With just five rounds of the season remaining, reigning NPL champion Bentleigh Greens has emerged as a clear favourite to take the Premier’s Plate from South Melbourne after stretching its lead at the top to five points over second-placed Lakesiders. As well as the Premier’s Plate, Bentleigh has the chance to add the Dockerty Cup when it contests the final next Saturday at ABD stadium Broadmeadows against Green Gully.

Last week in the league, Bentleigh struck four unanswered goals past Melbourne Knights, while South Melbourne conceded four goals in a 4-3 loss away to Oakleigh Cannons. South lost a defender to a red card for the second week in a row, forcing coach Chris Taylor to deploy midfielder Iqi Jawadi in a full back position.

In Rd 22 action this weekend, Bentleigh Greens host an improving Pascoe Vale on Friday night.

On Saturday, South Melbourne will have as good a chance as any to get back on the winning track when it visits bottom-placed Melbourne Victory’s NPL side. However, South fans will have to rely on social media to receive progress scores from the match, after the FFV announced earlier in the week the match will be closed to the public, following security concerns arising from incidents between the two sets of supporters at Lakeside the last time these two teams met. The FFV released a statement outlining its decision.

“The match has been assessed by Football Federation Victoria under its match security guidelines protocol.Both Melbourne Victory and South Melbourne have been involved in the decision making process and understand and accept FFV’s decision to play the match behind closed doors. Only players, officials, family members and accredited media will be allowed entry. FFV appreciates that some fans will be disappointed with this decision. The decision to play the match behind closed doors was not taken lightly. FFV, Football Federation Australia and all clubs will continue to work towards providing the best possible match day experience for all fans and supporters.”

While Souths must now battle to hold on to second place, fourth-placed Oakleigh Cannons has exceeded its own expectations this season and looks almost certain to play finals football. The Cannons can make finals a certainty by picking up at least four points in its next two matches, against the only two sides outside the top six which have an outside chance of replacing it, Melbourne Knights, which it hosts this Sunday, followed by Pascoe Vale, the following Friday away from home.

The Cannons’ success this season owes much to the goal-scoring talents of Dusan Bosnjak and Dimi Hatzimouratis, who between them have scored 30 goals in the league this season. Bosnjak has scored 17 goals and is joint leader with Milos Lujic for the Golden Boot.

Meanwhile, in the bottom half of the competition, Northcote City has managed to crawl out of the bottom two automatic relegation places for the first time this season since coach Goran Lozanovski took over.

Following a 3-1 home win last Saturday over Port Melbourne Sharks, a midweek scoreless draw away to Avondale FC in a catch-up game lifted Northcote City a point above Richmond SC. City now has a lifeline and can even try to avoid the play-off if it can overtake 11th-placed Bulleen Lions. The two teams meet in a crucial match this Monday night at David Barro stadium in Bulleen, followed by another crucial relegation battle the following Saturday when Northcote hosts Richmond.

In another battle for survival, 10th-placed Port Melbourne Sharks will be fighting for precious points when it travels to Knights stadium on Saturday to take on Avondale this afternoon at 2.30 pm.

In Rd 22 NPL 2E, second-placed Kingston City has the chance to knock third-placed Dandenong City out of the promotion race when the two clash on Saturday afternoon at Frank Holohan Reserve in Endeavour Hills. A win to Kingston will also keep the pressure on league leader Dandenong Thunder, which slipped up in its first loss of the season last week, to visiting Box Hill United, allowing Kingston to close the gap to three points. Today Box Hill hosts Springvale White Eagles.

On Saturday, fifth-placed Brunswick City travels to Albury to take on Murray United, where it hopes to make it four wins in a row and nine games without defeat.

City has lost just five games this season, and coach George Karkaletsis believes the team, which had a 70 per cent turnover in playing personnel compared to last season, has achieved the consistency the club was aiming for, particularly over the last couple of months. “We want to finish the season on a strong note, but also look at giving some young players an opportunity. We want to combine the two. We also get three players back from overseas. They’ll further strengthen the squad. We’ll get them back to finish off the last month and a half of the season,” Karkaletsis said.

Meanwhile, in the NSW NPL, Sydney Olympic has climbed into the top five for the first time this season with four rounds remaining, after a 2-nil away win at Bonyrigg White Eagles last weekend. Second half goals to Jason Madonis and Harris Gaitatzis secured the crucial win. Olympic now leads the chasing pack by a narrow margin, but with three of its final four games against teams below it on the ladder, it has a good chance of securing a finals spot, which looked a very remote chance a couple of months ago.