By Jack Sharp
Only goal difference separates the bottom three clubs in the Northern League as the battle to avoid relegation goes to the wire.
Bay Olympic, Takapuna and Manukau United are locked in a three-way tussle from which only one will survive to stay in the competition next year.
The trio all have two games remaining, including fixtures on Saturday.
None of the fixtures are against each other, and they’ll be scrambling for any points they can take from higher-ranked opposition.
Manukau United appear to have the toughest run-in, facing Western Springs at Mangere this week and travelling to unbeaten Auckland City in the final round.
Takapuna can increase the pressure on their relegation rivals with a positive result at home to Birkenhead United on Saturday.
That game kicks off at 3pm, meaning Bay Olympic and Manukau would play floodlit games at 5.30pm, knowing where they sit in the drop zone.
Bay Olympic travel to Hamilton Wanderers’ Porritt Stadium and wind up their season a week later at home to Manurewa.
Whatever the results this weekend, the three clubs have the following last chance saloon fixtures on Saturday September 22:
- Bay Olympic (home to Manurewa)
- Manukau United (away to Auckland City)
- Takapuna (away to West Coast Rangers)
Game of the week
Manurewa host Auckland City, their first game since the South Auckland club secured their place in this year’s Men’s National League.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking the result won’t matter for Manurewa.
They’ll face an Auckland City that’s still needing points to clinch back-to-back titles and have an unbeaten record to protect.
Manurewa’s head coach Paul Marshall will want his side to perform well against the Navy Blues, who he led to the FIFA Club World Cup in 2006.
Rewa are on a four-game winning streak and the game will help his side prepare for the national competition, where they’ll face top teams every week.
Certainly, Auckland City coach Albert Riera is not taking Manurewa lightly.
“Manurewa have achieved what they wanted to achieve which is qualification for the National League so they are going to play without pressure and when you play a team that don’t have pressure they become very dangerous,” he told City’s website.
Player to watch
Auckland City might use their game at Manurewa to introduce new striker Oliver Colloty (20) to their line-up.
The New Zealand U-20 striker signed with Auckland City earlier this year but headed overseas to train with English club Barnsley and seek trials with other professional clubs. He’s been listed in City’s squad for Saturday’s match.
The former Melville United and Christchurch United player is back in New Zealand, ready for the national league.
Takapuna ground out a 3-2 win at Bay Olympic last weekend, with Chase Taylor scoring their winner in stoppage time.
I’m tipping Takapuna to throw everything at Birkenhead United on Saturday as they try to scramble to safety.
I think they’ll take a point or better in this local derby, and I won’t be surprised if Takapuna’s Sam Burfoot finds a way to score against his former club.
Last week, Jonno Ross predicted Takapuna would beat Bay Olympic, and he tipped a 2-0 scoreline. Takapuna won 3-2.
Games to be played on Saturday August 26, 2023
Manurewa v Auckland City
Manurewa War Memorial Park, Manurewa, 3pm
Takapuna v Birkenhead United
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm
Eastern Suburbs v West Coast Rangers
Madills Farm, St Heliers, 3pm
Hamilton Wanderers v Bay Olympic
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, 5.30pm
Manukau United v Western Springs
Mangere Centre Park, Mangere, 5.30pm
Auckland United v Melville United
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 6pm
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.