By Jonno Ross
Due to Chatham Cup fixtures, Round 20 of the Northern League will stretch over a five-day spell, with all but two games to be played under floodlights.
Western Springs and Auckland United get the round underway with a Friday night match at Seddon Fields.
Two games on Saturday will help decide which two clubs will be relegated to next year’s Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.
Bottom side Manukau United have a tough home fixture against Manurewa, while relegation-threatened Bay Olympic and Takapuna play for their futures.
The round wraps up with floodlit games hosted by West Coast Rangers (Tuesday) and Birkenhead United (Wednesday).
Here’s how Round 20 shapes:
Game of the week
Bay Olympic earned themselves an unexpected but extremely valuable point last weekend in their 1-1 draw with Eastern Suburbs.
While their form hasn’t been the greatest this season, they have managed to stay outside the relegation zone … just.
Last week’s draw was the second in a row for Olympic –— a week before, they picked up the same result against Melville United.
Those two points could be vital ahead of Saturday’s fixture against Takapuna.
Even if Olympic lose, they would hold their table position, level on points with 11th-placed Takapuna, but with a superior goal difference.
Bay Olympic haven’t won a game in 11 matches — of those 11, they’ve picked up three draws and lost the rest.
Tellingly, the last time they picked up all three points was in the reverse fixture, when Olympic beat Takapuna 2-1, thanks to goals from Deandre Vollenhoven, and Olympics’ leading goalscorer, Ibrahim Nadir.
It’s do-or-die time for Takapuna.
To stay in the Northern League, they have to win this weekend.
A loss would require them to win their remaining games against Birkenhead United and West Coast Rangers, and hope Bay Olympic don’t pick up any more points — and they would have to make up a -8 goal difference.
I know it’s football, and anything can happen, but with the odds so heavily stacked against them, a loss this weekend would surely destine Takapuna to the Men’s Championship in 2024.
Chris Milicich’s boys need a miracle to stay up; a win on Saturday at least keeps the dream alive.
Player to watch
I expect Josh Redfern to add to his 10 season goals for Auckland United on Friday night against Western Springs.
Last weekend, Redfern (22) scored a double in United’s 4-0 win over West Coast Rangers, helping his team secure a another season of National League football.
This week I’m going extra bold. I’m picking Takapuna to go against the odds when they play Bay Olympic on Saturday night.
Taka currently sit in the relegation zone, three points behind Olympic — this is their cup final. I’m going to say 2-0 in favour of Takapuna.
Last week, I predicted the top four teams would be as good as sorted, tipping a 3-2 victory to Manurewa over Western Springs. Manurewa got the job done with a 1-0 win.
Game to be played on Friday August 18, 2023
Western Springs v Auckland United
Seddon Fields, Westmere, 7.30pm
Games to be played on Saturday August 19, 2023
Auckland City v Hamilton Wanderers
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 3pm
Bay Olympic v Takapuna
Olympic Park, New Lynn, 3pm
Manukau United v Manurewa
Mangere Centre Park, Mangere, 5.30pm
Game to be played on Tuesday August 22, 2023
West Coast Rangers v Melville United
Fred Taylor Park, Auckland, 7.30pm
Game to be played on Wednesday August 23, 2023
Birkenhead United v Eastern Suburbs
Shepherds Park, Auckland, 7.30pm
Friends of Football writer Jonno Ross is a former New Zealand U-20 goalkeeper who is the first team manager for Mount Albert Ponsonby. He supports the All Whites, the Football Ferns, the Wellington Phoenix and Arsenal.
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