Unbeaten Northern League sides on brink of qualifying for national competition

posted in: News, Northern League

By Jonno Ross

Auckland City and Eastern Suburbs can become the first Northern League sides to qualify for the Men’s National League if they win this weekend.

City travel to midtable Melville United while the Lilywhites are at home to relegation-threatened Manukau United.

The two top teams are building a formidable record this season, both unbeaten after 15 rounds and having conceded a measly 15 goals between them.

Meanwhile, the race for the remaining National League qualifying spots continues while there might be a twist or two in the battle to avoid relegation.

West Coast Rangers … face a difficult run-in to their fixture schedule. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Game of the week

West Coast Rangers will be desperate to pick up points this weekend.

A week ago, they looked relatively comfortable with a 10-point difference between themselves in 9th position and the clubs dwindling in the relegation zone.

All that’s changed with strugglers Manukau United and Bay Olympic winning last week to turn a three-club relegation battle to a potential four-way tussle.

Rangers have won only one game in their last eight, and their prospects have not been helped by an MCL tear putting goalkeeper Damian Hirst out of action.

Rangers face a tough run-in, with half of their remaining fixtures against top-four sides.

West Coast Rangers’ Damian Hirst … ‘a great team culture.’ Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Hirst remains positive, saying:

“Yeah, we have a tough run of games, but we have proven on our day we are a tough opponent. Seven of our 16 points have come from the current top four in the league.

“One win and we are safe but that’s not the way we are approaching our season; we are taking one game at a time and focusing on finishing as high up the table as possible.

“There have been so many ‘nearly’ moments this season, and I believe with a bit more luck, we could be in a much different position on the table.

“The group is awesome and a really positive energy with a great team culture. Chad (Coombes) is a top coach and he’s a very good motivator and brings great energy which players love to play for.”

Birkenhead United are their own worst enemies, and have been all season, failing to pick up points when expected to win.

Last weekend, they had the chance to slide into fourth place but lost 2-1 to a Western Springs side on fire at the moment.

Birkenhead are expected to win against Rangers, despite the loss of Nick Forrester due to a red card last weekend. They won the reverse fixture 2-0.

A United win could move them to fifth place, depending on Manurewa’s result against Takapuna.

Either way, Birkenhead need the victory to stay in pursuit of a top-four position, or they risk missing out on National League football altogether.

Goalkeeper Liam Smith … inspired Manukau’s win last weekend. Photo: Andrew Skinner / Phototek.

Players to watch

After leaving Mt Albert Ponsonby to pursue Northern League football, Liam Smith made his second debut for Manukau United between the sticks, and inspired his side to their second win of the season, beating Melville United 2-1.

This week will be a great opportunity for the neutral to see his raw talent, as his Manukau side visit title contenders Eastern Suburbs, who are expected to test Smith’s ability between the posts.

Manurewa will be optimistic this week, as they welcome back key players Nico Bobadilla and Agustin Contratti.

The influential pair have served their 10-match suspension after being red-carded against Hamilton Wanderers on April 29.

If available for selection, they will bolster the South Auckland side, who need to kick on to book a top-four finish.

Bold prediction

This week, I predict Western Springs will beat midtable Hamilton Wanderers 2-1, and hold fourth position on the league table for another week at least.

Last week, I predicted a 2-1 win by West Coast Rangers against Bay Olympic. The result went the other way, with Bay Olympic winning 4-2.


Games to be played on Saturday July 22, 2023

Melville United v Auckland City
Gower Park, Hamilton, 3pm

Auckland United v Bay Olympic
Crum Park, New Lynn, 3pm

West Coast Rangers v Birkenhead United
Huapai Domain, Kumeu, 3pm

Takapuna v Manurewa
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm

Eastern Suburbs v Manukau United
Madills Farm, St Heliers, 3pm

Hamilton Wanderers v Western Springs
Ashurst Park, Hamilton, 3pm

Jonno Ross

Friends of Football writer Jonno Ross is a media writer for the NZ Football Foundation. A former New Zealand U-20 goalkeeper, he is the team manager for Mount Albert Ponsonby. He supports the All Whites, the Football Ferns, the Wellington Phoenix and Arsenal.

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