PREVIEW: Four-way battle intensifies for Northern League leadership

posted in: News, Northern League

By David Larkin

Only one point separates the top four clubs in the Northern League, as the challengers for Auckland City’s crown jostle for position.

While Auckland City have games in hand over their rivals, they face a tricky trip to Madills Farm to play fourth-placed Eastern Suburbs.

Birkenhead United can stay top with a win against West Coast Rangers on Friday night.

Birkenhead will be boosted by the return of former All Whites striker Monty Patterson after his three-game suspension that, ironically, followed his sending-off in his side’s second-round cup win against Rangers.

Third-placed Western Springs host Manurewa who have had a tough time since the departure of head coach Brett McMurdoch, failing to claim victory in their last three league matches.

New coach Dylan Burns appears to have helped Rewa turn that form around with a 2-1 Chatham Cup win last weekend, in extra time.

Manurewa’s Dylan Morris playing against his former club Hamilton Wanderers. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.

Bay Olympic have had a horror run recently, losing their last four league games and failing to score in their last three.

To add insult to injury, they were knocked out of the Chatham Cup by a team two tiers below, in Lotto NRFL Southern Conference side Cambridge.

Bay will travel to play East Coast Bays who are on the improve.

Tauranga City meet Auckland United this round, and are looking to extend their eight-game unbeaten streak in the league.

They lost 3-1 to Northern League rivals Melville United in the Chatham Cup last weekend.

The competition’s Waikato sides, Melville United and Hamilton Wanderers, meet in a derby that may also play a big part in the end-of-season relegation battle.

Melville came up trumps in the previous meeting of the club’s this season, and their form looks better with recent wins against Bay Olympic and Tauranga City in the league.

Wanderers have also improved recently with a win against West Coast Rangers and a narrow loss in the cup to Auckland City.

Game of the week

Eastern Suburbs and Auckland City meet in a match crucial to both teams’ title hopes.

Suburbs need to recover from their Chatham Cup exit last weekend, when they lost 3-2 in extra time to Western Springs.

Their form in the league has been excellent of late, though, with three wins and a draw in their last four while conceding only one goal.

Defending champions Auckland City have not found top gear since returning from winning the OFC Champions League tournament in Tahiti.

They managed a goalless draw with Auckland United in the league before edging Hamilton Wanderers 2-1 in a closely fought Chatham Cup tie.

The last time these two sides faced off was a tight affair, with City picking up a 1-0 win at home back in round 2.

Equal on 25 league points with Springs, Suburbs and City can ill afford to drop the three points with a loss.

The clash at Madills Farm is primed to be an important match in the title race as we head into the second half of the season.

Player to watch

Malcolm Young.

Central midfielder Malcolm Young (23) scored two goals in two minutes in East Coast Bays’ important win against Manurewa in the last round.

His one-two punch of goals in the 7th and 8th minutes of the match proved the difference as Bays claimed a 3-1 victory.

Young’s total stands at four goals for the season in all competitions and Bays will be delighted that a range of players have stepped up when they’ve needed points.

He may just be finding his scoring form, as he also picked up a goal in their Chatham Cup loss to his former club, Eastern Suburbs, the weekend before.

Young’s career started at Northern Rovers before he headed to the United States where he played for Michigan club AFC Ann Arbor, who play in the USL League Two.

He played for Suburbs after he returned and made the transfer to East Coast Bays at the start of this season.

Bold prediction

I think Bay Olympic will record a fifth straight loss in the league when they face East Coast Bays on Saturday.

Bay have failed to recover their early season form, and this has only been exacerbated by the recent departure of head coach Rudy Mozr.

READ MORE: Head coach Rudy Mozr to leave Bay Olympic for overseas opportunity >>>>

I also predict Birkenhead will beat West Coast Rangers by at least two goals when they play on Friday, as they’ll be spurred on by the opportunity to retain their lead on the table.

Last week, I predicted Tauranga would win by two goals against Melville United and that Rangers would beat Hamilton Wanderers without conceding. I got both predictions wrong — Tauranga won by one goal, and Wanderers came out on top 2-1.

Golden Boot

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


Games to be played on Friday June 21, 2024

West Coast Rangers v Birkenhead United
Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai, 7.30pm

East Coast Bays v Bay Olympic
Bay City Park, Browns Bay, 3pm

Auckland United v Tauranga City
Keith Hay Park, Mt Roskill, 3pm

Eastern Suburbs v Auckland City
Madills Farm, St Heliers, 3pm

Melville United v Hamilton Wanderers
Gower Park, Hamilton, 5pm

Western Springs v Manurewa
Seddon Fields, Westmere, 5.30pm

David Larkin

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

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