By Luke Austin
A title race and scramble for top four spots makes for an intriguing round of Central League fixtures this weekend.
On Saturday, Waterside Karori host North Wellington and will aim for all three points following their solid draw away to leaders Olympic last weekend.
North Wellington, who were comprehensively beaten 5-2 at home by Miramar in Round 11, will be keen to get some more points on the board ahead of their bottom-of-the-table clash with Whanganui in Round 13.
Miramar Rangers travel to Hutt Park to take on Stop Out in what will be a gritty mid-table Saturday encounter.
Both sides have suffered heavy defeats in recent weeks, but Miramar will be the more confident of the two after putting five past North Wellington last weekend.
Stop Out will look to make their home advantage count after a difficult run of away losses.
It’s first against last at Wembley Park as Olympic travel to take on Whanganui Athletic.
Olympic have looked slightly off the pace following their outrageous 7-0 thrashing of Miramar, relying on penalties from captain Ben Mata to sneak past North Wellington in the Chatham Cup and then again to rescue a last-minute draw against Waterside Karori.
Can Whanganui capitalise on this slight blip in form, or will Olympic return to their dominant best?
The final two games of the round are huge for the National League hopefuls and those attempting to catch Olympic at the top of the table.
In the 3.30pm Saturday game, Petone host the Phoenix Reserves at Memorial Park.
Petone did well to come from behind to earn a 2-2 draw away to Napier last weekend, while the Phoenix secured another three points at home to Whanganui.
This leaves the Phoenix in second, only one point behind Olympic, and Petone in 5th, being kept out of the top four on goal difference alone.
Round 11 concludes at Endeavour Park on Sunday with Napier City Rovers travelling to face Western Suburbs in a battle between third and fourth place.
Wests will be confident heading into this fixture following their 4-0 over Stop Out last weekend, but Napier will no doubt be up for the challenge as they know how crucial a win here would be for their hopes to finish in the top four.
Game of the week
With qualification to the National League guaranteed, the Wellington Phoenix Reserves’ main objective for the Central League is to dethrone defending champions and current leaders Olympic.
It is possible that they will have to win every game to achieve this.
This Saturday, they face an in-form Petone team who have not lost for more than two months and find themselves rubbing shoulders with the top four.
With so much at stake, this is a game not to be missed.
Player to watch
With attacking players usually receiving the most attention, the hard work of midfielders and defenders can sometimes fly under the radar.
Defensive midfielder Fin Conchie has been a crucial presence in the Phoenix Reserve’s side this season.
He performs consistently week in and week out and recently impressed at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina.
With a move to professional football seemingly imminent, he is one to keep an eye on for the remainder of the season.
When Waterside Karori last faced North Wellington in April, they kickstarted their season with an emphatic 4-1 win.
North Wellington’s struggles have continued and I’m predicting another big win could be on the cards for the Wharfies as they look to build on their promising draw with Olympic.
Games to be played on Saturday July 1, 2023
Stop Out v Miramar Rangers
Hutt Park, Lower Hutt, 2.30pm
Waterside Karori v North Wellington
Karori Park, Wellington, 2.30pm
Whanganui Athletic v Wellington Olympic
Wembley Park, Whanganui, 2.30pm
Petone v Wellington Phoenix Reserves
Memorial Park, Lower Hutt, 3.30pm
Game to be played on Sunday July 2, 2023
Western Suburbs v Napier City Rovers
Endeavor Park, Whitby, 2pm
Luke Austin is a Wellington-based football fan and volunteer, who plays for Island Bay, and follows the Central League.