An early season title stoush is set for the Riverside Stadium on Saturday evening as Monaro Panthers and Canberra Croatia, the top two at the half-way mark of the National Premier League campaign, fight for honours and a boost in the chase for the crown.
Three points separate the pair heading into the contest with Croatia holding the upper-hand but, as the goalless draw between the two teams at this venue earlier in the season suggests, there is nothing to choose between them.
Both teams will be without their leading scorers, the Panthers’ Andre Carle breaking a wrist late on in the 2-2 draw with Gungahlin United, whilst Croatia’s Daniel Barac was dismissed in his team’s 1-1 stalemate with Tigers FC at the Australian Institute of Sport.
This fixture has been a standout in recent seasons, with very little to choose at the final whistle. The Panthers are riding high on the wave of Australia Cup Qualifying success, and Croatia, despite not hitting the heights so far in terms of their 2022 performances, are still the team to beat.
Gungahlin United, currently in third place but only four points off the top of the pile, have a chance to close the gap, or leapfrog the Panthers depending on the result at the Riverside, when they host Belconnen United at the AIS on Sunday afternoon.
Gunners played their part to the full in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Monaro last week, selecting a stacked substitutes bench that named Philippe Bernabo-Madrid, Michael John, Misko Naumoski, Jeremy Habtemariam and new signing, Argentine centre-forward Nico Abot.
Finding the correct combination from his numerous striking options will be the key for Marcial Munoz, but it’s a headache that the Gunners Head Coach will be happy to have, especially as his front three at the Riverside were in sparkling form, Will Roberts netting for the second successive match.
The Blue Devils meanwhile came from behind to secure a vital result in the fight against relegation, their 2-1 win over West Canberra Wanderers has pushed them eight points clear of danger. With Maxx Green in good goalscoring form, they will hope to upset the formbook and start a push for the top four.
That top four battle sees a very important match at O’Connor Enclosed as O’Connor Knights welcome Tigers FC with both teams eyeing off the three points, a victory which would see either team end the weekend in a good position.
Both teams come into the match off the back of a draw, the Knights held by Canberra Olympic in the ‘BBQ Derby’ whilst the Tigers came home strongly to earn a share of the spoils against ten-man Canberra Croatia.
Niko Kresic had the Knights ahead last week, but they were unable to build on that and were forced to settle for the point, and Miro Trninic will be hoping his team can find the fluid football that Kresic’s goal illustrated on a more consistent basis. If they can, they will cause the defending champions problems.
It’s hard to pinpoint just what’s happening at the Tigers. Whilst ten points from a possible 27 is highly unlike them, and a defence of the league title is unlikely, the team from Cooma are still in the mix for the top four and are highly dangerous opposition. Expect goals in this one.
It’s becoming vital for West Canberra Wanderers to start collecting points. They currently sit eight adrift of safety, albeit with a game in hand on those above them, following a 1-2 loss at McKellar Park to Belconnen United. Canberra Olympic stand in their way at Melrose Synthetic.
The Wanderers led early against the Blue Devils and yet, once again, were unable to get the job done. They have been highly competitive in every match, have been hard to break down and have scored nearly every week. Yet, there remains a nagging doubt about their vulnerability. They need a win, and soon.
Olympic themselves have eyes on a top four spot and, potentially, could be in that top four at the end of the Round depending on what happens elsewhere. Olympic weren’t at their best in an attacking sense against the Knights and have more to offer in that area of the park. The surface might suit their passing game.
Saturday 18 June
West Canberra Wanderers v Canberra Olympic (Melrose Synthetic, 14:15)
O’Connor Knights v Tigers FC (O’Connor Enclosed, 15:00)
Monaro Panthers v Canberra Croatia (Riverside Stadium, 17:45)
Sunday 19 June
Gungahlin United v Belconnen United (AIS Grass, 15:00)
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