By Jonno Ross
West Coast Rangers get the chance this weekend to make sure of a return to Northern League football.
Relegated last year, the Chad Coombes-coached Rangers have mounted a strong campaign this season and a win on Saturday will see promotion in the bag.
At the other end of the table, Metro badly need a win to avoid being sucked into a late scrap to avoid a bottom two finish.
Here’s our preview of the round:
West Coast Rangers (1st) v Northern Rovers (6th)
Fred Taylor Park, Auckland
This is the game West Coast Rangers supporters have been looking forward to all season.
A win on Saturday against Northern Rovers will seal a promotion place with three games remaining, guaranteeing them a place back in the Northern League next season.
It has been a consistent campaign from the West Auckland team, winning 13 of their 18 games, drawing twice, and losing just three games.
One of those losses was to this week’s opponents, losing 2-1 in the 98th minute, back in round eight, which was their first defeat of the season.
There are three motivational aspects of this game for Rangers.
The first will be seeking revenge on their opponents.
The second one is they will want to book a place in the Northern League for next season.
And the third is that they are still in a title battle with Manurewa, who they lead by five points.
A loss for Rangers could see that gap closed to just two points, putting pressure on them for the remaining games of the season.
After last week’s 3-3 draw with Mount Albert Ponsonby, Northern Rovers’ slim chances of a promotion spot were put to bed.
They will be disappointed in the result, after playing the majority of the game with an extra man, and taking the lead twice, only to throw (what should have been) their win away.
Despite having nothing tangible to play for now, Rovers will still want to finish as high up the ladder as they can, and will no doubt be keen to play the party pooper’s role, especially as they still have to play against Manurewa and East Coast Bays — two of three of the remaining sides left battling it out for a promotion spot.
That starts this weekend against the league’s top side. They will look to replicate the result from round eight, and be the only team in the league to do the double over their opponents, and they will look to extend their longest unbeaten run of their season, which is currently four games.
A win for Northern Rovers could see them go as high as 4th in the league. A loss would see them remain in 6th, with Onehunga Mangere United hot on their tails.
My prediction for this one? I think West Coast will see this one out … They will seek to put the lock on their promotion and throw away the key; 2-1 to Rangers.
East Coast Bays (3rd) v Metro (10th)
Bay City Park, Auckland
East Coast Bays are flying at the moment, picking up their fourth consecutive win last weekend with a 2-1 victory over Fencibles United, thanks to a double from Keegan Kelly.
Kelly’s pair make it three goals in two games, and 12 goals for the season; he’s now the division’s top goalscorer, level with Metro’s Jaydyn Englefield. The race for the Golden Boot provides a side battle in this game at Bay City Park.
East Coast Bays will believe they are in with a real chance of climbing into a promotion spot, sitting four points behind Manurewa.
A win against Metro will set up their biggest game of the season next weekend against the second-placed Manurewa.
Bays can’t afford to drop any more points, and will need to be on their toes this weekend against a side who beat them 1-0 in the reverse fixture.
Metro have been in poor form of late. Losing last weekend 1-0 to Manurewa, they have now lost four in a row, slipping down the table into 10th spot.
They now face the risk of a late-season dogfight to avoid a bottom-two finish.
Sitting in 10th and only two points above 11th-placed Waitemata, the neutral might say this is the last game they can afford to drop points, but the next three games are crucial and will decide their fate.
Their next game will be Ellerslie at home, and then they play the bottom two — Waitemata and Albany United, away.
Of course, Metro can lift some of the pressure with an upset result this weekend, and they will be relying on their Golden Boot contender Englefield to keep banging in the goals to avoid that dreaded bottom two finish.
A win for Metro could see them go as high as 8th. A loss could see them drop into 11th, depending on Waitemata’s result against Tauranga.
I predict a 3-1 win for East Coast Bays, but expect Metro to hold their place on the table as I think Tauranga should get the win at Waitemata.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Onehunga Mangere (7th) v Manurewa (2nd)
Mangere Domain, Auckland, 3pm
Mount Albert Ponsonby (5th) v Albany United (12th)
Anderson Park, Auckland, 3pm
Waitemata (11th) v Tauranga City (4th)
McLeod Park, Auckland, 3pm
Ellerslie (9th) v Fencibles United (8th)
Michaels Ave Reserve, 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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