By Jack Sharp
Title chasers Hibiscus Coast and West Auckland are favoured to win this weekend and maintain the pressure on Lotto NRFL second division leaders Ngaruawahia United.
The two Auckland sides meet sides in the bottom half of the table while Ngaruawahia host fourth-placed Bucklands Beach.
None of the leading pack can afford to slip up with only three rounds of competition to go.
Here’s our preview of the round
Game to be played on Saturday August 20, 2022
Ngaruawahia United (1st) v Bucklands Beach (4th)
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm
By now, Ngaruawahia United should have already wrapped up the second division title.
A 15-game unbeaten run would normally have the trophy ready to go to the engravers. But five draws have proven costly, with the loss of 10 points keeping the Green Machine within reach of their nearest rivals.
With three games to go, United must keep finding the results, especially against Hibiscus Coast (August 27) and in this weekend’s match-up against fourth-placed Bucklands Beach.
Last weekend, United left it till four minutes into stoppage time before an Alfie Cole goal salvaged a point in the 1-1 derby draw with Claudelands Rovers.
That should have blown away any complacency in the Ngaruawahia camp.
Their visitors, Bucklands Beach, have fallen into an August slump.
In July, they were running hot, with three wins and two draws keeping them in the push for a top two spot.
Since then, they’ve been beaten 3-0 by promotion rivals West Auckland and then lost 4-2 last weekend to Cambridge.
A key factor was the 28th-minute dismissal of striker Sean Latimer during the West Auckland game, and his subsequent suspension for the trip to Cambridge.
Latimer, who has scored nine goals this season, will be available for Saturday, and can form a deadly strike force with 15-goal Sander Waterland.
If the Latimer/Waterland pairing resumes normal business, it’s game on.
My prediction: A sixth draw for Ngaruawahia — a result that blows open the title race.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Games to be played on Saturday August 20, 2022
Beachlands Maraetai (9th) v Cambridge (7th)
Te Puru Park, Beachlands, 3pm
Oratia United (10th) v Franklin United (5th)
Parrs Park, Oratia, 3pm
Northland (6th) v Hibiscus Coast (2nd)
Trigg Arena, Whangarei, 3pm
West Auckland (3rd) v Claudelands Rovers (8th)
Brains Park, Kelston, 3pm
How they stand
Last weekend’s games
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