PREVIEW: Key clash at Ngaruawahia will help sort Championship aspirations

By Jonno Ross

Title chasers Ngaruawahia United and Manukau United go head-to-head this weekend, in a game that could accelerate either club’s hopes of catching Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship leaders Fencibles United.

The Rhys Ruka-coached Fencibles lead the table after nine rounds, four points clear of Ngaruawahia and unbeaten Manukau United.

Ngaruawahia badly need the win to stay in touch with Fencibles, especially as Manukau have a game in hand on both their title rivals.

A draw helps neither side so there’s every chance the match at Ngaruawahia’s Centennial Park will have a cup tie feel to it.

Fencibles face mid-table Ellerslie, while fourth-placed Onehunga Mangere United can gain ground if they get a win at North Shore United’s Allen Hill Stadium.

Bottom side Franklin United, under new coach Tashreeq Davids, host Takapuna and need to start finding points soon, if they want to climb out of relegation trouble.

Manukau United’s Hamzi Moosvi … six goals in eight rounds. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Game of the week

It’s the fixture the two clubs mark in their calendars when the draw is released at the start of every season — it’s the New North Road derby between Mt Albert Ponsonby and Metro.

Whilst neither have had the start they hoped for, the derby puts bragging rights on the line, just as much as league points.

For three seasons running, Mt Albert Ponsonby have become renowned for slow starts, picking up fewer than half the points on offer in the first nine rounds.

But they also have a reputation for strong comebacks in the season’s second half, and in the last three years, they have lost only four games in the latter half of the competition.

MAP’s defence seems to have improved of late.

After conceding more than two goals a game previously, they’ve earned points in a 1-1 draw with Onehunga Mangere United and last week kept their first clean sheet of the season in a tough 0-0 battle with Hibiscus Coast.

MAP will look to keep their impressive home form against Metro intact — they haven’t lost to Metro at home in nearly a decade (the last time was a 2-1 loss in 2015).

Metro got their season off to a flyer with 3-0 wins in their opening two games.

Since then, Metro have struggled to gain momentum, picking up three draws, and losing four matches.

Goals seem hard to come by for Metro.

Since those opening two rounds, they’ve only managed to score more than one goal on two occasions — a statistic that doesn’t bode well when a defence is averaging more than two goals conceded per game.

They need their leading goal scorer, Samuel Freeman, to fire, after drawing a blank last weekend. Before the game against Fencibles, he had scored six goals in three games.

Metro will no doubt look to utilize their danger man against their rivals this weekend.

A win could see Metro go as high as seventh, depending on other results. A loss could see them drop into the relegation zone in 11th, depending on North Shore United’s result.

Photo credit: Fencibles United.

Players to watch

Fencibles United duo and the Championships’ second and third-highest goalscorers, Daniel Bunch and Kodie Nicol, proved too menacing for Metro’s defence last weekend, both scoring doubles in their side’s 4-1 win.

Bunch averages a goal per game, and Nicol’s goals-to-games ratio is not much less than that.

With that sort of firepower, it’s no surprise to see Fencibles four points clear at the top of the league.

The duo are well placed to add to their goal tallies this weekend, when they go up against Ellerslie.

Bold prediction

It’s a top-of-the-table clash between Ngaruawahia United and Manukau United this weekend, and I can’t pick a winner, as both teams are in fine form of late, so I’m going to go with a 2-2 draw.

Last, I picked Fencibles to beat Metro 3-0. I didn’t get the scoreline right, but the margin was on the button, with Fencibles winning 4-1.

Golden Boot

15 — Darius Palma (Ngaruawahia United)
9 — Daniel Bunch (Fencibles United)
8— Kodie Nicol (Fencibles United)
6 — Sam Freeman (Metro), Brodie Putt (North Shore United), Dylan Horgan (Manukau United), Hamza Moosvi (Manukau United)
5 — Aston Burns (Fencibles United), Levi Clark (Ngaruawahia United), Sam Tutton (Mt Albert Ponsonby)


Games to be played on Saturday May 25, 2024

Fencibles United v Ellerslie
Riverhills Park, Pakuranga, 3pm

Mt Albert Ponsonby v Metro
Anderson Park, Mt Albert, 3pm

Northern Rovers v Hibiscus Coast
McFetridge Park, Glenfield, 3pm

North Shore United v Onehunga Mangere United
Allen Hill Stadium, Devonport, 3pm

Franklin United v Takapuna
Drury Sports Complex, Drury, 3pm

Ngaruawahia United v Manukau United
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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