PREVIEW: Top-of-the-table tussle heats up in Northern League title race

posted in: News, Northern League

By David Larkin

Birkenhead United host top-of-the-table Western Springs under Friday night floodlights in a game that will decide the overnight leader in the Northern League.

Birkenhead have the chance to overtake Springs if they are able to hand them back-to-back league defeats in the match at Shepherd’s Park to be live streamed by FIFA+.

On Saturday, second-placed Auckland City make a return to the league after winning the OFC Champions League in Tahiti.

City’s recent absence from the league means they have two games in hand, and their first league match back is the Dominion Road derby with Auckland United, a match that should test the fitness of their squad after a tough schedule in Tahiti.

United are in fifth place after fending off a battling Bay Olympic side with a 1-0 win in the last round.

They will be boosted by the return of attacker Jonah Pastiroff who has re-signed with the club after spending the last two years playing for US college Harding University.

City won the last Dominion Road derby 3-0.

Eastern Suburbs … they face Bay Olympic at the weekend. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Eastern Suburbs have won some hard-fought points recently, with 1-0 wins against West Coast Rangers and Hamilton Wanderers, and a 1-1 draw with high-flying Springs.

To stay in the top four, Suburbs will need to keep finding ways to win when they meet Bay Olympic.

Olympic have fallen to three consecutive losses in the league, with their most recent defeats coming in the form of 0-1 scorelines.

They emerged victors 2-1 in the previous meeting between these sides back in round 1 but recent form would make Suburbs favourites for this clash.

Tauranga City are in red hot form and face struggling Melville United.

City’s unbeaten streak is at six games after an impressive point against Birkenhead, when club top scorer Jonty Bidois clinched the draw with a last-minute strike.

Tauranga will be without midfielder Xavier Maddox as he serves a one-match suspension for his late sending-off at Birkenhead.

Relegation-threatened Melville need a win, and a partisan Gower Park crowd might help exploit Tauranga’s poor away from — they’ve won only once from five on the road this term.

Manurewa’s Eber Ramirez … has scored eight goals this season. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Hamilton Wanderers may consider themselves unlucky to sit at the foot of the table after a couple of 1-0 defeats to in-form sides Tauranga and Eastern Suburbs.

They need to start finding the back of the net, having scored only twice in their last four league matches.

The problem is sure to be exacerbated by the loss of striker Derek Tieku who has been a crucial player for the club since his arrival in 2018.

Wanderers face West Coast Rangers, fresh from their 2-1 upset win against league leaders Springs.

Rangers have picked up seven points from their last four outings, propelling them off the bottom to ninth place, three points clear of the relegation zone.

Rangers will be without first-choice goalkeeper Damian Hirst, sent off in their Chatham Cup loss to Birkenhead and suspended for Saturday’s game.

East Coast Bays have performed admirably in the last couple of weeks, taking crucial points in relegation battles against Rangers and Melville.

They’ll need to be on top of their game if they are to beat a Manurewa team that was able to convincingly defeat them 3-0 last time out.

Manurewa are coming off a draw against United and a win in the Chatham Cup against Waiheke United. They are placed firmly in mid-table, eight points off the top four and also eight points off the bottom two.

Striker Emiliano Tade (centre) has been Western Springs’ main goal threat since moving from Auckland City. Photo: Regan Dewar / Phototek.

Game of the week

Western Springs have remained top of the table despite dropping points in a draw against Eastern Suburbs and falling 2-1 to a dogged West Coast Rangers side in the last round.

Springs vented their frustration by posting a brutal 7-0 Chatham Cup win against faltering Lotto NRFL Men’s Championship side Northern Rovers last weekend.

Third-placed Birkenhead had to settle for a 3-3 draw against Tauranga on Monday.

They were without star striker Monty Patterson who picked up a red card in their Chatham Cup win against Rangers and who’ll miss the match against Springs as part of his three-game ban.

Captain Dylan Connolly was sent off in Monday’s league match, meaning he’ll also be sidelined for the Springs clash.

The last time these two teams met was in the first round when Springs came away with a closely contested 3-2 victory.

Birkenhead are unbeaten this season at Shepherd’s Park with four wins and two draws.

However, Springs have a solid away record, failing to win on the road only once — against defending champs Auckland City.

Player to watch

West Coast Rangers will likely have ‘keeper Marcus Nevin (20) between the sticks this week as the club’s more experienced custodian, Damian Hirst, completes a one-game suspension.

Nevin joined Rangers from Hibiscus Coast and managed to earn the starting spot ahead of Hirst late last year, playing in goal for the last seven games of that season

However, he and Hirst have shared the responsibilities this season, and he gets a good opportunity to show his form against Hamilton Wanderers on Saturday.

His last outing was in Rangers’ upset victory against leaders Western Springs.

Bold predictions

It’s hard to see West Coast Rangers dropping points against lowly Hamilton Wanderers after beating the league leaders Springs in their last league match.

They drew 2-2 in their last matchup but I’m predicting Rangers will win without conceding any goals.

I’m also picking Tauranga to stretch their unbeaten streak to seven. The last time they played Melville, they claimed a convincing 4-0 victory.

I predict they’ll beat them by at least two goals this time.

Last week, I predicted Springs would get the three points against Rangers. I got that one wrong – Rangers prevailed by a score of 2-1.

Golden Boot

12 — Jake Mechell (Eastern Suburbs)
11 — Emiliano Tade (Western Springs), Jonty Bidois (Tauranga City)
9 — Liam Gillion (Auckland City)
8 — Eber Ramirez (Manurewa)
7 — Corban Piper (Birkenhead United), Josh Tollervey (Auckland United)
6 — Allan Pearce (West Coast Rangers), Derek Tieku (Hamilton Wanderers), Jerson Lagos Giraldo (Manurewa), Monty Patterson (Birkenhead United)


Game to be played on Friday June 7, 2024

Birkenhead United v Western Springs
Shepherds Park, Birkenhead, 7pm

Games to be played on Saturday June 8, 2024

Northern League

Eastern Suburbs v Bay Olympic
Madills Farm, St Heliers, 3pm

Manurewa v East Coast Bays
Manurewa War Memorial Hall, Manurewa, 3pm

Hamilton Wanderers v West Coast Rangers
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, 3pm

Auckland City v Auckland United
Kiwitea St, Sandringham, 3pm

Melville United v Tauranga City
Gower Park, Hamilton 5pm

David Larkin

Friends of Football writer David Larkin plays community football for Auckland club Manurewa.

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