By Jonno Ross
With only five rounds to go, there’s a mad scramble underway for positions at both ends of the Lotto NRFL first division table.
Our pick of this weekend’s games demonstrates what’s at stake, with East Coast Bays badly needing to extend their unbeaten run to six to keep the pressure on for promotion.
And at the other end of the table, the bottom two sides go head-to-head to find out which wants the win the most.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Fencibles United (8th) v East Coast Bays (3rd)
Riverhills Park, Auckland
After their somewhat surprising result last week, going down 2-1 to bottom side Waitemata, Fencibles United face an East Coast Bays side who beat them 3-0 at their last meeting.
It will be another hard game for Fencibles, as they face a side who haven’t been defeated in their last five games, and are chasing a promotion spot.
Like the teams around them in the league, it’s been tough for Fencibles to find any momentum, seemingly taking a big step forward, and then a step backwards, Their biggest winning streak this season has been two games in a row.
With this sort of form all season, it looks like their consistent inconsistency could continue, with their remaining games being against teams they lost against in the previous round.
If United struggle to pick up points in their remaining five games, and the lower teams start to pick up points, they could suddenly find themselves in a battle trying to avoid the bottom two teams.
A win for Fencibles will rock the top of the league and also see them potentially move to 7th; a loss could see them drop to a possible 10th, depending on other results.
East Coast Bays’ recent form has seen them make their way further up the league table, sitting in third place, just four points behind Manurewa.
They have now gone five games undefeated, winning four and drawing one, scoring 10 goals and just conceding three.
They will fancy their chances of promotion as they plot their next few games. They should, on form, beat Fencibles.
Next up, they’ll be favoured to win against Metro,
Then they face Manurewa in a showdown — a genuine six-pointer. Manurewa have a tough run-in, having to face three sides in the top half of the table.
Points will be dropped in the top half of the league, but who can capitalise on their rivals’ misfortune?
Albany United (11th) v Waitemata (12th)
Rosedale Park, Auckland
This game could provide the moment of truth for these two teams.
They are locked together at the foot of the table, with almost identical records. Both have 14 points, having won 4 games, drawn 2, and lost 11.
Their only differential is a -2 goal difference.
A draw helps neither side. Whichever side wins could move within a couple of points of 10th place (currently Metro’s spot). Whichever side loses will have one hand firmly stuck on the division’s wooden spoon.
Not surprisingly, it’s hard to predict which side is most likely to succeed on Sunday — or should we be looking at the team most likely to fail?
Albany United have scored 23 times this season; Waitemata have scored just 18.
Albany have conceded 38 goals; Waitemata have conceded 35.
Maybe, the home side will go into this game feeling they have the slightest advantage over Waitemata, having beaten them 1-0 in the reverse fixture, but for Waitemata, this game won’t be about revenge.
This game will be about escaping the bottom two, so it may be a case of which team is the most desperate to win.
My prediction is 2-1 to Albany United, based on their gutsy display against league leaders West Coast Rangers last weekend, when they lost 1-0 in the 84th minute.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Metro (10th) v Manurewa (2nd)
Phyllis Street Reserve, 7.30pm
Northern Rovers (6th) v Mount Albert Ponsonby (5th)
McFetridge Park, Auckland, 3pm
Onehunga Mangere (7th) v West Coast Rangers (1st)
Mangere Domain, Auckland, 3pm
Tauranga City (4th) v Ellerslie (9th)
Links Ave Reserve, Tauranga, 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.
Our coverage of Northern League and Lotto NRFL men’s football is made possible through the support of our partners at Cube, specialists in print, design and signage. We encourage clubs and businesses to consider Cube when looking for professional help in their branding and promotional planning.