FOUR rounds remain in the North Gippsland Football League season and the finals picture is murky as ever.
Heyfield, Traralgon Tyers United, Rosedale, Cowwarr, Churchill and Glengarry are locked in a six-way battle for five available spots.
At this stage, the only team that looks safe is top-side Heyfield, which boasts a one-game buffer at the head of the table on the back of three consecutive wins.
So who misses out on September action?
It is crunch time for Woodside coach Chris Pettitt and his charges.
After occupying a top five position for the first half of the fixture, there has been little to celebrate for the wilting Wildcats who have fallen by the wayside with two wins since round six.
Dropping matches against Boisdale Briagolong and Gormandale, both of which they were highly fancied to win, cost the side dearly as the leading quartet begins to settle and the highly sought after fifth position slowly slips from their grasp.
With one of the toughest runs of the tail end of the fixture, the Wildcats host Rosedale on Saturday, before critical matches against Cowwarr, Glengarry and TTU.
Coming into the contest on the back of a loss which saw the Blues slip to third position, Rosedale will be eager for a strong performance as it looks to lock in the double chance.
Conceding a match-winning lead in atrocious conditions in the opening term against Churchill, the Blues will aim for a dominating start to the contest to ensure their season remains on track.
Glengarry v Churchill
THE stakes have seldom been higher between rivals Glengarry (sixth) and Churchill (fifth).
Perennial finalist Glengarry has been relegated outside the five by percentage and may be left to rue the ones that got away throughout the season. Dropping four of its opening five games may prove costly.
Coming into the contest on the back of a six-day break, Glengarry will need to start well against the Cougars, who, in their earlier round six encounter, blew the Magpies off the field with a blistering 10 goal to one opening half.
Sale City v TTU
THE gap between the competition’s top quartet and Sale City continues to grow with the 2010 and 2011 premier’s season all but over.
Feeling the effects of a long list of departures, coach Joel Brayshaw knows that the side’s attack on season 2014 starts now and is confident his side team accrue a big win in the closing stages of the season.
While still focused on the games to come, Brayshaw is aware that the final win-loss ledger could determine whose signatures can be secured for next season.
“Where we are at come season’s end will go a long way to seeing who we can secure for next year,” he said.
“We are still focused on this year and winning as many games as we can, at the back of our minds it would be easier to get the recruits if we get the results.”
More than competitive in matches over the past month, Brayshaw described his side’s form as steady.
“We’re playing reasonable footy at the moment, we started well against Cowwarr and then let ourselves down in the second quarter which made it hard in the conditions to get back into the game going into the break three goals down,” he said.
“This week will be big, hopefully we can be in the game again as we were in our earlier meeting before we lost Matt Lutze during the contest.
“It might sound silly but I feel that we have a chance to win; if we play our best footy and come ready to go then we will be competitive.”
In previous years TTU has found itself under pressure just to make finals, but things have changed with the Bombers on target to take part in finals action for the first time in nine seasons.
Boisdale Briagolong v Gormandale
WHILE the match between cellar dwellers Boisdale Briagolong and Gormandale will have no bearing on the top five, a win would be just reward for either team who have shown continued development and improvement this season.
In one of the closest seasons on record, the Bombers and Tigers have dictated matches without posting results, and could have a major impact in shaping the final five.
Heyfield v Cowwarr
WHEN Heyfield and Cowwarr meet sparks always fly.
Like last year, the Saints are likely to fight it out against Churchill and Glengarry in the final four weeks for a position in the five.
Between now and then they have two tough encounters against top of the table Heyfield and TTU.
Depending on other results they may have to wait until the final siren in round 18 before their fate is revealed.
While there is plenty riding on the result for Cowwarr, the match is just as crucial for Heyfield, which over the past month has struggled to hit top gear.
Sitting on top of the ladder standings, the reigning champion’s hold on the minor premiership and extra week break is less certain than ever.