Crucial games at both ends of the Lotto NRFL Northern Conference table

By Jack Sharp

Key matches at the top and bottom of the table draw most interest in this weekend’s round of games in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Northern Conference.

With almost perfect symmetry, the fixture list pairs teams that are next to each other on the table, except for third-placed Franklin United who have a bye.

Franklin, who almost pulled off the upset of last weekend’s Chatham Cup round, forcing Birkenhead United to extra time, must be ruing the chance to build on that form, having had their midweek match postponed against Bucklands Beach.

In mid-table, there’s a West Auckland derby between Oratia United and Waitemata, with both sides finding recent improvements.

Central United host Northland in a game that will give some comfort to the winners, in that they’ll edge away from the drop zone.

Albany United host a bottom-of-the-table clash with West Auckland.

Albany are still without a win this season and if they lose this one, the rest of the season starts to look ominous.

Bucklands Beach (in yellow) will need to rebuild their confidence after their 9-0 cup defeat by Auckland City. Photo: Andrew Skinner / Phototek.

Game of the week

No question — the match to watch is the clash between the competition’s top two sides, Bucklands Beach and Beachlands Maraetai.

Whoever wins this match will be top of the competition ladder on Saturday night, and Beachlands Maraetai could even slip four points clear of their rivals and third-placed Franklin United with a win.

Bucklands Beach, playing at home, will want to erase the memories of their 9-0 routing in the Chatham Cup at the home of national champions Auckland City.

For a team that’s conceded only five goals in the league, losing by such a large margin must have been a wake-up call for a side that’s looked deserving candidates for the title.

They should have had their chance to put things right in midweek when they were set to play Franklin United but the match was postponed.

Beachlands Maraetai play a carefree style of football that can pay off big-time, such as their 4-1 win last time out (against Central United) and the 5-5 draw they shared with Franklin United.

But prior to that, they slipped up, losing 3-1 at home to Waitemata and only just got their 2-1 win at West Auckland, thanks to goals in the dying stages of the game.

This could be a high-scoring affair, if both sides cut loose.

Bucklands Beach goalkeeper Anthony Mira at full stretch in his side’s Chatham Cup loss to Auckland City. Photo: Andrew Skinner / Phototek.

Player to watch

Bucklands Beach goalkeeper Anthony Mira (25) had conceded only five league goals this season until he faced Chatham Cup holders Auckland City last weekend.

They put five past him before he was subbed in the 70th minute, and his replacement, Riley Pullar, had to pick the ball out four times.

The cup game was surely an aberration, and normal service will resume for the competition’s tightest defence.

Bold prediction

With all teams playing their closest rivals this weekend, all the matches should be even affairs.

But if one fixture could have a blow-out result, I’m picking it will be Central United’s game against Northland.

Northland have been threatening to win with two draws and a one-goal loss to high-flying Franklin United in their lead-up to this weekend.

Central, without coach Paul Posa this week (serving a one-match ban for a red card last weekend), have lost three of their last four league games and scraped a draw against bottom side Albany United.

I’ll stick my neck out and tip a three-goal margin to Northland.

Last week, I tipped Beachlands Maraetai to beat Central United by a four-goal margin. They won 4-1.


Games to be played on Saturday June 24, 2023

Albany United v West Auckland
Rosedale Park, Albany, 3pm

Bucklands Beach v Beachlands Maraetai
Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

Central United v Northland
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 3pm

Waitemata v Oratia United
McLeod Park, Te Atatu South, 3pm

Franklin United — Bye

Jack Sharp

Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.

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