By Jonno Ross
While leaders East Coast Bays look sure to win again, there’s a pack of six more clubs all snapping at their heels in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.
A congested table, swings in form and a couple of teams with games in hand … it all adds up to an important round of games this weekend.
Game of the week
Ellerslie could be forgiven for feeling a bit hard done by when they look at the league table.
A week ago, they were third. But after losing 5-3 to Tauranga City on Matariki Friday, and then having other results go against them, the Ponies now find themselves in sixth spot.
That was Ellerslie’s first defeat in five games but it shows how tight this league is when one weekend can so easily reshuffle the pack.
Points for the Ponies are crucial from here on, and the recovery must start this week.
Their next three games are against teams below them in the league, and Ellerslie should be looking to take maximum points to put themselves back in the mix for promotion.
After that run of fixtures, they play the three teams currently in the top three slots.
North Shore United sit below Ellerslie by just one point.
On paper, they are a good side, and you would expect them to be further up the table (especially having played top-tier football last season), but they suffered from inconsistency in the season’s early stages.
They’ve now settled and have lost just one of their last seven matches but will be disappointed they dropped points last week, in a 2-2 draw with Fencibles United.
All the goals came in a frantic first 20 minutes.
Like Ellerslie, points are a must. United still have to play three of the current top four sides, and while hopes of a promotion shot might seem slim, anything is possible in this league.
This fixture could be the last chance saloon for one of these sides.
Whoever loses this one could surrender any remaining hopes of a promotion spot.
Player to watch
East Coast Bay’s leading scorer, Dylan Stansfield, added to his tally last week, making it 12 goals for the season in league and cup.
He’ll be licking his lips this weekend, as his side face a Waiheke United team ill-equipped to face the league leaders, with nine first-team players out injured.
In the reverse fixture, Stansfield netted twice in a 7-0 thumping of the Islanders.
I predict Mt Albert Ponsonby will continue their superb form, and make it six wins on the bounce with a 3-0 win over Hibiscus Coast.
MAP have turned around their season. A month ago, they were seventh in the league and without a win in seven games.
They had conceded 26 goals and scored nine.
In their last five outings, they have shut the gate, giving away only three goals and scoring 15.
They’re now promotion contenders.
Last week, I predicted that Onehunga Mangere would beat Hibiscus Coast 2-1. Hibiscus won 1-0.
Games to be played on Saturday July 22, 2023
Waiheke United v East Coast Bays
Onetangi Sports Complex, Waiheke, 3pm
Metro v Tauranga
Phyllis St, Mt Albert, 3pm
Ellerslie v North Shore United
Ngahue Reserve, St Johns, 3pm
Ngaruawahia United v Onehunga Mangere United
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm
Mount Albert Ponsonby v Hibiscus Coast
Anderson Park, Mt Albert, 3pm
Fencibles United v Northern Rovers
William Green Domain, Pakuranga, 6pm
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