Wairarapa United’s Paul Ifill desperately disputes possession during his team’s 5-2 win over Wellington United last weekend. Photo/Jade Cvetkov.
By Gary Caffell
Home advantage has certainly been that for Wairarapa United in Central League men’s football competition matches this season.
They have played six league games on the artificial turf at Memorial Park in Masterton and won the lot, the bulk of them by comfortable margins.
The biggest margin was the 7-1 victory over Palmerston North Marist, while there was a 5-1 win over Taranaki, a 5-2 win over Wellington United and a 4-1 defeat of Miramar Rangers.
The only two games where the result was still in doubt going into the closing stanzas were against Western Suburbs (2-1) and Wellington Olympic (3-2).
Never having won the Central League title, Wairarapa United are certainly in with a chance of changing that equation in 2017.
Right now they sit on 28pts from nine wins, one draw and three losses, which has them in a clear second place, just 4pts adrift of pacesetters Western Suburbs (32pts from 10 wins, two draws and one loss), with five series of matches still to be played.
Third placed Stop Out is a further 5pts back on 23 so the race for the title is already pretty much a two-team affair.
For Wairarapa United to overhaul Western Suburbs the odds are they will have to win all five of their remaining matches and rely on Western Suburbs losing at least a couple of theirs.
“Every game is like a final now, that’s where we are at and that’s what we have to handle,” Wairarapa United coach Phil Keinzley said.
“We have to keep the pressure on [Western Suburbs] and the only way to do that is winning, there’s no other way to look at it.”
This weekend sees both teams with what could be labelled “banana skin” fixtures in that while they should pick up the maximum 3pts the chances of an upset can’t be discounted.
Western Suburbs are away to Wellington United on Saturday and Wairarapa United are at home to Napier City Rovers on Sunday, in a match kicking off at Memorial Park at 12.30pm.
Wellington United and Napier City Rovers are currently fourth equal on the league table with 20pts and while they have tended to run hot and cold throughout this season they are very capable of upsetting the top sides.
There will be no CL games on the weekend of July 14 and 15 because those dates are booked for fourth round Chatham Cup fixtures, with Wairarapa United incidentally also at home there against Miramar Rangers.
The July 22 league matches should see Western Suburbs beat Lower Hutt (11pts) and Wairarapa United beat Taranaki (16pts), and the following weekend should also produce the maximum 3pts for both sides, Western Suburbs over Palmerston North Marist (9pts) and Wairarapa United over Lower Hutt, that game also being played at home.
For Western Suburbs the August 5 games have a potential headache as they will strike Stop Out while Wairarapa United should be able to beat Palmerston North Marist in Palmerston North.
Then both sides have a difficult finish to the season on the weekend of August 12 and 13.
Wairarapa United will be at home to Stop Out and Western Suburbs likewise to Miramar Rangers, whose sixth placing on the points table with 17pts is no indication whatsoever of their impressive playing resources.
While Keinzley isn’t predicting that his team’s long league drought is about to end he is prepared to suggest that if they can improve their overall points tally to 40 by the end of the season they will go very close.
“If you go back in history you will find that 40pts puts you right in the fight so it’s not a bad target to aim for,” he said.