By Jack Sharp
Melville United will carry the rare tag of underdog this weekend as they travel to Auckland United for a clash that could prove costly in the clamour for Northern League points.
Both sides badly need the three points to stay in the running for top four placings to qualify for the National League, and a draw could damage both sides’ hopes.
Meanwhile, Birkenhead United and Hamilton Wanderers have to keep winning to maintain their own charges for the top four.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Auckland United (3rd) v Melville United (4th)
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill
Melville United continue to do it tough as the season nears its business end.
After an outstanding start to their campaign, injuries have taken their toll and the disruption to the side is now a threat to their top four hopes.
They were without injured players Stafford Dowling, Moh Reynolds and captain Aaron Scott for their last game, a 3-2 loss to Western Springs, as well as losing Kieran Richards who had returned to his studies in the United States.
But the problems worsened with goalkeeper Max Tommy forced off the field with a bad haematoma on his leg and the Melville website reports the ‘keeper is likely to miss the trip to Auckland United.
Their opponents, third-placed Auckland United, had an easy romp last weekend, despatching Waiheke United 7-0.
They’ve been playing well of late, rattling in 15 goals in their last three outings, and having an unbeaten run of eight games.
Their last league loss was back in May when they succumbed to Auckland City at Kiwitea Street.
Momentum certainly favours the Keith Hay Park side but Melville will scrap for every ball, and won’t shirk the hard work.
Melville know a loss will put them at risk of losing National League qualification to arch-rivals Hamilton Wanderers who could be within a couple of points if results go their way. And the two Hamilton sides end their season with a local derby that could be all-or-nothing for both.
Melville don’t do draws (the only team in the Northern League without a draw in 18 games).
I’m picking a United win but not by much — say, a one-goal margin.
NZ Football’s YouTube channel will live stream the game:
Waiheke United (12th) v North Shore United (11th)
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke
Both these teams could be relegated by 5pm on Saturday — regardless of their result — if Eastern Suburbs and Takapuna pick up points from their games.
A draw between the two bottom sides would condemn both to first division football next year, and Waiheke are doomed even if they do beat Shore.
So, apart from deciding who’s most likely to take the season’s wooden spoon, this could be a doozy of game.
Waiheke shipped seven goals last week, going down 7-0 to Auckland United. Out of the Chatham Cup after a nice run, and set for relegation, was last week’s capitulation a sign that the team have given up?
If so, they could find a similarly-minded North Shore United who have conceded 81 goals this season, five of them last Saturday when trounced 5-0 by Hamilton Wanderers.
Both sides have defences that are generous to their opponents, particularly in the second half.
A bold prediction for this one: 1-1 at the break, and 4-4 at the final whistle.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Hamilton Wanderers (5th) v Bay Olympic (8th)
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, 3pm
Takapuna (10th) v Birkenhead United (2nd)
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm
Eastern Suburbs (9th) v Western Springs (6th)
Madills Farm, Auckland, 3pm
How they stand
Last weekend’s games
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