It’s the match that no-one wants to lose. The Preliminary Final sees both Gungahlin United and Monaro Panthers a mere ninety-plus minutes away from a shot at the silverware and, whilst Canberra Croatia awaits the victors, for the defeated it’s time to pack away the kit for the 2022 season.
The Gunners enter the contest off the back of a thrilling match against the League Champions Croatia, falling shy of the victory in a five-goal classic at Deakin Stadium on Saturday afternoon last weekend.
A brace of goals from Sam Habtemariam twice pulled Gungahlin level, dragging themselves off the canvas to land a couple of telling blows on Canberra Croatia but each time seeing just why the table-toppers were able to claim their 25th League title, hitting back to send the Gunners into this fixture.
There, they will face a Monaro Panthers outfit that competently dealt with the O’Connor Knights, snuffing out their attacking threats and netting goals either side of half-time, quality headers from defender David Jenkins and striker Michael John, the latter coming off the bench.
John might well be in line for a start in this Preliminary Final, given his goal was a crucial one, his replacement of Nikos Kalfas just past the half-hour seeing the Greek attacker leave the fray with what appeared to be a cork to the thigh.
Matches between the teams in the 2022 campaign have been relatively close. The Gunners having won 2-1 at Gungahlin Enclosed Oval early in the year, a Josh Gaspari free-kick proving the difference, whilst the latter two matches have both finished in hugely enthralling 2-2 draws.
There’s a genuine rivalry developing between these two teams, and both will be desperate to enforce their quality on proceedings and earn the right to extend their season by another week. Both contain enough silk and steel to make sure that this will be an absorbing battle with no backward steps taken.
Canberra Croatia is observing from the wings. Will the Gunners be firing their way to the Grand Final, or will the Panthers be purring at the end? This one might well go the distance.
Saturday 24 September
Gungahlin United v Monaro Panthers
(Deakin Stadium, 18:00)