PREVIEW: Three sides look to extend unbeaten runs in Men’s Championship

By Jonno Ross

Three teams take unbeaten streaks into round five of the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship.

Leaders Onehunga Mangere United, the only side with a 100% record, host mid-table Ellerslie this weekend, while nearest rivals Fencibles United should account for league newcomers Franklin United.

The third unbeaten side is Manukau United whose run of form will be put to the test by Takapuna.

At the bottom of the table, Franklin and North Shore United are winless, with no points and neither side has managed to find the net in six hours of football.

Game of the week

A year ago, they were both playing in the Northern League. On Saturday, relegated clubs Takapuna and Manukau United meet a division lower.

After four rounds, both are within reach of the league leaders, with Manukau sitting third, and Takapuna one spot beneath them on the table.

Takapuna won’t have been happy with their start to their return season in the Championship.

Surprise results, especially their opening round 3-1 loss to Onehunga Mangere United, and then a 0-0 stalemate at Hibiscus Coast … one point heading into round three was definitely not on their agenda.

They’ve since turned things around, claiming back-to-back victories, with a 2-1 win over Metro, and a 2-0 win against Ellerslie last weekend.

They provided six badly-needed points, and that has seen them shoot up the table into fourth spot.

Finn Dockerty, a summer signing from North Shore United, has been Takapuna’s first choice ‘keeper this season. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

Takapuna hold the recent bragging rights over Manukau United.

In their first fixture last season, they were unlucky they didn’t pick up all three points, conceding a 95th minute equalizer to finish the game 2-2. In the reverse fixture, they got their revenge, with a 2-0 win.

If Takapuna can get the win, the three points would see them overtake United, and depending on the Fencibles result against Franklin United, they could even finish the weekend in second place — exactly where they would want to be.

Manukau United are starting to look strong.

After consecutive draws against Mount Albert Ponsonby and Northern Rovers in their opening two games, they have won their last two, bagging eight goals and keeping two clean sheets, albeit against the bottom two teams in the league.

Manukau might feel they are better prepared for a tough opposition, having played two of the competition’s supposed ‘better sides’ in Rovers and MAP, so perhaps they will be more used to a high-octane, intense match day.

Manukau United will hope that Dylan Horgan can carry on his goal scoring form, averaging one goal per game after finding the net four times the season. Hamza Moosvi has found his shooting boots, scoring three goals in his last two games.

This weekend’s fixture, despite only being the fifth round, has a lot at stake. The winner can put pressure on the leaders; the loser will drop into midtable.

Aidan Price challenges Rayan Tayeb of Auckland City when playing for Manurewa in last season’s National League. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

Player to watch

Darius Palma was our ‘player to watch’ last week. Even though his Ngaruawahia side lost 3-2 to Hibiscus Coast, the electric winger got on the score sheet to make it five goals in four games.

This week’s player to watch, is Onehunga Mangere’s leading goal scorer Aidan Price.

Last weekend, he failed to score against Metro which was the first time he’d failed to get on the scoresheet this season.

Price (20) followed coach Paul Marshall from Manurewa to Onehunga Mangere in the off season, and he’s relishing the change of scenery.

He will look to add to his four-goal tally when his side face Ellerslie this weekend.

Bold prediction

I think is the week that we see Onehunga Mangere drop points for the first time this season. I’m not saying they’ll lose, though.

Ellerslie can be a tough place to go to sometimes, and that could be the case this weekend. I’m predicting a 1-1 draw.

Last week, I predicted Metro and Onehunga Mangere would draw 2-2. Onehunga Mangere continued their strong start to the season, winning 2-0.

Games to be played on Saturday April 13, 2024

Northern Rovers v Ngaruawahia United
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm

North Shore United v Mt Albert Ponsonby
Allen Hill Stadium, Devonport, 3pm

Takapuna v Manukau United
Taharoto Park, Takapuna, 3pm

Onehunga Mangere United v Ellerslie
Mangere Domain, Mangere, 3pm

Hibiscus Coast v Metro
Stanmore Bay Park, Whangaparaoa, 3pm

Franklin United v Fencibles United
Bledisloe Park, Pukekohe, 5pm

Jonno Ross

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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