By Luke Austin
Waterside Karori get their first chance to defend the O’Brien Shield when they host bottom-placed Whanganui Athletic in this weekend’s round of Central League fixtures.
The shield game starts the Round 9 schedule, with the Karori-Whanganui game doubling as a shield challenge.
Karori scored two late goals to come back from 2-0 down and rescue a draw against Petone last weekend, while Whanganui fell to their eighth straight defeat, losing 2-0 at home to Miramar Rangers.
The other Saturday fixture is set to be a cracker as Stop Out take on Petone at Hutt Park.
A win for Petone would allow them to strengthen their grip on fourth place but it will be far from easy against a tough Stop Out side who battled back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 away to North Wellington in Round 8.
Stop Out have exceeded expectations this year, and they now can take fourth place off Petone with a win this Saturday.
The action continues on Sunday with a huge clash between Western Suburbs and Olympic at Endeavour Park.
Olympic regained their three-point lead at the top of the table by making light work of Napier City Rovers in their 6-3 win last week.
Wests have not played since their crushing 7-1 win over Whanganui three weeks ago and will hope that their fresh legs and home advantage can trouble the defending champions.
The final game of the weekend sees North Wellington make the journey to Bluewater Stadium to take on Napier City Rovers.
Napier need a win to keep pace with the top half of the table and will feel confident they can rediscover their mojo at home following their disappointing defeat away to Olympic last time out.
North Wellington will regret letting slip a 3-1 lead to draw with Stop Out; however, they now have a four-point lead over fellow strugglers Whanganui which may prove to be vital in the battle to avoid relegation.
The Round 9 game between the Phoenix Reserves and Miramar is to be played on June 21 due to a number of Phoenix players representing New Zealand at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina.
Game of the week
Western Suburbs v Olympic is the obvious choice for neutral fans looking for a top game to watch.
Olympic continue to set the standard at the top of the Central League though Wests are on their tail, only three points behind.
This game may be a pivotal moment in the title race: can Wests extend their impressive record as the only unbeaten team this season, or will Olympic give themselves some breathing room at the top of the table?
Player to watch
I predicted he would find the back of the net last weekend, and he did just that, scoring twice against Waterside Karori.
Petone marksman Matt Brazier has been on fire recently and is now the league’s top scorer with 10 strikes.
He’s one to watch as he continues his impressive debut Central League campaign against Stop Out this weekend.
Stop Out will be fired up when they host close neighbours Petone on Saturday, and I have a feeling they may find the win, which would see them climb to fourth place.
Neither side is a stranger to late drama, so this game could be worth a watch if you are in the area.
Don’t leave before the final whistle!
Games to be played on Saturday May 27, 2023
Stop Out v Petone
Hutt Park, Lower Hutt, 2.30pm
Waterside Karori v Whanganui Athletic
Karori Park, Wellington, 2.30pm
Games to be played on Sunday May 28, 2023
Napier City Rovers v North Wellington
Bluewater Stadium, Napier, 2pm
Western Suburbs v Wellington Olympic
Endeavour Park, Whitby, 2pm
Luke Austin is a Wellington-based football fan and volunteer, who plays for Island Bay, and follows the Central League.