A stoppage time penalty calmly converted by midfielder Angus Bailey gave ten-man West Canberra Wanderers a remarkable come from behind 3-2 victory over Belconnen United to shift them off the bottom of the table with six rounds remaining.
The Blue Devils sunk to the bottom of the table at the worst possible time having conceded twice with the numerical advantage on an astonishing, and potentially pivotal, afternoon at Melrose Synthetic.
Things couldn’t have started better for the visitors who went ahead after only ninety seconds as leasing scorer Maxx Green reacted fastest as Wanderers’ goalkeeper Jakeb Wiseman was beaten to a cross, Green alert to nod in his eighth goal of the season.
But the leas lasted just four minutes as Jackson Paesler squared for Babin Paudyal to sweep home. Izach Clements then cleared a Paudyal effort off the line and Bailey struck a post with a free-kick as the Wanderers pushed for the lead.
However, it would be Belconnen who would restore their advantage as former Wanderer Beau Harvey crossed low from the left flank allowing Chris Reay to stab a shot into the net off the base of Wiseman’s left-hand post and, when Shae Thornton was sent off following a bout of push-and-shove in midfield, the Blue Devils held the upper hand.
And yet, it was the team at the bottom of the table that struck. Belconnen may feel that ‘keeper Izac Alves was fouled in the build-up before Blaise Vlazlovski slotted into the empty net. There could be little doubt about the penalty that was awarded in the 92nd minute as Paudyal was up-ended by Tyson Livermore inside the box.
Bailey kept his nerve and slotted home down the middle to record a huge victory and allow West Canberra to leap up into 6th place with Canberra Olympic inactive.
At Deakin Stadium the league leaders Canberra Croatia underlined their championship credentials and took another huge leap towards the champions crown as they dismantled Tigers FC 7-0 in a consummate display that wouldn’t have flattered them had they managed to reach double figures.
Croatia were simply irresistible and but for Tigers goalkeeper Jakob Cole making two superb saves to deny Stephen Domenici and Hristjan Tanoski, plus Nik Taneski wasting two glorious openings alongside Domenici hitting the bar, the hosts could have been seven or eight clear by the half-time whistle.
As it was, they had to settle for four. Taneski spun to fire home a low shot underneath Cole in the 8th minute to open the scoring and it was barely three minutes later when Matej Busek finished off one of the moves of the season, firing in off the post to complete a sensational attack as Croatia started brightly.
Incredibly, by the 20th minute mark they were four up. Luke Pilkington smashed in the third, a stunning drive from outside the area that left Cole with no chance, before Busek clipped home a well-taken fourth, his second of the contest as the Tigers were swept aside in a red flood.
There was another two-goal burst in the second half, Taneski racing clear and finishing adroitly with the outside of the right foot for his fifth of the campaign before Tanoski gloriously volleyed in off a Domenici flick as Croatia began to play some party football against their beleaguered opponents.
Golden Boot leader Daniel Barac was able to extend his tally to eleven for the season in stoppage time, allowed the freedom of the penalty area to pick his spot and round off a wonderful evening for the title chasers.
A rip-roaring match at Hawker Football Centre ended honours even as Gungahlin United and Monaro Panthers shared four goals in an exciting 2-2 draw. The Panthers twice needed to come from behind to earn a point which maintained the status quo on the table as both slipped further behind Canberra Croatia.
The Gunners got off to a flier and had already warned the Panthers of their intent off a set-piece when Niko Abot went close, only for the Argentinean to meet a second corner in the third minute and flick a header across goal and into the far corner of the net.
Panthers’ response was superb. Gabe Cole hadn’t scored for club since his move from West Canberra Wanderers but picked the time to do so, unleashing a ferocious hit from outside the area that flashed past Jacob Quinn and into the back of net for a thunderous equalising goal.
The start of the second half mirrored the first as Gunners hit the front, this time inside twenty seconds. Substitute Will Roberts, rushed into action when it became clear that Leon Michl was unable to continue, ran at the defence and cut inside to curl a cracking shot past Jordan Thurtell for his fifth league goal of a productive year.
Both teams had chances to add to their tally throughout, Thurtell having made a couple of stupendous stops in the opening 45 minutes, one from Jack Green on his 150th appearance was especially noteworthy.
But Panthers managed to find a leveller with seven minutes to play. Robert Tkatchenko handled inside the area and Cole slotted home his second of the game from the spot to bring the game all-square.
Tkatchenko made up for his faux pas with an outstanding goal line block from the last kick of the contest as Seb Woods, an early Monaro change for the stricken Amilio Kista, blasted a strike that was destined for the back of the net.
The match at O’Connor Enclosed between O’Connor Knights and Canberra Olympic was postponed.
Saturday 6 August
West Canberra Wanderers 3 (Paudyal 6’, Vlazlovski 80’, Bailey 90+2’ (p)) Belconnen United 2 (Green 2’, Reay 52’)
O’Connor Knights v Canberra Olympic – Match Postponed
Canberra Croatia 7 (Taneski 8’, 59’, Busek 11’, 20’, Pilkington 24’, Tanoski 61’, Barac 90+2’) Tigers FC 0
Sunday 7 August
Gungahlin United 2 (Abot 3’, Roberts 46’) Monaro Panthers 2 (Cole 6’, 83’ (p))
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