Waiheke United being pegged in the bottom two, with only one win between them all season.
On their day, Suburbs can show their best version of themselves. One was a 4-2 win against North Shore United, and the other was a 0-0 draw against this weekend’s opponents Bay Olympic.
Suburbs’ problem is that they have struggled to find a key man to put the ball in the net for them, having scored just 18 goals in the league, with 12 different players are on the scoresheet, with Daniel Champness being the team’s highest goal scorer with just four to his name.
It isn’t too late for Suburbs to find some form, and I can see them picking up at least three wins from their final six games, which would move them anywhere between 9th and 6th come the end of the season, depending on results of teams above them.
Bay Olympic missed their chance to climb the table last time out against Manukau United and will see this weekend’s game as an opportunity to start making inroads.
Winless in three league games, Bay will be desperate for the win, as a loss would most likely leave them battling the remainder of the season out to see who will be the best of the rest outside the top four.
They will focus especially on starting from the whistle, unlike last week when they conceded three goals in the opening 20 minutes of the game in a 4-2 defeat to Manukau United.
It will be a hard push for the top four, but on their day, this team can beat anyone. They just need to find some consistency and then they will be a force to be reckoned with.
My bold prediction – Bay Olympic come out on top with a 3-2 win.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Waiheke United (11th) v Hamilton Wanderers (5th)
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke United, 3pm
Auckland United (4th) v Takapuna (10th)
Keith Hay Park, Auckland, 3pm
Western Springs (8th) v Birkenhead United (2nd)
Olympic Park, Auckland, 3pm
Auckland City (1st) v North Shore United (12th)
Kiwitea Street, Auckland, 3pm
How they stand
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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