By Jonno Ross
The Northern League title — and its two relegation victims — will be decided when the final round of fixtures is completed on Saturday.
Auckland City go into their last game needing a win or draw against struggling Manukau United to win back-to-back titles, heading off nearest challengers Eastern Suburbs.
A Manukau loss would also see the South Auckland club relegated.
Eastern Suburbs host third-placed Auckland United, and if they win or draw, they could achieve the rare feat of going unbeaten all season, without taking the title.
At the foot of the table, Bay Olympic must beat Manurewa to have any chance of dodging the drop, while Takapuna can ensure another season of Northern League with a point or better at West Coast Rangers.
Game of the week
Still undefeated and having lost only one game in the last two seasons in this league, Auckland City have one last job to do when they face Manukau United in front of their loyal supporters at Kiwitea Street.
If they win, or draw, they will take the title for a third season in a row.
In the previous two seasons, City have won the title with ease, running away with it with games to spare, but this season, they have been kept on their toes and challenged right until the death by Eastern Suburbs – also undefeated this season.
City’s defence has been immense. They have conceded only eight goals, and kept 14 clean sheets in 21 games.
Their strike force have been on fire as well. Led by Ryan de Vries, the league’s joint leading goal scorer with 16 goals, William Gillion, Angus Kilkolly and Joseph Lee have all played major parts in their side’s success, with 38 goals between the four of them.
It’s no surprise that Auckland City are on the cusp of more silverware, and only a massive capitulation will stop them from lifting their third Northern League title.
Manukau United face an improbable task against Auckland City.
Even if they were to go against all odds and manage to win, they still need other results to go in their favour.
United would need Bay Olympic to lose to Manurewa, and they would also need West Coast Rangers to beat Takapuna by at least seven goals.
Sure, there’s a mathematical chance of avoiding the drop, but the likelihood of everything going their way almost ventures into the realms of fantasy.
Manukau might well reflect on their season with some regret.
They have thrown away valuable draws in the dying minutes of games, conceding goals past the 90th minute five times to lose by a single goal.
Unfortunately, this most likely will be their last chance to play on the hallowed turf that is Kiwitea Street for another season at least, and there’s no doubt they will try their hardest to exit the competition on a good note.
Player to watch
Watch for the league’s leading goalscorers, Ryan de Vries of Auckland City and Derek Tieku, of Hamilton Wanderers.
Both have had incredible seasons and are on 16 goals each. They both have one last chance this weekend to claim the outright winner of the Northern League’s Golden Boot.
I predict that by the end of 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon, Takapuna will be celebrating their opportunity to play Northern League football for another season, while unfortunately for Bay Olympic and Manukau United, they will be destined for the Championship for 2024.
… one more thing
Thank you to those who have read and followed my previews each week. Thanks for putting up with my ‘bold predictions’, and if it was the team you support or play for who was on the wrong end of the predictions, it was never anything personal – I got them wrong most of the time anyway! Thanks for your support, and I look forward to doing it next year!
Games to be played on Saturday September 2, 2023
Bay Olympic v Manurewa
Olympic Park, New Lynn, 3pm
Auckland City v Manukau United
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 3pm
Western Springs v Melville United
Seddon Fields, Westmere, 3pm
Eastern Suburbs v Auckland United
Madills Farm, St Heliers, 3pm
West Coast Rangers v Takapuna
Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai, 3pm
Birkenhead United v Hamilton Wanderers
Shepherds Park, Birkenhead, 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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