By Jonno Ross
With two rounds left, the title, promotion and relegation battles remain open in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.
But this weekend’s games could bring a sudden end to the hopes of some.
Mount Albert Ponsonby must win to stay in the hunt for promotion; Waiheke Island must win to stand any slim hopes of avoiding relegation.
Game of the week
Mount Albert Ponsonby play the biggest game of their season this week.
It pits the best team in the league, form-wise, against league leaders East Coast Bays. Only four points separate the sides.
MAP have had a remarkable turnaround to their season. In mid-April, they fell into a six-game winless run, losing five and drawing once.
They went two months and nine days before they found their next three-pointer.
Since then, MAP have gone on a 10-match undefeated run, picking up 28 points from the last 30 available, and now they have a chance of promotion.
But finishing in the top two is out of Mount Albert’s hands.
The equation is this — win the last remaining two games against East Coast Bays and Tauranga, and pray Bays drop points on the final day of the season.
MAP have added an incentive this week. The last time they lost a game was against this week’s opponents, when they were pummeled in a 6-0 defeat, their biggest loss in more than five seasons.
For East Coast Bays, they have two bites of the cherry to clinch promotion but they will want to get the job done now to avoid adding pressure to their last fixture.
Win or draw with Mount Albert, and promotion to the Northern League for 2024 is theirs.
Bays will again look to their leading goalscorers, Dylan Stansfield and Nicolai Berry. The last time they played against MAP, Stansfield bagged a hat-trick, and Berry scored in stoppage time.
Two high-quality teams with plenty riding on the result … it’s got to be a high-octane game for the spectators.
Player to watch
Waiheke United will hope Juan Cruz Canay can pick up from where he left off last weekend, to continue their fight for survival in the Men’s Championship.
Canay (28) scored twice in Waiheke’s 4-2 win over Metro and will look to be the danger man again when his side travel to Fencibles tomorrow.
The Argentine is in his fourth season with Waiheke and been part of the club’s rise — and fall — through the regional leagues.
I’m picking Tauranga City will go top of the league after they play Onehunga Mangere Unitd this weekend.
The last time these sides met, Tauranga scraped a 1-0 win courtesy of a Colby Brennan goal in the 70th minute.
I’m guessing City will pull through with a more convincing scoreline. Let’s say a 3-0 win to the away side.
Last week, I predicted Waiheke would pick up their first win of the season — and first win in a year — against Metro. They certainly did, winning 4-2, and keeping them in with a chance of survival.
Games to be played on Saturday September 2, 2023
Ngaruawahia United v Ellerslie
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm
Hibiscus Coast v Metro
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparaoa, 3pm
Mount Albert Ponsonby v East Coast Bays
Anderson Park, Mt Albert, 3pm
Onehunga Mangere United v Tauranga City
Mangere Domain, Mangere, 3pm
Northern Rovers v North Shore United
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm
Fencibles United v Waiheke United
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm
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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