Friday, 30 May 2014

Autumn and Winter - NPL match previews, round 11, 2014

Friday 30th May, 8:30PM, Port Melbourne Sharks vs Bentleigh Greens, SS Anderson Reserve
Port were never going to be championship material this year, and after copping a rough draw in the cup - they got bundled out by Northcote at the first hurdle - there's little for them to play for in the rest of the season except pride. Or so one would think, except after last week's loss to Melbourne Knights, Port find themselves well and truly stuck in the relegation dogfight, just three points above the drop zone.

Within the space of four weeks, Bentleigh have turned from championship challengers to mid-table muddlers, after a disastrous run which has seen them take just one point from a possible twelve - and that was against Goulburn Valley. Last year's runners up are still in the cup for now - they have a tricky tie against Bulleen next week - but their league ambitions are probably done like a dinner, game in hand or not.

Though it's only round 11, owing to the anomalies of the fixture this will be Port's seventh home game - they've only picked up three points (all draws) from the previous six home games. Expect the Greens to finally pull their finger out and get a win.

Saturday 31st May, 3:00PM, Green Gully vs Melbourne Knights, Green Gully Reserve
Has Green Gully finally settled down after a tumultuous start to the year? Even if one didn't quite expect Gully to be up near the top, probably no one expected them to be fighting their way out of relegation - at least not with the quality, albeit somewhat aged, players in their squad.

Knights ran all over the top of Port last week to finally break a run of six or so consecutive league losses, but still find themselves outside the relegation zone only by goal difference at the moment.

The two sides meet again next week in the Dockerty Cup, for the right to play South in the quarter finals, and a spot in the FFA Cup. Quite where the sides will put their priorities for both matches is anyone's guess, but  with their injury crisis it's not like Knights have much of a choice either way.

Saturday 31st May, 3:00PM, Ballarat Red Devils vs Hume City, Morshead Park
Ballarat are just one point above the relegation zone. Sure, they have their perennial game in hand against Bentleigh, and have the advantage of not having to play South again this season, but if they don't start picking up points soon, things will start getting dicey, even though we're not even halfway through the season.

The difference between Hume's best and worst is probably the biggest in the competition. Their league title chase is gone; their cup run is still alive - and they have a favourable draw in th next round to boot; yet they also find themselves just four points above the relegation zone, which is a pretty crap place to be in for a team that is clearly not short of talented players.

All things considered, a draw is actually a rare occurrence in soccer, but this is where this one's heading. Prove me wrong.

Saturday 31st May, 6:30PM, Goulburn Valley Suns vs Pascoe Vale, McEwan Reserve
Goulburn Valley keep plugging away, but for the most part are clearly off even mid-table NPL pace. Lose this one against Pascoe Vale, and they'll be pretty much sure to join fellow regional teams FC Bendigo, North Geelong and the newly minted Murray United in NPL1 next year.

For their part, Pascoe Vale are this close to being a lower mid-table plodder as opposed to staring relegation in the face. Apart from one caning at the start of the year, they've been competitive in pretty much every game, and even managed to take Oakleigh's scalp last week.

A draw won't be much good for either team, and I think that's what's going to happen.

Saturday 31st May, 7:30PM, Oakleigh Cannons vs Werribee City, Jack Edwards Reserve
Oakleigh were dealt a major blow last week with their first loss of the league season to Pascoe Vale, and now find themselves nine points behind South, and level on points with Heidelberg.

Despite being the only team to have lost to Goulburn Valley this season, Werribee somehow find themselves a smidgen higher up the ladder than many of their struggler counterparts, and now that they're out of the cup, they can focus entirely on staying out of the relegation zone.

Oakleigh lost to this opponent, at this venue, in the cup a month or two ago - after not realising that it doubled up as FFA Cup qualification - but they won't lose this one. This week and next will be as good a chance as Oaks will get to close the gap on South, and a stuff up here

Sunday 1st June, 5:00PM, South Melbourne vs Dandenong Thunder, Lakeside Stadium
South has looked flat for the best part of a month now - the second half against Bentleigh excepted - but just keep on getting the points. Even being swamped for the better part of 90 minutes against Thunder in the cup midweek didn't see them lose.

Thunder have been the most inconsistent team in the league - one week brilliant, the next week horrendous. Sometimes they even decide to switch halfway through a match.

When will South lose? Will this be the week where their winning streak bubble finally bursts? Which team will have the legs to run out the game, backing up after 120 minutes of classic midweek cup action? Buggered if I know.

Sunday 1st June, 5:00PM, Heidelberg United vs Northcote City, Olympic Village
Heidelberg have won something like six in a row, and their two losses early in the season - to South and Oaks - now look like if not quite an aberration, than at least understandable, considering that those two sides take up first and second on the ladder ten weeks in.

Northcote are not the team they were last year. The reigning champs have stumbled their way through the season, but on their day can still push the leading teams. They're also still in the cup, having eliminated Werribee midweek.

This is a local derby which has picked up some relevance and cachet in recent years, so it's a pity that it's on at the same time as South vs Dandy. Heidelberg's run has to end sometime, and Northcote is as good as candidate as any to do it.

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