PREVIEW: Fixture schedule conjures tight contests in Northern Conference

By Jack Sharp

The vagaries of the fixture schedule have conjured a set of games where every team meets their nearest rivals in this weekend’s Lotto NRFL Northern Conference.

First plays second, third plays fourth … and so on, right down the table.

It should mean four hard-fought games with consequences at both ends of the ladder.

Game of the week

Nothing tastier this week than the top-of-the-table match between Waiheke Island and Waitemata.

Only goal difference separates them after six rounds, and Saturday’s game could well become a key factor in the end-of-season reckoning.

Waiheke United have certainly turned things around after two seasons of poor results, and eventual relegation to the Championship.

Their resurgence has been built around a tight defence — only four goals conceded this year — and their form was franked last weekend when they beat the well-performing Northland side 2-0 on the road.

Waitemata saw off Beachlands Maraetai 4-1 last round, and will have the benefit of home support.

Don’t expect a goal feast on Saturday, but enjoy two good teams who are going to be tested.

Nico Vanina … his return to Waiheke Island has helped the club’s resurgence. Photo: Jackie Tran Van / Phototek.

Player to watch

Striker Nico Vanina (31) was a big part of Waiheke United’s rise up the divisions as they won promotion to the Northern League.

But he moved to Birkenhead United last season, and his departure left Waiheke struggling for goals.

His return this season has coincided with the Hauraki Gulf club’s turnaround.

Vanina has been ever-present this season, scoring four goals in six rounds.

His experience and eye for goal will be needed when Waiheke face Waitemata at McLeod Park.

Bold prediction

Former Metro head coach Scott MacKay turned up in Te Atatu’s dugout for last weekend’s match against Bucklands Beach, and the side registered their second win of the season, beating Bucklands Beach 2-0.

Playing Albany United at Rosedale Park won’t be easy, but I suspect Te Atatu could take a point, at least, from Saturday’s match.

Golden Boot

6 — Mark Giles (Beachlands Maraetai)
4 — Adam Hargood (Waitemata), Sander Waterland (Bucklands Beach), James Chamberlain-Barlow (Albany United), Shane Tanner (Waitemata), Nico Vanina (Waiheke United)
3 — Andy Kapteyn (Oratia United), Ethan Carter (Northland), Fumiya Ito (Northland), Joshua Smith (Bucklands Beach), Ramon Lindner (Waiheke United), Harry Murphy (Waitemata)


Games to be played on Saturday May 25, 2024

Waitemata v Waiheke United
McLeod Park, Te Atatu South, 3pm

Bucklands Beach v Northland
Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

Albany United v Te Atatu
Rosedale Park, Albany, 3pm

Beachlands Maraetai v Oratia United
Te Puru Park, Beachlands, 3pm

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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