By Jonno Ross
The margins for error are rapidly disappearing as the race for the Lotto NRFL first division title and promotion spots continues.
None of the top five sides can afford to drop points, and it gets even tougher when they meet each other.
One such game is between Manurewa and East Coast Bays, a game in which neither will benefit from a draw.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Manurewa (2nd) v East Coast Bays (4th)
Jellicoe Park 1, Auckland
After just one win and two draws in their last three games, Manurewa will hope the four points dropped won’t come back to haunt them by the time promotion spots are sealed.
Despite that risk, Manurewa are on the second-longest unbeaten streak in the top three men’s divisions, going 10 games without a loss, and drawing just three of those.
The only team with a longer undefeated streak is Northern League champions Auckland City, who are on a 20-match unbeaten run.
Rewa face another tough test this week with East Coast Bays, who they haven’t played yet this year, leaving them the only ‘unknown’ side left to come up against.
They will need to stay on their game and not drop points if they want to overhaul division leaders West Coast Rangers who are expected to get the win against second-to-bottom side Albany United.
East Coast Bays made sure that their slim chances of a top two finish remained in reach, by coming away with a 2-0 win over Tauranga City last weekend.
From here on in, every game for Bays is a ‘do or die’ fixture — any more losses would surely rule them out of promotion.
East Coast Bays come into this game on the back of a four-match unbeaten run, with three wins and a draw — two of those wins being against teams above them in the league.
This bodes well for their confidence against Manurewa this week.
Finding goals isn’t an issue for them — of their last eight goals, they have had seven different goal scorers.
A win for Bays could see them slide into third, depending on the Mount Albert Ponsonby v Tauranga City result.
A loss could see them drop as far as 7th, and battling it out for the ‘best of the rest’ for the remainder of the season.
I sense an upset in this one, and the cat to be thrown amongst the pigeons in the race for promotion — 2-1 to East Coast Bays.
Mount Albert Ponsonby (6th) v Tauranga City (3rd)
Anderson Park, Auckland
Mount Albert Ponsonby are ready for this, on the back of five games undefeated, with three wins, two draws and only two goals conceded.
Though this recent record looks good on paper, the draws against Ellerslie and Onehunga Mangere United were games they felt they should have won. The points dropped killed any hopes of a run at a top-two finish.
They will go into this game confident of a win, as they have beaten three of their five teams ahead of them in the league, and will hope to turn that into four when they come up against the visitors this weekend.
It has been a campaign of inconsistency so far for MAP, dropping their standards and points against five of the six teams below them, but lifting themselves when it comes to the so-called ‘better teams’.
Tauranga City find themselves five points off second place, and will be disappointed in their 2-0 loss to East Coast Bays last weekend, which was their fifth loss of the season.
With only six games remaining, they need to go into every game with a ‘cup final’ mentality and pray every weekend that the two teams above them (Manurewa and West Coast Rangers) drop points.
Unlike Mount Albert Ponsonby, Tauranga have gained the majority of their points off teams in the lower half of the table.
Instead, they have only twice beaten teams in the top five.
Losing isn’t an option this weekend as there will be points dropped by either Manurewa or East Coast Bays, and they will either want to close the gap on Manurewa, or extend the gap over East Coast Bays to four points instead of one.
A loss for Tauranga could see them fall to 4th place, whereas a win could see them go within three points of second place.
This is a tough one to call. These sides have not met this season but based on their records against other sides, I can see this one finishing 1-1.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Ellerslie (10th) v Metro (9th)
Michaels Ave Reserve, Auckland, 3pm
Waitemata (12th) v Fencibles United (8th)
McLeod Park, Auckland, 3pm
West Coast Rangers (1st) v Albany United (11th)
Fred Taylor Park, Auckland, 3pm
How they stand
Last weekend’s games
Click here to read our round-up of results from last weekend >>>>
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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