By Jonno Ross
Two games will decide what happens at the top and bottom of the Lotto NRFL first division this weekend, and with every chance that we’ll have a champion confirmed by Saturday night.
West Coast Rangers can claim the title but need to shake off Tauranga City, a side that clings to the slimmest of chances of earning promotion.
At the other end of the table, Waitemata must beat Metro to stand any chance of escaping the bottom two.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Waitemata (11th) v Metro (10th)
McLeod Park, Henderson, 3pm
Waitemata’s biggest game of their season is this weekend.
Sitting 11th in the league, five points behind visitors Metro, this is a must-win game to have any chance of escaping the bottom two.
With only five wins all season, they need to pull the rabbit out of the hat in the last two games, against Metro and leaders West Coast Rangers, and hope Metro fumble their final game against Albany United.
As improbable as this escape plan looks, Waitemata are capable on their day as their wins included upsets against high-flying East Coast Bays and top-half side Mount Albert Ponsonby.
They will need to reproduce that sort of performance to stand any chance. Lose or draw on Saturday, and Waitemata will be sure of a bottom two placing.
After losing five games on the trot, Metro picked up a huge three points last Friday night, in a 5-2 demolition of Ellerslie.
Those three points were crucial for Metro, as a loss would have kept them just two points above their opponents this weekend, making the game a must-win for them too.
They now have a little breathing room, so a loss wouldn’t be all doom and gloom; they would just need to win their final game against Albany United next week to avoid the bottom two.
Scoring goals isn’t the problem for Metro — they have the league’s joint top goalscorer in Jaydyn Englefield with 14 goals.
it’s their defence that will need to be strong in their biggest game of the season.
A win for Metro could see them go from 10th and all the way up to 7th, depending on other results. A loss will only prolong their agony.
I’m going to predict a 2-2 draw, with a double from Englefield.
West Coast Rangers (1st) v Tauranga City (3rd)
Fred Taylor Park, Auckland, 3pm
West Coast Rangers have the chance this weekend to become league champions.
After losing to Mount Albert Ponsonby 2-0, they bounced straight back to form, with five games undefeated, and killing off Albany United 6-0 last weekend.
West Coast Rangers deserve their title, being the most consistent team in the league, and having the best defensive record, with 13 clean sheets, and conceding only 10 goals.
At the other end of the park, they have been held scoreless only once in 20 games.
If other teams want to know what it takes to win the league, Rangers have written the blueprint.
Tauranga City appear likely to finish third at the end of the season after a solid 3-1 victory against Mount Albert Ponsonby last week.
They badly needed East Coast Bays to beat Manurewa to keep them in contention for promotion, but Rewa got the points.
Mathematically, Tauranga City CAN still come second.
They are six points behind Manurewa with two games to play. If Tauranga City win the next two games by at least four goals, and Manurewa lose their final two games by two goals, Tauranga will come second, and be off to the Northern League for next season.
I know I’ve said before that strange things can happen in football, but this would be the on the scale of miracles.
If I was Tauranga City, I would go for it; there’s nothing to lose and it’s worth a try.
All the same, I think Rangers will come away with this one, winning 2-1, to bring up an impressive 50 points in the league, and a well-deserved championship.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Ellerslie (9th) v East Coast Bays (3rd)
Michaels Ave Reserve, Auckland, 3pm
Manurewa (2nd) v Northern Rovers (6th)
Jellicoe Park 1, Auckland, 3pm
Mount Albert Ponsonby (5th) v Fencibles United (8th)
Anderson Park, Auckland, 3pm
Albany United (12th) v Onehunga Mangere United (7th)
Rosedale Park, 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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