By Jack Sharp
Two rounds to go, and three teams are slugging it out for the Lotto NRFL second division title and promotion places.
Supporters of Ngaruawahia United, West Auckland and Hibiscus Coast will have one eye on their games — and one searching for updates from the other grounds.
All year, this division has been highly competitive with the two promoted teams — Ngaruawahia and West Auckland — showing why they deserved to play at this level.
Here’s how the games line up for Saturday August 27:
Hibiscus Coast (3rd) v Ngaruawahia United (1st)
Stanmore Bay Park, Auckland, 3pm
The second division title and promotion places are on the line with this fixture.
If Ngaruawahia win, promotion is assured and the chances of taking the title are greatly enhanced.
If Hibiscus Coast lose, they’ll need to beat West Auckland the following week to claim promotion (that’s assuming West Auckland take three points from Beachlands Maraetai on Saturday).
And a draw could prove ugly for both clubs, giving West Auckland the chance to move into pole position for the title.
If you like exciting ends to a season, it rarely gets better than this, and the teams are well suited to winners-take-all football.
Don’t forget, Ngaruawahia started their season having to win a do-or-die play-off series with Papakura City to earn the right to play in the Lotto NRFL — that experience will be useful when the nerves start to kick in at 2.59pm on Saturday.
In their past two games, Ngaruawahia have dropped five points. Two rounds ago, they drew 1-1 with Claudelands Rovers but were without experienced midfielders Federico Marquez and. Mario Bilen that day.
Last weekend, when they lost their unbeaten record in a 5-2 defeat to Bucklands Beach, former Auckland City star Bilen was missing again.
On Saturday, they’ll need their best line-up to beat Coast who are well led by veteran striker Adam Dickinson.
Look at Coast’s results this year and it’s no coincidence how many goals are scored just before the half-time break, when concentrations are lapsing, or soon after the restart and before teams are settled down again.
The wily Dickinson paces his game well and a high percentage of his goals come in these critical game periods.
Playing at home will also give Coast a boost.
This game is going to be a gem — won or lost by a mistake, a moment of brilliance or simply, the team that wants it the most.
I’m predicting a 2-1 win to Coast.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
West Auckland (2nd) v Beachlands Maraetai (9th)
Brains Park, Kelston, 3pm
Bucklands Beach (4th) v Oratia United (10th)
Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga, 3pm
Franklin United (5th) v Cambridge (7th)
Bledisloe Park, Pukekohe, 3pm
Claudelands Rovers (8th) v Northland (6th)
How they stand
Last weekend’s games
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