PREVIEW: Northern League challengers can cash in on Auckland City’s absence

posted in: News, Northern League

By Jonno Ross

Leaders Auckland City skip the Northern League this weekend, giving nearest rivals Western Springs and Birkenhead United a chance to make ground.

City are in Tahiti, starting the defence of their OFC Champions League title, while Springs and Birkenhead head to the Waikato to meet struggling Melville United and Hamilton Wanderers.

City’s absence means Bay Olympic are without a game, and there are a few intriguing midtable clashes in store.

Game of the week

Auckland United aren’t where they want to be at the moment.

They sit 7th on the table, and something just isn’t clicking. Momentum is something they’ve yet to experience this season.

United have fallen into a pattern, where when they win one week, and they lose the following week. Since Round 3, their results have been W-L-W-L-W-L.

If that pattern continues, they’ll be due for another W when they host East Coast Bays in the first-ever meeting of the clubs.

For United, this game could be the catalyst for a run of consecutive wins — they’re capable of winning their next two games against Manurewa and Bay Olympic, a chance to take nine points before they play Auckland City in a few weeks time.

East Coast Bays’ Callum Simmonds … his side have struggled for goals since winning promotion to the Northern League. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

East Coast Bays sit one place above the drop zone, by goal differential, despite not having won a game this season.

Bays are struggling to find the back of the net — last weekend’s 3-0 loss to Auckland City was the fourth time they’ve failed to score. In eight games, East Coast Bays have managed only six goals, all of which have come from six different players.

When your joint leading goal scorer is your goalkeeper coming into the ninth round of the competition, something needs to change.

It’s a contrast to last season when they were ruled the roost in the Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship — they were scoring goals for fun — and after eight games, they had scored 27 times.

The realities of the Northern League being a completely different class to the league below have hit the North Shore side hard. The absence of last year’s top goalscorers, Dylan Stansfield and Nicolai Berry, is certainly a factor.

Bays can take positives from a three-game run, in which they earned draws against Hamilton Wanderers (2-2), Birkenhead United (0-0), and Tauranga City (2-2), before losing to Auckland City last week.

At the very least, Bays need to be competitive on Saturday, as they next face relegation rivals West Coast Rangers and Melville United.

Their next few results will determine whether they can defy gravity or will be drawn into a battle to avoid a return to the Championship.

Jake Mechell … 41 goals in his 100 games for Eastern Suburbs. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Player to watch

Jake Mechell (25) struck a blank for just the second time last weekend, spoiling the celebration of his 100th first-team appearance for his Eastern Suburbs club.

His side are relying heavily on him this season. He’s scored 11 goals in eight games and leads the Northern League’s Golden Boot table.

For context, Suburbs’ second-leading goal scorer is sitting on just two goals.

Mechell has built an impressive record since joining Suburbs from Birkenhead United halfway through the 2019 season, and he’s scored 41 goals in his century of appearances.

Mechell’s side go up against West Coast Rangers on Friday night, and my money is on him to score a couple more against a side who have leaked 23 goals already this season.

Bold prediction

Melville United and Hamilton Wanderers are struggling at the moment.

With only one win between them after eight games, I can’t see them getting away from the bottom two this weekend.

Melville United go up against Western Springs, who have only dropped points on one occasion this season. I’m picking Western Springs to return home with a comfortable three points.

Hamilton Wanderers face Birkenhead United, who are undefeated in seven games, and stalking the top two clubs.

Again, I’m anticipating another comfortable three points for Birkenhead.

Last week, Jack Sharp filled in for me and predicted Birkenhead United would beat Eastern Suburbs at Madills Farm. He was right — Birkenhead came away with a 4-1 win.

Goal of the week

Corban Piper’s goal for Birkenhead United against Eastern Suburbs has won NZ Football’s Goal of the Week:

Golden Boot

11 — Jake Mechell (Eastern Suburbs)
10 — Emiliano Tade (Western Springs)
9 — Liam Gillion (Auckland City)
8 — Jonty Bidois (Tauranga City)
7 — Corban Piper (Birkenhead United), Eber Ramirez (Manurewa), Josh Tollervey (Auckland United)


Games to be played on Friday May 10, 2024

West Coast Rangers v Eastern Suburbs
Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai, 7.30pm

Games to be played on Saturday May 11, 2024

Auckland United v East Coast Bays
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 3pm

Tauranga City v Manurewa
Links Ave, Mt Maunganui, 3pm

Melville United v Western Springs
Gower Park, Hamilton, 5pm

Hamilton Wanderers v Birkenhead United
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, 7.30pm

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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