By Jonno Ross
East Coast Bays are flying at the top of the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship with a five-from-five winning record and an impressive goals for/against ratio.
But they could face a tough opponent this week in Tauranga City who are chasing their fourth win on end.
Other teams to watch include Hibiscus Coast and Ngaruawahia United, the two sides promoted to the Championship for this season.
Coast are unbeaten in second spot while Ngaruawahia are poised to climb the table with improving form and the leadership of veteran midfielder Mario Bilen (38).
Game of the week
Despite losing last year’s top scorer Keegan Kelly (to Western Springs), East Coast Bays have been pumping in the goals this term with 21 scored in only five rounds.
Those who wondered who would replace Kelly as the main source of goals need not worry — they’ve come from 10 different players, and are a threat from every part of the pitch.
On Saturday, Bays host Tauranga City who were last season’s almost-good-enough-but-not-quite side, whose promotion push faded late in the year.
Barry Gardiner’s City squad lost their opener, drew their second game but have won their last three, including two wins in which they needed to come from behind.
A clue about Tauranga is that six of their nine goals have been scored in the second half, with two of them in the 94th minute.
This indicates a side that has found match fitness early in the season and has the legs — and heart — to play till the final whistle.
After five straight wins, league leaders Bays might finally have a game on their hands.
Player to watch
North Shore United’s Jason Hicks has one of the most extensive football CVs in the competition, having played for the All Whites and as an age group international for both England and New Zealand.
The former Wellington Phoenix player, now 33, is in his second spell at North Shore United, having returned from spells with Albany United and West Coast Rangers.
Shore, relegated from the Northern League last year, have yet to win in the Championship but have drawn three of their five fixtures.
They’ll get their chance to win this weekend when they meet mid-table Metro, and Hicks is sure to be influential.
Northern Rovers are struggling this season and are having trouble finding the net, with only two goals scored this season.
Ellerslie are coming off the back of a good 3-1 win against North Shore United, and confidence will be high.
I predict a 3-0 win to Ellerslie on their home turf.
Last week I predicted a 3-0 win for North Shore United over Ellerslie. The result was 3-1 to Ellerslie.
Games to be played on Saturday April 22, 2023
Ellerslie v Northern Rovers
Michaels Ave Reserve, Ellerslie, 3pm
Metro v North Shore United
Phyllis St Reserve, Mt Albert, 3pm
East Coast Bays v Tauranga City
Bay City Park, Browns Bay, 3pm
Ngaruawahia United v Mt Albert Ponsonby
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm
READ MORE: Read Ngaurawahia United’s match programme for Mt Albert Ponsonby fixture >>>>
Fencibles United v Onehunga Mangere United
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm
Waiheke United v Hibiscus Coast
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke Island, 3pm
Friends of Football writer Jonno Ross is a media writer for the NZ Football Foundation. A former New Zealand U-20 goalkeeper, he is the team manager for Mount Albert Ponsonby. He supports the All Whites, the Football Ferns, the Wellington Phoenix and Arsenal.