By Jonno Ross
Four teams remain in the chase for the Lotto NRFL second division title and two of them — Hibiscus Coast and Bucklands Beach — go head-to-head this Saturday.
Unbeaten in 11 games, leaders Ngaruawahia United should have cleared away from the field by now but four draws (and eight dropped points) have made the title race tighter than it might have been.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Hibiscus Coast (2nd) v Bucklands Beach (4th)
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparaoa
Hibiscus Coast managed to salvage a draw last week against Franklin United, after falling behind twice and scoring an equaliser in the 80th minute to make it 2-2.
It turned out to be a valuable point as it kept them in second place, two points behind leaders Ngaruawahia United, and one point ahead of West Auckland.
Last time out against Bucklands Beach, Hibiscus Coast went down 3-1 in what was their first loss of the season, and they will look to seek revenge with a victory to keep themselves in the hunt for a top two finish.
Chances are they will rely on their striker and the league’s joint top goal scorer, Adam Dickinson, to continue his fine form in front of goal, having scored 11 goals in as many games for his club.
Bucklands Beach’s away form continues to be their downfall, as they could only manage a 2-2 draw against second-to-bottom Beachlands Maraetai last week. At home, they beat them 7-0 in the reverse fixture.
Of the 20 points accumulated so far, just four have come on the road, and if they have any chance of returning to Division 1, this is something that they need to get on top of right now while it’s not too late.
A win for Bucklands Beach could see them move into second, depending on West Auckland’s result against Cambridge, but a loss could see them six points off a promotion spot.
My prediction for this game has to go in favour of Hibiscus Coast because of Bucklands Beach’s dodgy away form.
I’m tipping a 3-2 win to the home side.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Beachlands Maraetai (9th) v Ngaruawahia United (1st)
Te Puru Park, 3pm
Northland (7th) v Oratia United (10th)
Trigg Arena, Whangarei, 3pm
West Auckland (3rd) v Cambridge (8th)
Brains Park 1, Auckland, 3pm
Claudelands Rovers (6th) v Franklin United (5th)
Galloway Park, Hamilton, 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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