When you're one game away from winning the league, the last thing on your mind is relegation.

However, Northland FC's second men's team are facing that exact scenario. With two games left in the competition, the seconds sit atop the Lotto NRFL second division reserves grade ladder by four points.

This means a win against the Oratia United reserves tomorrow at Tikipunga Sports Park would guarantee them a league title, something no Northland FC reserve side has achieved in its 16-year history.

But should the first team lose their remaining two games, they will not move from their current spot of second-to-last on the second division table and will be relegated.

Advertisement

As per the rules of the competition, this would mean both the first and second teams would be relegated regardless of any league-winning effort from the reserves.

The first team's record doesn't make for the best reading with four wins, five draws and 11 losses. If relegated, it would be the first time a Northland FC team has been below the second division since 2004.

If the first win team with both their games - against Oratia United and Franklin United - they are ensured safety from relegation. They currently trail Onehunga Mangere by two points and Franklin by four points which adds to the complexity of the situation should the firsts lose one game.

A strong attacking style of play has been the key for Northland FC's reserves team Rueben Jones (left ), keeper Geoff Bigwood, Jordan Aspin and Thomas Fahey. Photo / Supplied
A strong attacking style of play has been the key for Northland FC's reserves team Rueben Jones (left ), keeper Geoff Bigwood, Jordan Aspin and Thomas Fahey. Photo / Supplied

However the remainder of the season plays out, 2019 has been a remarkable year for a reserve team which was once considered an 'afterthought' by those in the football community.

And the man who took the job supposedly no one wanted, has only been in the country since March.

Jamie Smith, a 25-year-old Englishman, has been at the helm of the reserve team this season as well as aiding the first and 15th-grade Northland FC teams.

His first step towards New Zealand came via a request from a friend and current Northland FC player and academy director Ben Whatmore.

"I knew [Whatmore] from back home and he gave me a call and was like, 'do you want a job in New Zealand' and I couldn't complain about that so I arrived out here and I've been loving it ever since," Smith said.

Advertisement

Smith, who had worked primarily in youth academies for the likes of Exeter City Football Club in England, arrived just four weeks before the NRFL season started for what was his first real taste of coaching at a senior level.

If his timing and inexperience had an impact, it wasn't a negative one. Under Smith, the reserves won their first five games, beginning with a 4-nil drubbing of Unimount Bohemian Celtic Reserves, who now sit fourth after 20 games.

A hiccup in the sixth round against Cambridge stalled their winning run but not their season, as the team went on to record 14 wins, two draws and four losses with two games to play.

While he was quick to heap praise on his players and first team coach Owen Liiv, Smith said winning those early games was vital.

"The first five games of the season, I was still getting to know the boys but we managed to win them, which was more down to their efforts and a bit of luck as well.

"From there, we developed a style of our own and we scored a lot of goals and I think that's where our strengths have been this year, it really allowed us to win the majority of games."

Northland FC's Karl Challenor (in blue) seen here challenging for the ball against Onehunga Mangere. Photo / Supplied
Northland FC's Karl Challenor (in blue) seen here challenging for the ball against Onehunga Mangere. Photo / Supplied

Their 4-3-3 formation aided the reserves in an attacking style of play which can be seen in their league-leading goal difference of 30, two above second-placed Oratia.

Smith, who also worked as a Whangārei Boys' High School teaching assistant, credited his striking trio of Brett Plant, Marcus Crum and Ben Porter for the team's accuracy on goal, but also accepted none of it was possible without their solid midfield and defence.

"Our striking line has been superb all season, you've just got to look at our goal difference to see that, but throughout the team, there are standout performances for various reasons."

The complexity of managing a reserve team in this competition was understanding the first team was the priority.

As the reserves play curtain riasers to the first team, some players were required to take the bench in the second game after already having played 90 minutes.

With players regularly moving between the two teams, it begs the question, why had the reserve team done so well and the first team so poorly?

No other club appeared in a similar situation as across the two 12 team leagues, no first and reserve teams were separated by more than six places on their respective tables apart from Northland, who's first team was 10 places below their reserves.

Smith said the difference between the two competitions was hard to manage, especially for younger players, but he also believed the first team's misfortune was partly down to bad luck.

"The first team have been quite unlucky this season, there have been a lot of 1-all draws, 1-nil results going the other way," he explained.

"It's not been a season where we are getting hammered by teams, results just haven't been consistent enough in our favour."

Whether it be bad luck or poor game management, Northland's first team have been notorious for letting leads slip in the final moments to end the game in what seems a losing draw or a gutting loss.

Despite their troubles with Lady Luck, Smith was confident in both teams' ability and even if the worst were to happen, this season would send a message to the football community about the future of Northland FC.

"We win and lose as a club, it's a group mentality here, it's not as if the first team and reserves are separate entities.

"I think it would be a big signal for Northland as a whole about how we are developing as a club, it means a lot to everyone in [both teams] that we win something and put a marker down and hopefully we can start reflecting that going forward into the first team results."

The reserves kickoff tomorrow at Tikipunga Sports Park at 12.30pm before the firsts' game at 3pm.