Melville set to face bogey team Manukau

Melville enter their first northern premier league match of 2021 at home to a Manukau United team which has won on its past three visits to Gower Park.

This fixture was originally scheduled for Centre Park in Mangere, but was reversed when they were unable to secure a pitch. And with northern league draws almost taking on the status of state secrets this year it is likely – but not yet publicly confirmed – that Melville’s first four games will all be at home, including Good Friday against Northern Rovers and an Easter Monday derby against Wanderers Sports Club.

Manukau have almost achieved bogey status in terms of their visits to Gower Park, though to a certain extent that just magnifies the wider observation that Gower Park has been the venue where Melville have been least successful in the past three seasons. It is a beautiful pitch which proves uplifting for visiting teams – yet somehow not so much for Melville’s own.

with the northern premier league now a part of the new national league structure, Melville are essentially now bidding for a national league presence for the first time since 1997-98. Every season the top sides northern teams, 3 from central league, 2 from southern league and Wellington Phoenix Reserves, now compete in the end-of-season National League Championship. The National League Championship phase takes place from October to December.

Also at stake in the Melville-Manukau match is the Joma Challenge Cup, contested between the clubs, and currently held by Manukau.

Melville will enter the Manukau match in as good a shape as they could hope, given key defenders Sean Liddicoat and Luke Searle will be out for most of the season with summer league injuries.

They played an inner-squad match last Saturday in which Melville Red beat Melville Black 4-2 at St Peters. The good news is Jama Boss popped up with a hat trick, which should put him in a confident frame of mind against one of his many old clubs, in Manukau United.

Boss made three appearances for Melville upon his mid-season return last year but failed to find the net. However he remains the most likely Melville player to score at premier league level, and home fans will be hoping his pre-season goals weren’t just a sign that the team he scores most prolifically against has always been Melville. When he is on-song, Boss is one of the most dangerous strikers in the league.

If Boss was the type to buy somebody a drink – he isn’t – it would be the other goalscorer last Saturday, Birkenhead product Lachie McIsaac, who did much to make him look good. McIsaac is himself the player most likely to challenge Boss for the team’s Golden Boot, (though to a certain extent this is because sadly so few of the other Melville players have anything of a goalscoring track record).

McIsaac is a talent, and the best off-season pick-up, though he does need to work on his heading from point-blank in front of goal on the evidence of St Peter’s. McIsaac may even be a good shout to relieve Boss of penalty-taking duties.

For the lesser-fancied Melville Black team, utility man Joel McMullan put in a shift as a Joe Jordan-style targetman (ask yer Dad) and bagged two goals. It was good reward for a player with a very high goals-to-shots return, though it is harder to see him commanding a place in the starting line-up against Manukau.

Coach Sam Wilkinson has indicated he will be selecting matchday squads on a week-by-week basis, rather than naming a season squad. To a certain extent this reflects the fact there are a host of young fringe players with not much to choose between them.

Wilkinson has the rare surplus of left-sided players, exacerbated by the fact Jordan Shaw has shipped in from the Blue side of town. On the evidence of pre-season Shaw may nab the left-side defender role in a back three, though Melville fans will be praying he can improve his dire misconduct record from his days with Wanderers Sports Club.

At St Peters Campbell Brown was given a spell at right back rather than his spiritual home of left back (from where he scored in the opening game of 2020).

If you were doing a back-of-the-envelope Melville team, Max Tommy, Aaron Scott, Shaw, Liam Hayes, Quinton Kipara, McIsaac, Logan Wisnewski, Boss, and probably Josh Galletly, would all have starting roles locked up, while possibly Brown does as well if he is to play in front of Shaw.

Of 11 other fringe dwellers, it would nice to see academy product Ryen Lawrence and fellow youngster Moh Reynolds get their share of game time, though they would probably be battling for the same attacking role. Jack Portegys is also a valid defensive option, and McMullan an all-round utility. Jerson Lagos continues to improve and could be lively off the bench. Another utility possibility is Ollie Valentine, son of 1997-98 Melville player Tony Valentine.

Meanwhile Manukau will be without inspirational defender Hone Fowler from earlier seasons, and also Augustin Contratti from last year, but have picked up former All While Moses Dyer, who will be seeking to lead them to the promised land.

Manukau are again coached by Kevin Fallon, assisted by Rudy Mozr, who was formerly first team coach at Bucklands Beach.

Melville Squad

3 Aaron SCOTT
4 Davis VHAVHA
5 Campbell BROWN
6 Jordan SHAW
8 Liam HAYES
10 Jama BOSS
11 Quinton KIPARA
12 Liam MOLLOY
13 Leslie KIVOLYN
14 Lachie MCISAAC
21 Raheem HUNTER-ALI
22 Lebon BULAMBA

Coach: Sam Wilkinson
Asst coach: Shane Knowles
GK coach: Neil Mouncher
Manager: Steve Bettis
Team Operations: Seamus Marten
Physio: James Young

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