With only 3 games left in the regular season and 4 points covering the top 6 teams the finish to Stirling Sports Premiership is shaping up to be a cracker.
I was doing previews before each round but that stopped due to christmas, moving house and some generally laziness. So here is a preview of each teams run in
|Auckland City with the Charity Cup The JourneyFan|
Auckland City have lost 3 games this season the most they have lost in a season since 2008-09, when they lost 5 (but still were champions!). They have only conceded 8 goals all season but it has been the other end of the park where they have struggled - it may seem strange to say this about a team that has scored 25 goals but 16 of them have come in 4 games. The usually reliable Ryan De Vries has not been hitting the net, and Ramon Tribuletiex's rotation policy means Emilano Tade hasn't had as many games as he perhaps should have as he is a lot more clinical at finishing than Portuguese striker Joao Moreira.
They should pick up 6 points from Wanderers and Southern before 2 tricky derby games to round out the season.
MY PICK - They will finish in the top spot, but how they go in one off games in the finals series really is anybody's guess as they have shown that they are vulnerable when they go behind
|David Farrington Park "grandstand" The JourneyFan|
The defending champions can be slow starters but when they hit form they can be devastating as Waitakere United found out last week when they were hammered 7-2
An easy run in playing the bottom 2 before a tough last game away to Canterbury United. In between they will be traveling to Kone in New Caledonia for the Oceania Champions League group stage.
MY PICK - They will get 7 points from their last 3 games and finish on 34 points, unfortunately despite having a superior goal difference to Eastern Suburbs this won't matter as the top 4 placings are decided by head to head records rather than goal difference (but the rest of the league is decided on goal difference - go figure!). Team Wellington's games against Eastern Suburbs produced a 0-0 draw and a 3-1 loss so on my picks they will finish 3rd
|Eastern Suburbs not missing Sam Burfoot's yellow cards The JourneyFan|
The only team to have been in the top 4 all season, even a 4 game winless streak couldn't move them out of a final position. Lost a couple of players in the transfer window including Sam Burfoot, but also signed a few so it doesn't seem to have effected them.
MY PICK - They will get 7 points from their last 3 games and finish on 34 points like Team Wellington and get the home semi-final due to their better head to head record
|Waitakere United's Julyann Collett in almost the best strip in the league The JourneyFan|
While the season isn't over yet, it feels as if Waitakere United will look back at last week's game against Team Wellington and say that's when our season ended. Being 2-0 up after 20 minutes and looking like a team that could easily win the championship to finish on the end of a club record hiding of 7-2 will take some coming back from. If they can do it it will be a huge testament to the players and coach Chris Millich, but I think it will be a step too far for them.
MY PICK -They will just miss out on a top 4 spot
|Andre de Jong (OK from last season but don't have any pic of Canty this season) The JourneyFan|
A tough run in, but they do have the advantage of 2 home games. While Aaron Clapham is a great player, Canterbury do tend to over rely on him and everything seems to have to go through him, he is one of the top scorers in the league but 7 of his 10 goals have come from set pieces (6 pens and a free kick)
MY PICK - They will be left ruing the dropped points against the leagues cellar dwellers, Southern United, Tasman United and Hamilton Wanderers
HAWKE'S BAY UNITED
|The impressive Josh Hill makes a save The JourneyFan|
Say what you like about twice sent off coach Brent Angell's touchline antics, there is no denying he is a great coach having taken Hawke's Bay United to a grand final and a 2nd place finish in his 2 years in charge. He obviously inspires loyalty in his players, (why else would captain Finn Milne come out with the ridiculous statement that officials in NZ aren't "mature" enough to handle him?) and he gets the best out of them. Yet with no great changes to the team from last season they were not really rated as a contender and can be seen as a bit of a dark horse. Also have been helped by some outstanding goalkeeping displays from the young Josh Hill.
MY PICK - Have probably the easiest run in of the top 6 and should have no problem picking up 9 points and sneak into 4th place and the finals
|Ollie Whyte & Luke Tounge The JourneyFan|
Had a great start to the season and at last are competitive in the league. Beaten both Team Wellington and Auckland City this season. Have some promising players coming through such as Sapreet Singh & Ollie Whyte. Losing the impressive Joe Bell to an American University was a blow but it has been a pretty decent season for them
Wanderers were inconsistent at the start of the season, they found some consistency in the 2nd part of the season unfortunately for them it has been in losing, they have now gone 8 games without a win and have conceded 39 goals - the worst in the league. The team is largely made up of players from the coaches winter clubs, Mark Cossey's Hamilton Wanderers and Paul Hobson's Birkenhead United and it looks as if the step up from the Northern League is just step too far for them at present. They will need some drastic action if they are to be a contender for next season.
|Ermal Hadjari in the best strip in the league The JourneyFan|
While most people expected successful Nelson College & Nelson Falcon's youth coach, Davor Tavich to be given the coaching reins. Tasman surprised all by appointing Englishman Richard Anderson. Things didn't go great, although apart from a 4-0 loss at Auckland City, Tasman's losses were by only 1 or 2 goals. Anderson's strict adherence to a 3-5-2 formation led to disillusionment with the players, and when he was summoned to discuss it he never turned up, the club learning later via Social Media that he was back in England!
Southern United have only survived in the league due to their geographical position and the whole mindset in Southern Football needs to change. Thankfully it seems to be happening with the "Irish" invasion. Coach Paul O'Reilly has the team playing with structure and purpose that has been lacking in previous season's, they even managed 3 wins in a row. It's small steps but the fact the Irish imports are also working for FootballSouth hopefully means they will be sticking around and hopefully make Southern competitive again.