PREVIEW: Tough round beckons for Central League’s underdog teams

By Luke Austin

Leaders Miramar Rangers remain unbeaten after a 1-1 draw at home with Petone but they will be disappointed not to have made the most of Western Suburbs’ surprise loss and open up a three-point lead at the top of the table.

Rangers are in action again on Friday night, away at Alex Moore Park, where they will be favourites against North Wellington.

The home side secured a crucial first win of the season by beating fellow strugglers Island Bay United last weekend, and now find themselves in 8th place.

Head coach Kale Herbert … Miramar Rangers are the only unbeaten side in the Central League.

Waterside Karori take on Stop Out at Martin Luckie Park and will look to follow on from their impressive victory over Western Suburbs with three more points. Stop Out sit in last place without a win and desperately need more points to ease the pressure.

Napier City Rovers captain Jim Hoyle … in his 10th season with the club.

Saturday’s final game sees last season’s top two meet at Wakefield Park.

Wellington Olympic appear to be back to their best after two consecutive victories and now find themselves only one point off top spot.

The Wellington Phoenix Reserves have endured a tough start to their campaign as their refreshed and inexperienced squad continues to adjust to Central League football.

Olympic narrowly won both fixtures against the Phoenix in 2023 but it would not be a surprise to see a bigger scoreline in favour of the Greeks this weekend.

The final game of the round takes place at Bluewater Stadium as Island Bay United make the trip north to take on the in-form Napier City Rovers.

The Blues have quickly moved on from an opening-round loss by winning three games comfortably on the bounce and sit only one point behind leaders Miramar.

The Island Bay defence may be in for a tough afternoon dealing with Swedish-Kiwi forward Oscar Faulds, who has found the back of the net eight times in his last three games.

Game of the week

Petone welcome Western Suburbs to Memorial Park on Saturday in a game which could really go either way.

Petone came from behind to earn a valuable point at David Farrington Park last weekend, whereas Wests fell to a disappointing loss in their first home game of the season.

It will be interesting to see whether Wests can get back on track after such a promising start to their campaign or whether Petone can take more points off heavyweight opposition.

Fans will be able to follow the action from afar as this game will be live-streamed on FIFA +.

Player to watch

Petone’s Stjepan Stipuric.

After losing 2023 Central League MVP and Golden Boot Matt Brazier to Christchurch United in the offseason, Petone needed a new forward to step up as their main man.

New signing Stjepan Stipuric (23) has been handed the starting striker role but has had a relatively quiet start to the campaign, with a penalty in round 2 his only contribution so far.

Stipuric was interestingly signed from Torslanda IK, a 3rd division Swedish club with several Kiwi players and coached by former Eastern Suburbs and Olé Academy coach Declan Edge.

Keep an eye on the Swedish striker this Saturday to see if he can find the back of the net and find his form in the Central League.

Bold Prediction

The current top three will be licking their lips looking at their fixtures this weekend.

I’m backing Miramar, Olympic and Napier to all win by 3+ goals in a tough round for the underdog.

Goal of the week

Lachlan Candy’s goal for Waterside Karori was voted Goal of the Week by NZ Football’s social media followers:

Golden Boot

8 — Lucas Meek (Western Suburbs), Oscar Faulds (Napier City Rovers)
5 — Hamish Watson (Wellington Olympic)
3 — Jack O’Connor (Petone), Jesse Randall (Wellington Olympic), Jonny McNamara (Napier City Rovers), Kaelin Nguyen (Wellington Olympic), Luke Supyk (Wellington Phoenix)

Wellington Olympic striker Hamish Watson … scored five goals in four rounds. Photo credit: Phototek.


Game to be played on Friday April 26, 2024

Central League

North Wellington v Miramar Rangers
Alex Moore Park, Johnsonville, 7.15pm

Games to be played on Saturday March 23, 2024

Waterside Karori v Stop Out
Martin Luckie Park, Berhampore, 2.30pm

Petone v Western Suburbs
Petone Memorial Park, Petone, 3pm

Wellington Olympic v Wellington Phoenix Reserves
Wakefield Park, Island Bay, 3.45pm

Game to be played on Sunday April 28, 2024

Napier City Rovers v Island Bay United
Bluewater Stadium, Napier, 2pm

Luke Austin

Luke Austin is a Wellington-based football fan and volunteer, who plays for Island Bay, and follows the Central League.

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