By Jack Sharp
Bucklands Beach have control of their season destiny, needing to win their two remaining fixtures to overhaul Lotto NRFL Northern Conference leaders Franklin United.
They play Beachlands Maraetai at Te Puru Park on Saturday, needing a win to set up a last-match decider with unbeaten Franklin United to decide which club takes the title and a shot at the promotion play-offs into the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.
At the bottom of the table, any of three teams could finish bottom, with Central United, Northland and West Auckland all needing last-round wins to avoid the risk of relegation.
Game to watch
Bucklands Beach go into their must-win game at Beachlands Maraetai with a confidence-boosting 6-1 win against Central United last round, in which leading scorer Sander Waterland notched a hat-trick.
That win makes the side favourite to roll a Beachlands Maraetai team that has not won for six games, and hasn’t won at home since mid-June.
Bucklands Beach won the reverse fixture 4-2 on June 24.
A win by Bucklands Beach means the league title will go down to the wire with a September 2 game at Franklin United, a match that has been rescheduled after the first attempt was abandoned due to floodlighting problems when Beach were leading 2-1 with 23 minutes to go.
If Beachlands Maraetai can find some of their early season form and cause an upset win against Bucklands Beach, it’ll gift the title to Franklin United who have a bye this weekend.
Northland can all-but ensure they dodge relegation with a win at home against Central United.
A win would lift them above Central on goal difference and they would stay third bottom unless West Auckland win by a huge margin against Albany.
After pushing Franklin United close last week, I’m picking Northland will get the win they need.
Last week I suggested there could be a couple of upset results in an important round of fixtures, but I wasn’t brave enough to specify which games would produce them. As it happened, all the games went pretty much to form.
Games to be played on Saturday August 26, 2023
Beachlands Maraetai v Bucklands Beach
Te Puru Park, Beachlands, 3pm
West Auckland v Albany United
Brains Park, Kelston, 3pm
Oratia United v Waitemata
Parrs Park, Oratia, 3pm
Northland v Central United
Trigg Arena, Whangarei, 3pm
Franklin United — Bye
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.