By Jack Sharp
League leaders Bucklands Beach should retain their advantage in the Lotto NRFL Northern Conference with this weekend’s fixture against bottom-placed West Auckland.
Bucklands Beach have games in hand over their nearest rivals and three points will put the pressure on nearest rivals Beachlands Maraetai and Franklin United who meet in what could be a crucial game when the season ends.
Meanwhile, Albany United and Northland play at Rosedale Park in a match which will help the winners edge away from the drop zone.
Game of the week
Beachlands Maraetai will see Saturday’s game against unbeaten Franklin United as a must-win fixture.
Win, and Beachlands Maraetai stay in the race for the Lotto NRFL Northern Conference title.
Lose, and they’ll fall six points behind their rivals, having played one game more.
Franklin United must be cursing their predilection for draws. Despite being unbeaten, five draws in 10 games means 10 potential points lost.
They got the job done last week, overcoming a resurgent Central United 2-0, while Beachlands Maraetai crashed 4-1 at home to Oratia United.
Games with plenty at stake tend to make for great entertainment; there’s every reason to believe this will be one of those.
Player to watch
Winger Mohammed Shah (23) started the season at Northern League club Manurewa but moved south to join Franklin United in May.
It’s his second spell at Franklin, having left in 2020 to join Manukau United.
Since rejoining Franklin, he’s scored seven goals in as many league appearances, including the opener in last weekend’s 2-0 win at Central United, another of his former clubs.
Don’t be fooled by Albany United’s lowly position on the table.
After an appalling start to the season, when they couldn’t buy a goal, they’ve found their goalscoring mojo with 16 goals in their last four games.
They had a bye last week — a chance to catch a breath in mid-season — and they’ll be ready for Saturday’s game against relegation rivals Northland.
Northland have managed only one win in their last nine games.
I’m picking Albany to win by three or more.
Last week, I fancied Central United to get at least a draw with Franklin United. However, Franklin went home with a 2-0 win.
Games to be played on Saturday July 22, 2023
Beachlands Maraetai v Franklin United
Te Puru Park, Beachlands, 3pm
West Auckland v Bucklands Beach
Brains Park, Kelston, 3pm
Albany United v Northland
Rosedale Park, Albany, 3pm
Central United v Waitemata
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 3pm
Oratia United — Bye
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.