By Jonno Ross
This weekend’s Northern League fixtures conjure up a chance for sides to avenge defeats in the Chatham Cup.
Melville United will want to turn around their shock loss to Waiheke United in the cup; Auckland United get the chance to do better than the penalty shoot-out loss to Hamilton Wanderers; and after meeting in the cup in midweek, Eastern Suburbs and Birkenhead United get the chance to do it all again.
But our pick of the round for the neutral spectator is at Kiwitea Street where champions elect will face Bay Olympic, who gave them a tough time before losing their Chatham Cup tie 2-1.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Auckland City (1st) v Bay Olympic (7th)
Kiwitea Street, Auckland
There will be a celebratory mood down at Kiwitea Street on Saturday, as it will mark City’s first weekend at home since the club wrapped up the league and can call themselves champions.
This powerhouse of a club demolished North Shore United 6-0 last weekend, and wrapped up the league after playing just 17 games. In midweek, they picked up win number 18, beating Manukau United 3-1.
Their stats are to be admired — a total of 61 goals scored, only 10 conceded, winning 18, drawing 1, and losing NONE.
Auckland City have set a benchmark for the rest of the league for how to become serial winners.
Their next target will be to go the whole season undefeated, and that supplementary campaign starts on Saturday when they come up against Bay Olympic and look to put on a show for the fans who will be in a party mood.
Personally, from myself -— congratulations to Auckland City!
Since their last win in round 12, when they beat North Shore United 7-0, Bay Olympic have just about surrendered any chance they had of making the top four, losing four games on the trot.
Mathematically, the top four is achievable, but based on their season’s inconsistent results, and recent form especially, you would have to say that target is as good as gone.
Like every other team in the league, Bay Olympic will want to spoil the party at Kiwitea Street, and they’ll be looking for a similar performance to what they produced against City two weeks ago in the Chatham Cup, when they went down in a narrow 2-1 defeat.
After this weekend, three of Bays’ last five home games are against teams currently below them in the league, and they will look to earn maximum points from those at least.
A win this weekend could see Bay Olympic move up to 6th, but a loss could see them fall to 9th on the ladder.
Hamilton Wanderers (5th) v Auckland United (4th)
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton
Hamilton Wanderers have had a couple of good weeks.
They have made it to the quarter-finals of the Chatham Cup after beating this week’s opponents in a penalty shootout a fortnight ago.
Last week, they beat Waiheke United 2-1 after trailing 1-0 with 25 minutes left.
Wanderers’ aim of finishing in the top four is looking more likely as the weeks go by, and the Blue Army will feel it’s in their hands to do so.
They sit 5th at the moment, only three points behind Auckland United, which makes this game a must-win. I
f they win on Saturday, they will move into fourth spot, level on points with United, but ahead on goal difference which right now is dead even — both sides are on +14.
Hamilton Wanderers will need to show a bit more endeavour when it comes to playing their opponents this weekend if they are to stand a chance of winning.
In the reverse fixture in the first round, they were beaten 2-1, and in the round of 16 tie against United, it was a cagey affair with few chances for either side.
While Auckland United are in the top four position, they nearly shot themselves in the foot last week in a dramatic game against Takapuna.
They found themselves 3-1 down in the 90th minute, but escaped from the jaws of defeat with two late goals in the 91st and 93rd minutes.
Having failed to get the three points though, they have really put pressure on themselves for the fixture this weekend against Wanderers.
If United can get the victory, they could pull six points ahead of their opponents, and could even sneak into third if Melville United get beaten by Waiheke United.
So much on the line in this fixture, it could prove to be a defining result come the end of the season.
I can’t pick a winner, though I do predict a 2-1 scoreline. Let’s see who gets it!
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Melville United (3rd) v Waiheke United (11th)
Gower Park, Hamilton, 3pm
Takapuna (10th) v North Shore United (12th)
Taharoto Park, Auckland, 3pm
Eastern Suburbs (9th) v Birkenhead United (2nd)
Madills Farm, 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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