PREVIEW: Big match-ups loom at both ends of the Northern League table

By Jack Sharp

Three teams have yet to win games this Northern League season, and their task doesn’t get much easier in Round 7.

Hamilton Wanderers host Bay Olympic — midweek winners against champions Auckland City — while West Coast Rangers have to play Auckland United at Keith Hay Park.

The Rangers/United match (3pm) is the first part of a double header between the clubs, with their Lotto NRFL Women’s Premiership teams meeting in a top-of-the-table clash (5.45pm).

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Of the three struggling teams, bottom side East Coast Bays need to beat Tauranga City at Links Ave to get their first win since earning promotion to the Northern League.

Game of the week

No question — the match that could play a huge part in deciding this year’s title is Saturday’s top-of-the-table match between defending champions Auckland City and this season’s high flyers, Western Springs.

Between them, the sides have scored 42 goals so far this season, demonstrating their ruthless efficiency when opponents give them the chance.

Western Springs have started the season with the form of title contenders.

Scott Hales … enjoying a strong second season at Springs.

Scott Hales is in his second season as head coach, and he’s upgraded the Springs squad with some smart signings.

These include a cluster of players signed over the past nine months from Auckland City, in experienced striker Emiliano Tade, defender Aidan Carey, midfielder Matt Ellis and fullback Marco Lorenz as well as another former Navy Blue, Reid Drake, who captains Springs.

Interestingly, all four goals scored by Springs in last weekend’s 4-2 win at Hamilton Wanderers came from ex-Auckland City players — Tade (2), Lorenz and Drake.

Tade, who scored a record 152 goals for Auckland City before his move to Seddon Fields, co-leads this season’s Golden Boot with nine goals in six rounds.

Springs have also got age group international goalkeeper Oscar Mason (a summer signing from Napier City Rovers) behind what’s become league’s equal (with Birkenhead United) tightest defence, conceding only six goals so far.

Springs may be catching Auckland City at the right time.

Albert Riera’s squad head to Tahiti in little more than a fortnight to get ready for their opening game at the OFC Men’s Champions League on May 15.

City are already juggling fixtures to avoid congestion when they return, and they played Bay Olympic under lights on Wednesday, losing 1-0.

A blip? Or a sign that players were being rotated or rested ahead of the OFC tournament?

City have been missing captain Cam Howieson, who is yet to play in this season’s Northern League, and left striker Ryan de Vries out of their midweek squad.

Springs will also have fond memories of knocking City out of last season’s Chatham Cup, adding to their confidence.

Expect a crowded Kiwitea St for this match.

Bay Olympic’s Ronaldo Munoz celebrates his winning goal against Auckland City. Photo: Regan Dewar / Phototek.

Player to watch

Ronaldo Munoz (24) scored the winner for Bay Olympic against Auckland City in midweek, his second goal of the season.

The Chilean midfielder had missed Bay Olympic’s previous game, against his former club Manurewa, which they lost 4-3 last weekend, having earned a suspension for his sending off against Birkenhead United.

In five games this season, he’s picked up two yellow cards and a double-yellow.

That’s more than he picked up as an almost-ever-present in Manurewa’s Northern League and National League campaigns last year.

Assuming he stays out of trouble with officials, Munoz looks like he’ll be a strong asset for Bay Olympic this term.

Bold prediction

I’ll make bold predictions for both ends of the table.

I’ll tip Western Springs to keep their unbeaten start to the season intact, and I’ll tip East Coast Bays to pick up a point, at least, from their trip to Tauranga City.

Bays have become hard to beat lately, picking up a couple of confidence-building draws.

Last week, I boldly predicted Birkenhead United, Auckland City and Western Springs would all have easy wins, with margins of three goals or better. Auckland City won 7-3, Western Springs won 4-2 but Birkenhead United could only manage a scoreless draw with East Coast Bays.

Emiliano Tade at the FIFA Club World Cup in December. After scoring 152 goals for Auckland City, he’s already scored nine for new club Western Springs. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Golden Boot

9 — Emiliano Tade (Western Springs), Jake Mechell (Eastern Suburbs)
8 — Jonty Bidois (Tauranga City)
7 — Liam Gillion (Auckland City)
6 — Eber Ramirez (Manurewa)
4 — Corban Piper (Birkenhead United), Jerson Lagos Giraldo (Manurewa), Joshua Tollervey (Auckland United)


Games to be played on Saturday April 27, 2024

Auckland United v West Coast Rangers
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 3pm

Auckland City v Western Springs
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 3pm

Tauranga City v East Coast Bays
Links Ave, Mt Maunganui, 3pm

Birkenhead United v Manurewa
Shepherds Park, Birkenhead, 3pm

Melville United v Eastern Suburbs
Gower Park, Hamilton, 5pm

Hamilton Wanderers v Bay Olympic
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, 5pm

Jack Sharp

Jack Sharp is a long-time follower of club football in New Zealand and is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football. You can show your appreciation for his work by buying him a coffee.

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