Fixture switch provides Cambridge with chance to put title rivals under pressure

By Jack Sharp

Cambridge can exert pressure on title rivals Waikato Unicol with a late fixture change in the Lotto NRFL Southern Conference.

Instead of travelling to the east coast for an away match against Papamoa on Saturday, the clubs have agreed to play under lights at Hamilton’s Porritt Stadium on Friday.

Not playing at their Gordon Spratt Reserve might dilute the home advantage for Papamoa, and playing under lights might be tricky for both sides. Certainly, Cambridge are likely to get more sideline support as a result of the venue change.

The switch provides Cambridge with the chance to go to the top of the competition, at least overnight, and keep the pressure on Waikato Unicol who play Te Awamutu on Saturday.

The showdown between Unicol and Cambridge is set for August 26, as they tussle for the title and the chance to seek promotion to the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship via play-offs.

Here are the rivals’ remaining fixtures:

Waikato Unicol — Te Awamutu (h), Cambridge (a), Papamoa (h), Otumoetai (a)

Cambridge — Papamoa (a), Waikato Unicol (h), Ngongotaha Lakes (a)

Game of the week

Waikato Unicol face Te Awamutu on the back of a 12-match unbeaten streak — but will they come unstuck in game 13?

On their respective records, Unicol should expect to take to take the three points at Jansen Park.

But they should bear in mind that Te Awamutu’s form is hard to follow.

For so long, Te Awamutu looked odds-on to finish bottom of the table. But in late June, the side started to find points, often when they were unexpected, and they’ve lost only three of their last eight games, lifting themselves away from the wooden spoon.

They’ve been on the end of a couple of thrashings, conceding 17 goals to Waipa rivals Cambridge, but they’ve also ground out draws against decent sides such as Taupo and, yes, league leaders Waikato Unicol.

Their 1-1 draw on June 24 is a reminder to Unicol that they should be wary of catching Te Awamutu on one of their good days.

Player to watch

Cambridge striker Josh Clarkin (22) has featured in this section before … but how do you ignore a player who has now scored 26 league goals in 14 appearances this season?

Clarkin’s form continues to impress. He scored four goals against Te Awamutu last week, notching his hat-trick by the 25th minute.

He’s a shoe-in for the Golden Boot and has four more fixtures to add to his tally.

Bold prediction

Otumoetai smashed Ngongotaha Lakes 6-1 last weekend, coming back from a 1-0 half-time deficit.

But the result was tilted in Otumoetai’s favour by the 58th-minute dismissal of Ngongotaha’s Cormac Waller, and five of Otumoetai’s goals were scored against 10 men, two of them from the penalty spot.

I suspect Claudelands Rovers will deflate Otumoetai’s late run at trying to clear bottom spot, and will beat them by a two-goal margin, or better.

Last week, I tipped Waikato Unicol to get all three points at Taupo but with a one-goal margin. Unicol won 3-1


Game to be played on Friday August 18, 2023

Papamoa v Cambridge
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, 7.30pm

Games to be played on Saturday August 19, 2023

Waikato Unicol v Te Awamutu
Jansen Park, Hamilton, 3pm

Ngongotaha Lakes v Taupo
Tamarahi Reserve, Ngongotaha, 3pm

Claudelands Rovers v Otumoetai
Galloway Park, Hamilton, 3pm

Jack Sharp

Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.

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