By Harrison Ryburn
Southern League champions Christchurch United host Napier City Rovers on Sunday, looking to keep pace with the two top-placed sides, Auckland City and Wellington Olympic.
With four rounds to play, Christchurch United sit third on the table and one point outside a top-two position that would secure their berth in the final.
Sunday’s match at the Christchurch Football Centre marks United’s third home game in a row, having beaten Petone last weekend, but falling to Manurewa in a shock loss in Round 4.
That defeat to the South Auckland club ranks as one of the upsets of the National League season thus far, but United have since managed to steady the ship.
Goals from Matt Tod-Smith and Daniel MacLennan just before halftime gave United the ascendancy against Petone, before Jago Godden added another late on to secure the convincing 3-0 victory.
A consistent goal threat has been a problem for them throughout the National League campaign thus far, with MacLennan the leading team scoring charts with two, and all of the team’s nine goals shared across seven different players.
Main photo: Dan Maclennan … his two goals make him United’s top scorer in the National League. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.
The team averages 1.8 goals per game in the National League through the opening five rounds but previously averaged 4 per game in the Southern League.
While the National League presents a big step-up in quality, Christchurch have struggled to break down more organised defences as much as they would have liked, in what has otherwise been a high-scoring competition.
Three goals against Petone should have inspired some confidence though, and they’ll be keen to keep the ball rolling against Napier City Rovers.
Sunday’s visitors were the latest to fall to the Manurewa resurgence, losing 0-1 at Bluewater Stadium to the South Auckland side last weekend.
Despite gaining a man advantage midway through the second half following a second yellow card for Mohammad Muzakkir-Nabeel, a Nico Bobadilla strike sunk Rovers and condemned them to their third National League loss of the campaign.
Inconsistency has troubled Rovers to date, struggling to piece together performances.
They hold the record for the biggest loss of the season thus far, a 1-7 battering at the hands of Wellington Olympic, but led defending champions Auckland City for 77 minutes before eventually falling to a 2-4 defeat.
Such contrasting showings highlight their current inconsistencies, and failure to beat a ten-man Manurewa was another crack in the road.
Another noticeable issue is their struggles against sides from outside their local region.
Rovers have managed wins over fellow Central League sides, the Wellington Phoenix Reserves, and Petone, but haven’t picked up a point against any of the teams they’ve played from outside.
Perhaps it is only a coincidence, but they’ll be very wary with four games against only Northern and Southern League clubs to come.
Christchurch United and Napier City Rovers met in the National League last season at the same venue as Sunday’s affair, cancelling each other out for a 1-1 draw in an even affair.
There’s a lot more riding on this one for the hosts though, and they’ll be expected to pick up the win as they attempt to keep their chances of a place in the final and a National League title alive.
Scott Morris, Frewen Watts
Nicholas Murphy, Riley Grover, Aaron O’Driscoll, Cameron Lindsay, Benjamin Lapslie
Louis King, Abdul Khalifa, Mason Stearn, Thomas Chao, Daniel Meyn, Matthew Tod-Smith, Jago Godden, Eoghan Stokes
Jackson Cole, Sam Philip, Daniel Maclennan, Haris Zeb, Joel Peterson, Luca Molnar, Edward Wilkinson, Sorasit Mac Prathumphitak, Jonty Bidois
Napier City Rovers
Oscar Mason, Ben Graney, Kyle Baxter
George Andrew, Liam Schofield, Kaeden Atkins, Jack Albertini, Jim Hoyle, Fergus Neil
Ry McLeod, Ta Eh Doe, Sam Lack, Cam Emerson, Alex Mort, JC Mack, Harry Huxford
Deri Corfe, Jonny McNamara, Harry Mason, Stefan Karajovanovic, Christian Leopard
Game to be played on Sunday October 29, 2023
Christchurch United v Napier City Rovers
United Sports Centre, Christchurch, 2pm
Harrison Ryburn is a Canterbury-based football writer.