Crunch time for title chasers
Top-of-the-table clashes in the Premier and First Divisions this weekend could have a huge bearing on the title and promotion issues going into the last two months of the season.
Second meet third in the top flight when North Village host Robin Hood on Sunday at Bernard Park where the Rams are unbeaten this season.
Unbeaten leaders Young Men's Social Club put their record on the line when they take on second-place X-Roads at Garrison Field.
PHC Zebras, the Premier Division leaders, will look to open a gap at the top — albeit briefly — when they meet Flanagan's Onions tomorrow night at Goose Gosling Field before the Village-Hood match the next day.
Just a point separates the top three, with Devonshire Cougars, fourth, falling off the pace after their 3-0 defeat by Dandy Town left them eight points behind Hood and Village.
Zebras, still unbeaten after 11 games, remain the team to beat as they chase a first league title since 2007-2008 when Village finished runners-up.
The teams swapped positions in 2010-11 when Village last won the league and PHC came second. Hood, second themselves last season, are looking to go one better and land a first league title to go with their FA Cup success last term.
Both Village and Hood have identical 8-2-1 records, while Hood are joint top scorers with PHC on 26 goals after their 5-0 win over Onions last weekend. Shakir Smith, a late transfer from PHC, has quickly settled in at Hood, scoring five goals already, including two last weekend.
Randy Spence, the assistant coach at Village, said they are geared up to meet one of the other title contenders.
“We're looking forward to it, to trying to keep our unbeaten record at home,” Spence said.
“Sometimes when you are playing against teams in the lower half, when it comes down to the second half [of the season] they tend to put up more of a fight, when relegation starts to come into it.
“They tend to fight a bit harder and are not to be taken lightly.
“We did try a different formation [against Colts] and sometimes that can take away from the rhythm. I feel the best comes when you are playing the best, when two teams are fighting you tend to get a better game. Last time [against Hood] we drew away so we're looking to pick up three points at home.”
Village will be led by top scorer Shayne Hollis who has 12 goals while captain Keishen Bean is another key player for them. “They play an important part in the team, Keishen being the captain and Shayne the vice-captain, so they have a huge responsibility, even though it is not a two-man team,” Spence said. “Everybody has to play their part.”
Cougars will look to bounce back from that defeat to Town when they travel to White Hill Field to meet a Somerset Eagles team just five points behind them in the bottom half of the table. Darren Williams, the Cougars full back, will make the trip but only as a spectator after his yellow card against Town last weekend brought him a one-match ban.
Points are crucial at the bottom half of the table, too, where only two points separate Eagles, seventh, from ninth-placed Town. Eagles, promoted last season, need a win to avoid getting dragged back into the relegation fight.
Hornets are slowly turning their season around and take on Somerset Trojans for the third time in three weeks. If results go their way Town could be out of the bottom two for the first time this season.
Devonshire Colts are now three points adrift at the bottom after a home loss last weekend so will know the importance of a victory over mid-table Boulevard at Police Field.
The games are starting to run out on Colts if they are to climb out of the relegation zone.
They have lost nine of their 11 games, with their only win being the 6-4 victory over champions Town.
Two teams battling for places in the Premier Division next season, X-Roads and Young Men's Social Club, will meet at Garrison Field with first place at stake.
It will be the start of a crucial month for both teams in their promotion aspirations. Social Club, out of the top flight for 37 years, play BAA next weekend while X-Roads, who have never played in the top division since joining the league in 2004, play St George's, BAA and St David's in their next three outings.
Social Club, still the only unbeaten team in the division, lead X-Roads by just a single point. They will be boosted by the timely return of their top scorer Clay Darrell from a one-match ban for the trip to Garrison Field.
There is now a ten-point gap between the top two and St George's in third place after their draw with Wolves last weekend.
The East Enders will welcome back their own top scorer Donavan Thompson for the derby match against fourth-placed St David's at Lord's. St David's trail their neighbours by a point but have a game in hand, against an unpredictable BAA who have been on a good run of late.
BAA travel west to meet bottom team Ireland Rangers while Paget Lions take on Southampton Rangers at Southampton Oval and Hamilton Parish host Wolves at Garrison Field.