By Jonno Ross
It’s all-or-nothing weekend for the Lotto NRFL first division! With six games spread over three days, we can expect much drama as the title, promotion places and the bottom two get sorted.
The feature clash of the weekend is between East Coast Bays and Manurewa with the result likely to decide which of the two can join West Coast Rangers in next year’s Northern League.
That, of course, assumes Rangers can pick up a point or better on Sunday when they travel to bottom-placed Albany United, and make sure of promotion.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Game to be played on Sunday August 21, 2022
Albany United (12th) v West Coast Rangers (1st)
Rosedale Park, Albany
Albany United’s hopes of a great escape from the bottom two is possible but only by the thinnest of margins.
With only three games to go, and five points to make up on 10th-placed Metro, they’ll need a storming finish to get out of trouble,
United will need their best performance of the year — and hope Ellerslie beat Metro on Friday night.
If Metro get the points on Friday, and Albany lose on Sunday, then it’s game over, with little left to play for except trying to escape the title of the ‘wooden spooners’.
Albany’s 3-1 defeat last week at Mount Albert Ponsonby was their ninth game in a row without a victory — the worst streak in the top three leagues in the northern region.
Simple math tells us it is possible for United to get out of their predicament but based on season form and the quality of their opponents, it’s not looking good for the North Shore team.
Five points clear at the top, one point needed for guaranteed promotion, and the possibility of being crowned champions on Sunday. Not that they need it but there is the motivation for West Coast Rangers.
They can’t let complacency become an issue, as their opponents will fight to avoid the bottom two.
The last time these two teams played each other, Rangers only just got away with a win, scoring the winner in the 84th minute thanks to a Josh Jones goal.
A loss for West Coast Rangers could really make the last two games a pressure cooker, so they will need to get the job done this weekend.
This should be a routine win for Rangers but … football is a funny game; stranger things have happened.
Game to be played on Saturday August 20, 2022
East Coast Bays (3rd) v Manurewa (2nd)
Bay City Park, Auckland
This is easily East Coast Bays’ biggest and most important game of their season.
They nearly bottled their chances of a top-two finish last week when they played Metro, but another goal from Keegan Kelly got them home 2-1 in stoppage time.
That kept East Coast Bays within reach of promotion with their fifth win in a row.
Saturday will define Bays’ season.
If they win, they go one point behind their opponents, setting up a grandstand finish to the season.
If they lose, their chances are shot.
A draw would keep them four points behind Rewa, in third place, meaning they would have to win the remaining two games against Ellerslie and Northern Rovers, and hope Rovers and Mount Albert Ponsonby can beat Manurewa in the visitors’ remaining two games.
Manurewa have the chance this weekend to book their place in the Northern league for next season with victory at the home of East Coast Bays.
With so much on the line for both teams, it definitely won’t be a walk in the park for the South Auckland team, especially as Bays will have the confidence boost of beating Rewa 2-0 in the reverse fixture.
Manurewa go into this game with the less favourable form of the two teams over the last five games, having won three, drawn one and lost one, scoring seven goals and conceding four.
East Coast Bays have won five, scored 11 and conceded 3.
I really can’t pick a winner here, but I think this game will have a competitive, heated edge to it, and I can certainly see a red card or two being handed out over the course of 90 minutes.
I’m going to say a 2-1 win to the home side, only for entertainment value for the last two games of the season!
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Game to be played on Friday August 19, 2022
Metro (10th) v Ellerslie (8th)
Phyllis Street Reserve, Auckland, 7.30pm
Games to be played on Saturday August 20, 2022
Northern Rovers (6th) v Onehunga Mangere United (7th)
McFetridge Park, Auckland, 12pm
Fencibles United (9th) v Waitemata (11th)
Riverhills Park, Auckland, 3pm
Tauranga City (4th) v Mount Albert Ponsonby (5th)
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.
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