By Jack Sharp
The rivalry between Melville United and Hamilton Wanderers comes to a head this weekend as the two Waikato sides jostle for the last remaining spot in this year’s National League.
Melville can elbow Wanderers out of the way in their quest for qualification with a win in the Northern League against bottom club North Shore United.
Wanderers need a win and for Melville to lose.
Their games this weekend, played at grounds only 8km apart, will decide whether their last game of the season (September 3) — a derby between them — will be a season-decider or a fizzer.
Here’s our preview of the round:
Hamilton Wanderers (5th) v Manukau United (7th)
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton 3pm
It’s the last throw of the dice for Hamilton Wanderers as they host a Manukau United side whose late-season form hasn’t been great.
Wanderers lost control of their National League destiny when they slipped up in midweek, losing 2-0 at Birkenhead United. That result means Wanderers have to beat Manukau AND rely on arch-rivals Melville losing to North Shore United.
Against Manukau, Wanderers will be without winger Mark Jones and goalkeeper Matt Oliver, both suspended after red cards at Birkenhead.
But somehow, Wanderers will need to put out of their minds the league table — they just need to focus on winning one more game of football.
Manukau won 3-2 last weekend, at home to 10th-placed Takapuna, but that was their first victory in a month after three losses and a draw.
Mid-table Manukau are playing out their season with nothing left at stake. That can provide a sense of freedom that inspires confidence and positivity.
So expect the visitors to have a go. It’ll open up the game for both sides.
My pick is a win to Wanderers in a game with plenty of goals; say, 3-1 or 4-2.
Melville United (4th) v North Shore United (12th)
Gower Park, Hamilton, 3pm
Melville’s 4-1 Wednesday night win at Eastern Suburbs was emphatic and a sign that the Gower Park club is over its recent wobbly patch.
Earlier this season, Melville looked clearly the league’s second-best side — no prizes for guessing whose shadow they fell in — but injuries and the loss of some young players overseas brought a slump in form.
That has left them playing catch-up to secure a top four spot, but qualification is now in their grasp.
They just need three points against Shore, a side that’s conceded 89 goals and lost 17 games this season.
Surely, Melville won’t mess this us, especially in front of their own fans?
Shore have been the league’s cot case since the start and their players can be forgiven for just wishing the season would end.
Relegation is confirmed; few will care whether they or Waiheke collect the proverbial wooden spoon.
So, expect Melville to make a statement on Saturday. They will want to win, and win big, to show they are ready for a National League campaign.
Doing so at the expense of their cross-town rivals Wanderers will just make it sweeter for them.
I’m tipping a rout with Melville winning by a margin of five goals or more.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Takapuna (10th) v Western Springs (6th)
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm
Auckland United (3rd) v Bay Olympic (8th)
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 3pm
Waiheke United (11th) v Birkenhead United (2nd)
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke 3pm
How they stand
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