By Jonno Ross
The top two teams go head-to-head this weekend as the Northern League schedule conjures a few fixtures that could prove vital in the final reckoning.
Champions Auckland City — with one eye on next month’s OFC Champions League — play early title contenders Eastern Suburbs.
Whoever wins that game will rightly earn favouritism for the title.
Meanwhile, the competitions bottom two sides also meet in a contest that could have end-of-season ramifications when relegation is decided.
Game of the week
In a replay of last season’s Chatham Cup final, Auckland City and Eastern Suburbs go into Saturday’s match with similar lead-up form.
Both sides are level on points, with 16, and they have the identical records of five wins and a draw … and they are the only teams left with unbeaten records.
Only a six-goal superior goal difference keeps the Navy Blues above the Lilywhites.
You can’t fault Auckland City for their consistency. After six rounds last year, they had scored 20 goals and conceded four goals — exactly the same this time — and with the same record of five wins and a draw.
They just keep ticking over …
On the other hand, Eastern Suburbs were completely out of sorts last year, finishing 10th in the league with a mere 20 points to show for their season.
This time, they have already equalled last year’s number of wins, and they’re only four league points short of matching the 2022 tally.
Early signs suggest this club is on the up, and they are really hitting their stride — in their opening four games, Suburbs scored four goals, scoring once in each match.
In their last two games, they have rattled up ten goals, indicating they have clicked as a unit and are becoming a potent team in attack.
They signed a swag of new players for this season, including imports and age-group internationals. Things look promising.
It is hard to say which way this one will go, but Suburbs get the chance to heal the hurt of last season’s Chatham Cup defeat. It’ll be close.
Player to watch
Derek Tieku from Hamilton Wanderers: in the last two games he has scored, he has scored a brace.
I don’t doubt he can do it again when he leads the line against Manurewa, especially as this could be a slugfest with both sides keen to keep in reach of the top four spots that provide end-of-season qualification for the National League.
With five goals for the season, Tieku is the league’s joint top goalscorer, tied with Martin Bueno (Eastern Suburbs) and Monty Patterson (Manurewa). This is the sort of fixture that suits him.
This week, I am going to favour Takapuna again to get their first win of the season.
Last week I predicted Takapuna to beat Manurewa 1-0. I was fairly close; it ended in a 0-0 draw.
The Takapuna defence is resilient, and they need a bit of luck in front of goal.
They will get their opportunity against the leakiest defence in the competition.
I feel like this will be the week Taka get off the bottom of the league, in front of their own supporters, with a 2-1 win over Manukau United.
One more thing …
The Eastern Suburbs v Auckland City game has moved from Madills Farm to Kiwitea Street following an agreement between the two clubs.
The Madills Farm playing surface is understood to have been causing concern.
Games to be played on Saturday April 29, 2023
Auckland United v Birkenhead United
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 3pm
Auckland City v Eastern Suburbs
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 3pm
Takapuna v Manukau United
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm
Hamilton Wanderers v Manurewa
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, 3pm
Melville United v Bay Olympic
Gower Park, Hamilton, 5.30pm
Game to be played on Sunday April 30, 2023
Western Springs v West Coast Rangers
Seddon Fields, Westmere, 5pm
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.