Happy New Year!
The biggest football news over the Christmas break was the appointment of a solicitors firm, Buckingham & Greenacre, as coaches of the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League.
But never mind that, the #SSPremiership is back! I'm excited, and so is Tasman United's Paul Ifill – he was so keen to get back to training that he turned up at Wellington airport for his flight to Nelson a day early!
This week's preview is slightly different with a brief look back at how each teams season has gone so far as well
SOUTHERN UNITED v HAMILTON WANDERERS
Saturday 7th January, Peter Johnstone Park, Mosgiel, Dunedin, 2pm
Southern United (10th, 4pts) C+, improving but could do better
In their 12 years in the league, Southern United (previously Otago United), have only finished outside the bottom 2 on 3 occasions and they quickly assumed their traditional position at the foot of the table. However Irish coach Paul O'Reilly has called on 6 of his countrymen and reports have been of improved performances. They even managed their first win in 374 days when they beat Tasman United 3-1 in Invercargill in the last round before the break.
Best Game : The 3-1 win over Tasman United
The Big Question : Why are they still in the league?
Prediction for rest of season : Might manage a couple of draws and maybe another win but that's about it
Hamilton Wanderers (8th, 12pts) B-, need more consistency
One of the league newbie's, made up of mainly Northern League players from Wanderers & Chatham Cup winners Birkenhead United. Have had a couple of big wins, including 4-0 over Eastern Suburbs, but have struggled for consistency. Bright spot was their youth side winning the National Youth League at the first time of asking.
Best Game : The epic 6-4 victory over Hawke's Bay United
The Big Question : Will they manage to get 2 wins in a row
Prediction for rest of season : Will get a couple more surprise results but their inconsistency will see them finish around 8th
Match Pick : Southern United 1 Hamilton Wanderers 3
TEAM WELLINGTON v AUCKLAND CITY
Sunday 8th January, Dave Farrington Park, Wellington, 2pm
|The "grandstand" at Dave Farrington Park The JourneyFan|
Team Wellington (1st, 17pts) A, title defence going to plan
With no pre season games, the defending champions were slow out of the starting gate and found themselves last after 2 rounds, but since then they have been unbeaten and are the league's top scorers with 21 goals.
Best Game : The 5-2 demolition of Wanderers at Newtown Park, Wanderers were lucky they stopped at 5!
The Big Question : Will Ben Harris manage to get through the season without picking up a red card?
Prediction for rest of season : Will definitely be in a top 4 spot and in the finals come the end of the season
Auckland City (2nd, 16pts) B, need to concentrate more
For most teams being 2nd at the halfway point of the league, 1 point behind the leader, with 1 game in hand and having only conceded 2 goals would be an A+ performance. But Auckland City aren't most teams, distracted by the Club World Cup in Japan (where they lost 2-1 to Japanese Champions and eventual runners up Kashima Antlers) they slipped up and lost 2 games for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Best Game : The 4-0 thrashing of Team Wellington in the re-match of last season's grand final
The Big Question : Had I written this last week it would have been how long will Ramon be staying as he had been linked with the Bignix job, but now that's sorted the question is -
Will they get their trophy back?
Prediction for rest of season : Without the distraction of the Club World Cup they will hit form and again be the team to beat
Match Fact : Auckland City haven't won at Team Wellington
since November 2014
Match Pick : Team Wellington 1 Auckland City 4
EASTERN SUBURBS v WELLINGTON PHOENIX U20
Sunday 8th January, Bill McKinlay Park, Auckland, 2pm
|Eastern Suburbs Sam Burfoot makes a yellow card challenge The JourneyFan|
Eastern Suburbs (3rd, 16pts) A-, room for improvement
The big spending newcomers, although this is their 2nd spell in the National League and they did win it in 1971, have had a solid if unspectacular 1st half of the season. They haven't been outside the top 4 all season, which in such a close league is impressive, especially when there is a feeling that they haven't quite hit their peak potential yet.
Best Game : Still to come
The Big Question : Will coach Malcolm McPherson be able to keep his big players ego's in check long enough to secure the title?
Prediction for rest of season : Will not drop outside the top 4, but will come up short in the finals
Wellington Phoenix U20 (4th, 14pts) A+, excellent
The kids are alright!!!
At last, the Weenix are actually competitive, the kids are a year older, have all bulked up a bit, don't get pushed of the ball like they used to, the sports science work the Phoenix are doing seems to be paying off.
They have notched up wins over both of last seasons grand finalists and showed great character to snatch a 2-2 draw with Waitakere United, when they were 2-0 down in the 88th minute.
Best Game : The 2-1 derby win over Team Wellington
The Big Question : Can they maintain their progress?
Prediction for rest of season : Top 4 finish, although they can't qualify for the finals as they are the reserve team of A-League Wellington Phoenix
Match Pick : Eastern Suburbs 2 Wellington Phoenix 2
WAITAKERE UNITED v HAWKE'S BAY UNITED
Sunday 8th January, Trusts Arena, Auckland, 2pm
Waitakere United (5th, 14pts) B, on the right track
The 5 times champions were not really rated at the beginning of the season, but after a mixed start, Chris Millich's team seem to be coming right. Could be a dark horse to make the finals.
Best Game : Their 1-0 win over Auckland City in the Super City Derby, their 1st win in the last 10 meetings of the clubs
The Big Question : Will the sleeping giant finally awake?
Prediction for rest of season : The results will still be mixed but potentially a 5th place finish, with the Weenix above them allowing them into the finals
Hawke's Bay United (7th, 13pts) C, disappointing so far
They have the 2nd most prolific strike force in the league with 18 goals but have struggled with consistency and a leaky defence. They have made the finals in the previous 2 season's but on this season's form will struggle to do so again this time
Best Game : From a neutral point of view it was the 6-4 loss to Wanderers, but for Hawke's Bay United it is probably their 3-1 win over Waitakere United
The Big Question : Will the forwards be able to score more goals than their defence will concede?
Prediction for rest of season : More of the same, high scoring games where they end up on the losing side and finish about where they are now
Match Fact : In their 15 previous visits to Waitakere, Hawke's Bay have recorded just the solitary win, 2-1 in 2010-11
Match Pick :Waitakere United 3 Hawke's Bay United 2
TASMAN UNITED v CANTERBURY UNITED
Sunday 8th January, Trafalgar Park, Nelson, 4.35pm on SKY TV
Tasman United (9th, 5pts) C, shows potential but failing to deliver
Tasman have played some nice football and apart from a 4-0 loss to Auckland, their losses have only been by 1 or 2 goals, although their 24 goals conceded are the most of any in the league. Paul Ifill has been moved to center back to try and stop this.
Best Game : 3-2 away to Wanderers. The only win they have recorded so far
The Big Question : Can they avoid the wooden spoon?
Prediction for rest of season : Could possibly pick up 1 or 2 wins but will be battling with Southern United to avoid the wooden spoon
Canterbury United (6th,13pts) B- not setting the world on fire
They were the last team to be beaten in the league, but despite this they only have 3 wins and lack consistency and that ability to kill games off.
Best Game : 3-3 draw at Team Wellington, coming back to grab a draw with a late goal after being down to 10 men for the second half.
The Big Question : Will Aaron Clapham score more than 1 goal from open play?
The leagues joint top scorer has 8 goals, 6 from the penalty spot and 1 from a free kick!
Prediction for rest of season : More of the same, hard to beat but won't threaten a top 4 finish
Match Pick : Tasman United 2 Canterbury United 1