By Jack Sharp
Cambridge need to beat Ngongotaha Lakes in their final fixture to ensure the Lotto NRFL Southern Conference title race goes to the wire.
If leaders Cambridge secure a win on Saturday, Waikato Unicol must win their final two fixtures to snatch the crown. They play Papamoa (Saturday) and then face bottom-placed club Otumoetai in their final fixture.
Neither Cambridge nor Unicol can afford to lose their nerve as the season heads to its conclusion.
Whichever club tops the table will face Northern Conference winners Franklin United in a play-off to decide who gets promoted to next year’s Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.
Game of the week
Otumoetai get the chance to climb off the foot of the table when they host Taupo on Saturday.
Though they are three points adrift, they have two games in hand over their two nearest rivals (Te Awamutu and Ngongotaha Lakes).
Chances are Papamoa and Ngongotaha will lose this weekend, as they play leading pair Waikato Unicol and Cambridge, respectively.
This could see Otumoetai leapfrog as many as three teams, as they have a superior goal difference to all their nearest rivals.
Otumoetai are seeking to extend their unbeaten run to four games, and clamber clear of the wooden spoon.
Taupo are after their successive win, though they needed an Ahmad Zammit penalty to scrape home 1-0 against Claudelands Rovers last weekend.
The shame is that the Southern Conference has got two sides worthy of a promotion play-off berth.
Cambridge and Waikato Unicol have been a cut above the rest of the competition.
I’m picking Cambridge and Unicol to both win this weekend, ensuring the title will go down to the last game of the season.
Last week, I predicted a draw between Unicol and Cambridge — the game was a 4-1 win to Cambridge. I also tipped Otumoetai to topple Papamoa in their local derby, which they did with a 4-3 scoreline.
Games to be played on Saturday September 2, 2023
Waikato Unicol v Papamoa
Jansen Park, Hamilton, 3pm
Ngongotaha Lakes v Cambridge
Tamarahi Reserve, Ngongotaha, 3pm
Claudelands Rovers v Te Awamutu
Galloway Park, Hamilton, 3pm
Otumoetai v Taupo
Fergusson Park, Otumoetai, 3pm
Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.