PREVIEW: Challengers try to peg back Championship leaders Fencibles United

By Jonno Ross

Huge outcomes potentially depend on this weekend’s results, and we’re not even at the halfway mark of the season yet.

Photo credit: Fencibles United.

End-of-season promotion will go to the competition champions, but the second-placed side faces a promotion play-off due to the northern regional leagues recalibrating to accommodate the reserves team for Auckland FC next year.

READ MORE: Late changes to promotion/relegation rules disrupt start to season >>>>

League leaders Fencibles United have slipped five points clear, and host Hibiscus Coast (9th), who badly need a win to climb into the top half.

The race for those two spots depends on teams winning the crucial games, and this weekend provides good examples.

Ngaruawahia United (4th) host Ellerslie (3rd), and three points could boost either into second spot.

Onehunga Mangere United (5th) travel to Mount Albert Ponsonby (7th), a game in which the winner will stay in touch with the leading bunch, and the loser faces a slide down the table.

Game to watch

Ngaruawahia United got off to a shaky start this season, losing their opening two matches.

Since then, they really seem to have found their groove, and are one of the in-form teams chasing leaders Fencibles and Manukau United. They have won four of their last five fixtures, which has propelled them into fourth spot.

Last season, Ngaruawahia relied heavily on the Croatian sensation Stjepan Kovacic, who made club history in 2023, scoring 22 goals and three assists.

Since he returned to his homeland, Ngaruawahia must have been wondering where the goals would come from.

Ngaruawahia United’s Darius Palma … 11 goals already this season.

Enter Darius Palma. Having scored 11 goals in only seven appearances, and not even at the halfway mark of the season, Palma looks on course to blitz the Croatian’s record.

A scary thought to bear in mind for the rest of the league is that Levi Clark is finding form with four goals in his last two outings, and Reuben Henderson, who tallied 13 goals last season, hasn’t yet found his consistency in front of goal, and it’s a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’ he will find his shooting boots again.

Next thing on the agenda for the Waikato outfit? Keeping a clean sheet. They are yet to do so this term, and if they can shore up the back, they’ll be contenders for the play-off spot, if not the title itself.

Ellerslie have had a strong start to their season.

After seven rounds, they’ve won four games — already half of what they managed in their 2023 campaign.

Their only two losses have been to teams below them (Northern Rovers and Takapuna), but the Ponies sit third, a point behind Manukau United.

Ellerslie’s high placing has been built on a steady defence — two clean sheets and they’ve only conceded two goals twice — rather than an attack that’s found the net a modest 12 times.

Their defence will need to be at their best against Ngaruawahia.

If form is cyclical, Ellerslie can draw on their experience of last May when in the league and Chatham Cup, they won three of their four fixtures. Their only loss? To Ngaruawahia, who beat them home and away in 2023.

So far this year, Ellerslie have travelled well, losing only one of their four away games.

Players to watch

Hamza Moosvi.

Manukau United forward Hamza Moosvi (26) can be credited for his side’s win last weekend against Hibiscus Coast, scoring a first-half brace, which was enough to secure the three points in a 2-1 win.

The scorer of five goals already, Moosvi joined Manukau from Australian National Premier League side Newcastle Olympic for this season.

He’ll fancy himself again this weekend against Metro, whose form has dipped after a reasonable start to the season and have been unable to pick up a win since the second round.

Mt Albert Ponsonby’s Leo Maisey is in fine form this season.

He started out playing in the U-23’s Championship, and after impressing with seven goals in five games, he earned himself a first-team call-up.

Maisey (21) has made the most of the opportunity, scoring in back-to-back games, making it nine goals in seven games.

Maisey, previously with Western Springs and Gisborne Thistle, will look to keep the form rolling when his side face Onehunga Mangere United this weekend.

Bold predictions

Till last weekend, I don’t think I got a prediction right this season.

I’ll try to be less bold this week and take a more cautious approach … but as many who follow this league know, it can throw up many surprises. Here goes …

  • Manukau United to beat Metro by three goals.
  • Fencibles to beat Hibiscus Coast by two.
  • Mt Albert Ponsonby to beat Onehunga Mangere United by two.
  • Northern Rovers and Takapuna to draw.
  • North Shore United to beat Franklin United by two.
  • Ngaruawahia United to win by a one-goal margin against Ellerslie.

Surely, I’ll get one right?

Last week, I predicted a 2-0 win to Mt Albert Ponsonby against Takapuna. MAP won 3-1.

Golden Boot

Ngaruawahia United’s Darius Palma scored four last week to shoot five goals clear in the Golden Boot race.

English import Palma (25) took to social media, posting: “I’m enjoying it again.”

11 — Darius Palma (Ngaruawahia United)
6 — Daniel Bunch (Fencibles United), Kodie Nicol (Fencibles United)
5 — Aston Burns (Fencibles United), Hamza Moosvi (Manukau United), Sam Tutton (Mt Albert Ponsonby)
4 — Aidan Price (Onehunga Mangere United), Dylan Horgan (Manukau United), Levi Clark (Ngaruawahia United)


Games to be played on Saturday May 4, 2024

Fencibles United v Hibiscus Coast
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

Mt Albert Ponsonby v Onehunga Mangere United
Anderson Park, Mt Albert, 3pm

Northern Rovers v Takapuna
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm

North Shore United v Franklin United
Allen Hill Stadium, Devonport, 3pm

Manukau United v Metro
Walter Massey Park, Manukau, 3pm

Ngaruawahia United v Ellerslie
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, 3pm

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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