By Jonno Ross
With promotion and relegation sorted, there’s still plenty to motivate the dozen teams going into the final weekend of the Lotto NRFL first division.
For some, there are team targets or individual opportunities to get one more result.
But this week, I’ve picked out a couple of fixtures in which teams have every reason to want to finish on a high.
Here’s our preview of the final round:
Games to be played on Saturday September 3, 2022
Mount Albert-Ponsonby (5th) v Manurewa (2nd)
Anderson Park, Auckland, 3pm
It has been a season to forget and a season to remember for Mount Albert Ponsonby.
Part of the season to forget was the entirety of rounds 1-11, where they picked up just 12 points, leaving them hovering just above the bottom two in the league.
For whatever reason, MAP pulled up their socks and went on an 8-game unbeaten streak, before losing 3-1 away to Tauranga a couple of weeks ago.
Despite not having anything to play for in the league this week against Manurewa, they do have a couple of huge incentives to win.
First-team captain and club man Lewis Black will make his 150th first-team appearance for the club.
Head coach Alan Hindson is retiring after coaching for the last 23 years, and the previous four at the helm of Mount Albert.
Assistant coach and life member of the club Paul Colegate is also stepping away from first-team football, after stints as a first-team coach for six years, and being assistant coach for the last four seasons.
The Mount Albert boys will be up for this one, and hope to be dedicating a victory to three individuals who have dedicated themselves to a club they love.
After sealing their promotion last week, it’s time to celebrate for Manurewa.
Thirteen wins, four draws and just four losses over the previous 21 games is an effort to be proud of, especially after a rocky start to the season, when they lost their opening two games.
Rewa will want to finish the league on a high note and hope that complacency doesn’t sink in.
They will be keen to do the double over Mount Albert — a feat achieved by no one else in the league, and no doubt they will be eager to be the first team to beat MAP on their own turf the season.
This will be a tough challenge, as only two teams over the last three seasons have managed to come away with the three points — the last to do it was East Coast Bays on July 24, 2021.
Key player Monty Patterson will want things go his way; he is three goals shy of equalling the lead Golden Boot standings with 12 goals, and will want to be in the top three goalscorers in the league. He currently sits 4th, one goal behind West Coast Rangers’ Allan Pearce.
Tough game to predict, but I have to go for my lot here. Mount Albert have beaten everybody who is above them in the league except Manurewa, and have more to play for. I’ll say 1-0 win to the home side
Northern Rovers (6th) v East Coast Bays (3rd)
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm
Northern Rovers come into this one off the back of two draws, and have been winless since round 16, when they beat Waitemata 2-1.
Since that victory, they have drawn three games and lost once, and will be keen to finish the season on a high with a win against East Coast Bays in a North Shore derby.
Rovers currently have the bragging rights over their opponents, having won the reverse fixture 2-1, thanks to goals from the teams’ leading goal scorers Jason Quinlan and David Brown.
It’s been a season of ups and downs for Northern Rovers, being competitive and getting results against teams above them in the league, but falling short against teams in the bottom half of the table.
They won’t be happy with the league position they are in, and will be hoping for the three points, and for Mount Albert Ponsonby to lose, so that they can take fifth spot in the final league table.
It has been a season of improvement again for East Coast Bays. Two seasons ago (even though cut short by COVID) they finished 6th.
Last season (cut short again by COVID) they finished 4th, and this season they will hope to finish 3rd but need to beat Northern Rovers to do so.
If they can’t get the three points this Saturday, they will hope that Fencibles can do them a favour with a win against Tauranga City to keep them in third.
Striker Keegan Kelly has one final opportunity to be the outright winner of the Golden Boot. He is currently first equal (with 15 goals) with Metro’s Jaydyn Englefield who gets his chance to score against Albany.
Another tough game to predict, but I think East Coast Bays will want to finish 3rd, and Keegan Kelly will be hungry for the Golden Boot. I’m picking a 3-1 win for East Coast Bays with a Kelly double.
Other fixtures (with current league placings)
Games to be played on Saturday September 3, 2022
West Coast Rangers (1st) v Waitemata (12th)
Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai, 3pm
Ellerslie (10th) v Onehunga Mangere United (9th)
Michaels Ave, Ellerslie, 3pm
Albany United (11th) v Metro (7th)
Rosedale Park, Albany, 3pm
Tauranga City (4th) v Fencibles United (8th)
Links Ave, 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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