Monaro Panthers made the perfect start to the NPL season claiming the maximum return with a 3-0 victory away to Belconnen United on a fresh afternoon in the nation’s capital. A trio of goals from new signings did the damage for the Panthers who, whilst not hitting full speed, did enough to see off the home side.
It was the Blue Devils who threatened first on a blustery day, young forward Maxx Green getting goal side of the visiting defence but lashing his strike off the base of the post when well-placed inside the area. If that was a let off for the Panthers, there was to be no such reprieve for the hosts as Monaro went in front midway through the half.
Jai Selden, who was in the mood for damage, waltzed his way down the left flank and cut the ball across the six-yard box for Nikos Kalfas to slam a first-time effort into the net from close range to out his team ahead at the interval. And it was Selden who was to score the game defining goal shortly after the re-start.
Found inside the penalty area, the winger still had plenty to do, but hammered his shot across the face of Alex Connell and into the far corner. Belconnen’s response was excellent, led by a commanding performance from Nick Zakoski but, just as it appeared they might find a way back into the contest, the Panthers killed the game with a third.
Andre Carle, who had impressed in pre-season, and scored in both the Charity Shield and Australia Cup, was felled inside the area, and brushed himself off to nonchalantly strike the resultant penalty home, sending the ‘keeper the wrong way, for his sixth competitive goal in three outings.
At the AIS the league Champions, Tigers FC, showed character to come from 0-2 down to earn a draw against Gungahlin United in an exciting match to begin the new season. It looked like it would be the Gunners celebrating early as Philippe Bernabo-Madrid got his 2022 season of and running with a tidy finish to pout the visitors, who were playing away at their home ground, ahead early on.
When Leon Michl struck fourteen minutes later, his shot taking a deflection before looping over the head of Deakin Jewell in the Tigers goal, Gungahlin were set fair and the Champions, who had been unceremoniously dumped out of the Australia Cup a week earlier, staring at a third competitive loss of the year. The loss of Bernabo-Madrid with a hamstring injury slowed the Gunners’ progress though and the Tigers hit-back.
The Cooma side are the top-dogs for a reason, and they began their fightback seven minutes into the second half when Nik Popovich netted from close range. Popovich was instrumental in the equaliser as well, controlling a forward ball on the chest before finding Josh Gulevski who slipped his effort underneath Jacob Quinn to earn Ryan Grogan’s team a point on the opening weekend.
The other matches for Round 1, Canberra Croatia’s visit to Canberra Olympic and O’Connor Knights NPL debut against West Canberra Wanderers were postponed.
Tigers FC 2 (Popovich 52’, Gulevski 81’) Gungahlin United 2 (Bernabo-Madrid 7’, Michl 21’)
Belconnen United 0 Monaro Panthers 3 (Kalfas 21’, Selden 49’, Carle 71’ (p))
Canberra Olympic v Canberra Croatia – Match Postponed
West Canberra Wanderers v O’Connor Knights – Match Postponed