By 4pm on Sunday, football fans should know who’ll be in this year’s Grand Final of the Women’s National League — but an hour before, it could still be anyone’s guess.
The competition could hardly be closer going into its last round, with any two of four clubs capable of securing a final spot at Auckland’s Go Media Stadium Mt Smart on Sunday November 26.
Favourites are the league’s top two sides, Auckland United and Southern United. If they win on Sunday, they go to the final.
If either or both slip up, it opens the door to defending champions Eastern Suburbs who must also win their last game of the season, at Canterbury United Pride.
Western Springs, runners-up last season, can’t be ruled out either — they need other results to go their way and to beat CF Waterside Karori at Seddon Fields.
Timing’s everything …
League leaders Auckland United have been allowed to reschedule the start time of their game at CF Wellington United because of flight times.
This means they start an hour ahead of their three Grand Final rivals, who all kick off at 2pm.
Will this work to Auckland United’s advantage or not?
If they win, news might filter into the half-time dressing rooms at the other games and it could be disheartening for their rivals.
Alternatively, if they falter, the news will spur the efforts of sides who will have a better idea of what result — and goal difference — they might need to clinch their final spot.
Either way, it makes for an exciting climax to the season.
Auckland United’s clubrooms at Keith Hay Park have multiple wall screens — the club will screen their own game (via FIFA+) and then screen the games involving Southern United, Eastern Suburbs and Western Springs.
What a great way to enjoy the tension and excitement that football brings …
Players to watch
Western Springs goalkeeper Mickey Mitchell was pure class between posts last weekend.
The American shot-stopper’s performance was marked by vital aerial collections, decisive dives, and winning one-on-one duels to deny the Auckland United forwards.
— Joan Grey
Imposing striker Amy Hislop has stood out for Southern United, and she is now up to six goals for the National League after a brace at Central Football last weekend.
A striker that thrives on dominating physical battles and sensing out loose touches from opposition defenders, she is certainly one Ellerslie will have to watch carefully.
— Logan Smith
Auckland United are in prime position but they face a banana skin trip to Wellington United.
Wellington’s own Grand Final hopes were scuppered last weekend, despite winning away at Canterbury United, but they remain a good team who will be fired up to end their campaign on a high.
United may feel a false sense of security sitting in top spot, and I’m picking them to slip up in the capital, falling to a defeat that would see them drop outside the top two.
— Harrison Ryburn
Ellerslie’s surprise win against Eastern Suburbs has left the National League final race in limbo.
Riding the wave of their underdog momentum, Ellerslie pose a threat to tied league leaders Southern United when they meet on Sunday.
Southern United need to win to secure their National League final spot.
Maybe another upset 1-0 victory to Ellerslie could be in store?
— Joan Grey
Pressure does strange things to teams and four of this weekend’s fixtures are ‘must-win’ affairs for those striving for cup final places.
Anything could happen.
I’m picking Eastern Suburbs will get a big win in Christchurch but still miss out on a back-to-back grand final which I think will be between Auckland United and Southern United.
— Jack Sharp
Game to be played on Sunday November 19, 2023
CF Wellington United v Auckland United
Petone Memorial Park, Lower Hutt, 1pm
Canterbury United Pride v Eastern Suburbs
English Park, Christchurch, 2pm
Western Springs v CF Waterside Karori
Seddon Fields, Westmere, Auckland, 2pm
Wellington Phoenix v Central Football
Fraser Park, Lower Hutt, 2pm
Southern United v Ellerslie
Logan Park, Dunedin, 2pm