Northern League fans — particularly those in the Waikato — face a tense three weeks as leading sides jostle for the chance to join Auckland City in this year’s National League.
The top four Northern League clubs qualify for the National League, and there’s a good chance the qualifiers won’t be confirmed till September 3, the last day of the Northern League season.
Here’s our guide to the last three rounds, and the run-down on what’s needed by each club.
Unbeaten City have won the Northern League and have gained qualification with games to spare.
They have two Northern League fixtures left to play: Western Springs (a), Auckland United (h).
United can make sure of qualification with a draw or better when they meet Hamilton Wanderers under floodlights on Tuesday August 23.
A point would ensure a top four spot regardless of their remaining results.
If they lose to Wanderers and the Hamilton side then win their remaining fixtures, Birkenhead would need two points from their last two games to be certain of qualification.
Birkenhead United’s run-in: Hamilton Wanderers (h), Waiheke United (a), Manukau United (h).
Mathematically, Auckland United need one more win to be sure of qualification.
They get the perfect chance on Saturday August 20 when they head to North Shore United’s Allen Hill Stadium.
Shore are already relegated and have conceded 83 goals this season. If United slip up at Shore, and other results go against them this month, they still have two more chances to nail the points.
However, their last fixture is against unbeaten champions Auckland City and they wouldn’t want to go into that needing a point, let alone a win.
Auckland United’s run-in: North Shore United (a), Bay Olympic (h), Auckland City (h)
After a strong start to the season, injuries and the loss of players overseas have taken the sting out of Melville’s league campaign.
They now need seven points from a possible nine to be certain of qualification, if Waikato rivals Hamilton Wanderers win their next two games. That would leave Melville needing a point or better in their final game of the season, a September 3 derby with Wanderers at Porritt Stadium.
Melville either need to get their winning mojo back or rely on other results to go their way … or their season will all come down to the Waikato derby on September 3.
Melville United’s run-in: Eastern Suburbs (a), North Shore United (h), Hamilton Wanderers (a)
If Wanderers are going to qualify for the National League, they’re certainly doing it the hard way.
Their chances of overhauling Birkenhead United and Auckland United are slim, and rely on the Auckland clubs losing their way.
In all probability, Wanderers’ hopes depend on arch-rivals Melville United dropping points and then the fate of both clubs will be decided by their derby on September 3.
Through to the semi-final of the Chatham Cup, Wanderers could be in for their best season ever if they can reach the National League. Or their season can slip away with losses in the cup and league over the next fortnight.
Hamilton Wanderers’ run-in: Birkenhead United (a), Manukau United (h), Melville United (h).
It’s still mathematically possible for Western Springs to make the top four but only if they won their remaining three games (including one against Auckland City), and Hamilton Wanderers lost all their remaining fixtures.