By Jonno Ross
With two of the Northern League’s top three teams not playing this weekend, mid-table sides have an ideal chance to stake their claims for spots in the National League qualifying zone.
The top four Northern League sides go into this year’s Men’s National League and the weekend’s fixture schedule could create a cluster of challengers.
Auckland City’s involvement in the OFC Champions League means they and third-placed Manurewa are not involved this weekend, so focus goes on the games that could reshuffle the pack.
Game of the week
Melville United, who host Auckland United in a floodlit game on Saturday, have had a stop-start beginning to their season, especially in their opening six games, in which they failed to put back-to-back victories together.
The Hamilton-based side were struggling to find consistency but it seems they have fixed the issue, picking up seven points in their last three games, including a notable 3-1 win over West Coast Rangers, who are no pushovers by any means.
Liam Hayes, George Brown and Jerson Giraldo have shown they are a threat to the opposition, having scored six goals between them in the last three games.
The mini-run of form has seen Melville creep up the table to sixth spot, just two points away from a top four position.
If last year is anything to judge by, Melville are not shy of going on a good run of results to squeeze into one of the National League places.
In contrast to Melville, Auckland United’s form has taken a dip in their last three matches.
With only two points taken from a possible nine, they now occupy fourth spot.
Had they obtained maximum points in those three fixtures, United would be trailing Eastern Suburbs by one point, and in second spot, and looking strong contenders for the title.
Goalscoring seems to be Auckland United’s problem — after nine rounds, they’ve scored more than a single goal in only a third of their fixtures.
United will need to up their attack in the final third to avoid having to just scrape through games if they want to stay in the top four – a loss this weekend could see any one of the three teams below take their spot and potentially see them drop to as low as seventh on the ladder.
This match will be a litmus test for who is likely to be among the challengers for a National League qualifying place.
Player to watch
Oscar Ramsay from Western Springs has found himself in a bit of a rut as of late. After finding form in Round 4, he popped up with four goals in the next three games.
Since then, he has gone 319 minutes without a goal and gets no better chance to regain his form when he faces struggling Manukau United this weekend.
They’ve been leaking an average of more than three goals a game.
After having a week off football last week, I expect Hamilton Wanderers to be fizzing to play again and they will want to pull clear from the teams at the bottom of the league.
I predict Hamilton Wanderers to win away at Bay Olympic with a 3-2 scoreline.
Last round, I predicted that West Coast Rangers would beat Melville United 2-1. Melville came away with a comprehensive 3-1 win.
Games to be played on Saturday May 20, 2023
Takapuna v Birkenhead United
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm
West Coast Rangers v Eastern Suburbs
Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai, 3pm
Western Springs v Manukau United
Seddon Fields, Westmere, 3pm
Bay Olympic v Hamilton Wanderers
Olympic Park, New Lynn, 5.30pm
Melville United v Auckland United
Korikori Park, Hamilton, 5.30pm
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