By Jonno Ross
With the two leaders out of action, the chasing pack get the chance close the gap in this weekend’s Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship fixtures.
Tauranga City, Hibiscus Coast, Ellerslie and Mount Albert Ponsonby can all catch the leaders if they can find winning streaks, have other results go their way and, of course, get the rub of the green.
Tauranga City are best poised to catch the leaders, as they’re in useful form and have two games in hand.
Hibiscus Coast need to rediscover their best form under new coach Ryan Faithfull.
Game of the week
Metro were desperately unlucky last weekend, conceding in the 13th minute of stoppage time against Ellerslie, when Devon Andrews scored to tie the game 1-1.
Had Metro held their lead, they would have moved four points clear of Onehunga Mangere United who sit below Metro in 11th place.
Metro should feel like they’re in with a real chance in this one — they earned a point in the reverse fixture and took the lead twice in a 2-2 draw at Anderson Park.
In the corresponding fixture last season, they bagged all three points with a convincing 3-1 win against their rivals from down the road.
Mount Albert Ponsonby have finally found some form after a seven-game drought.
After their 6-0 demolishing to East Coast Bays, they had almost an entire month off football due to weather postponements and Chatham Cup byes, and it seems like that was the break they needed to make changes and regroup.
The ‘Gold and Blue’ came back from the break and have won back-to-back games.
They will look to make it three in a row for just the second time this season.
MAP still believe a top two position is within reach, despite being eight points off second place.
They have a game in hand but know that they can ill afford to drop more points from here.
These two clubs are not bosom buddies — there is so much on the line for both teams and with bragging rights up for grabs. All this adds spice to the New North Road Derby.
I know who I’m going for!
Player to watch
Mount Albert Ponsonby’s UK-born winger Sam Tutton (28) has found the net four times in his last four outings, and is the team’s leading scorer this season with seven goals overall.
He’s experienced, with spells at Forrest Hill Milford United, Northern Rovers and Bay Olympic before moving to MAP this season.
Tutton’s now found form for his new club.
Ellerslie have not played at home since May 27 and though this weekend’s game is technically a ‘home’ game, the Ponies are playing at their temporary ground, Ngahue Reserve, while their Michaels Ave headquarters become the team training base for the Argentine national women’s team.
The unfamiliar ground could encourage Hibiscus Coast who are now five league games without a win.
They did manage to grind out a 1-1 draw against North Shore United last weekend, the first game with Ryan Faithfull as Coast’s new head coach.
I expect the same score for Coast this weekend — a 1-1 draw.
Last week I picked North Shore United to surprise Coast with a 2-1 win. They drew 1-1.
… one more thing
Though league leaders East Coast Bays and Ngaruawahia don’t have fixtures this weekend, the Waikato club has strengthen their squad for the run-in to the end of their season.
They signed three players before the transfer deadline on June 30.
Games to be played on Saturday July 8, 2023
Waiheke United v North Shore United
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke, 3pm
Tauranga City v Northern Rovers
Links Ave, Mt Maunganui, 3pm
Metro v Mount Albert Ponsonby
Phyllis St Reserve, Mt Albert, 3pm
Ellerslie v Hibiscus Coast
Ngahue Reserve, St Johns, 3pm
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