It’s do or die for Belconnen United and West Canberra Wanderers as we enter the final weekend of the National Premier League season as one of these proud clubs faces relegation to the Capital Premier League. And the onus is on the Blue Devils who must win to avoid the drop.
Simply put, anything less than a victory for Belconnen United in their clash with O’Connor Knights at O’Connor Enclosed will see the Blue Devils drop to the second tier and make the Wanderers match 24-hours later irrelevant.
There is a slim chance that a point would do for survival for Michael Zakoski and his team, but that outcome would rely on the Wanderers suffering a defeat by nine goals or more at Deakin Stadium, a result that would appear highly unlikely.
To complicate matters even further, this is a Knights outfit that is desperate for points themselves. A maximum haul is required for the team that earned promotion from the CPL last term to give them hope of a place in the finals, even then that is dependent on Canberra Olympic not gaining anything from their match.
Previous meetings offer little clue as to the likely result. The Blue Devils swamped a beleaguered and weary Knights 7-1 at McKellar Park earlier in the campaign, but the O’Connor side earned their revenge in the return match played at their home venue, a solitary goal from Gabriel Ayuel deciding matters.
The Blue Devils are teetering on the brink. Will the Knights apply the final push to send them toppling into the second tier?
Should Belconnen gain the win they require, West Canberra Wanderers will need to gain a positive result against the League Champions Canberra Croatia at Deakin Stadium in the match scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
The home of Canberra Croatia is not a happy hunting ground for the Wanderers, they have only managed to score five times there in ten previous visits. Indeed, Wanderers have only ever won one game at Deakin Stadium, the Round 3 match in 2021 when a Gabe Cole penalty decided the outcome in their favour against a depleted home side.
What might play into their favour though is the fact that Croatia have nothing but pride to play for and, with a Qualification Final looming large on the horizon against Gungahlin United, and with it a place in the Grand Final and a chance to complete the double, the hosts may decide to rest some of their regular starters.
It will require a monumental effort in any case for the Wanderers to gain the win if they need it. However, they need only cast their minds back a fortnight to a backs-to-the-wall, smash-and-grab, against Monaro Panthers at the Riverside Stadium for inspiration that, whilst tricky, a victory would not be impossible.
Canberra Olympic meanwhile have earned the right to play for a place in the top four, a position they currently occupy, when they travel to meet Gungahlin United at the Australian Institute of Sport on Sunday afternoon knowing a victory sees them home and dry irrespective of O’Connor’s result the day before.
A point could be enough for Steve Ujdur and his group, depending on the outcome of the match at O’Connor Enclosed. A big win for the Knights and Olympic might need all three points against the Gunners.
Gungahlin themselves may already be preoccupied with thoughts of a trip to Deakin Stadium in the Qualification Final. Having secured second place on the table with a 4-0 hammering of West Canberra Wanderers at Melrose Synthetic, Gungahlin can afford to relax and enjoy the final round.
As per Canberra Croatia, the Gunners management may choose to rest some of their regulars, and anyone carrying a knock or potential suspension, and that might come to aid Olympic in their quest. Whomever takes the field though will prove a stern test for the visiting team who lost 4-2 on their last trip to the AIS.
The final match-up is a dead rubber at the Riverside on Saturday evening as Monaro Panthers, comfortable and uncatchable in third, welcome Tigers FC, out of the running for the Finals places, in the Battle of the Big Cats – Part 3.
The Panthers are suffering something of a late season malaise, perfectly illustrated by back-to-back one-goal defeats at home to West Canberra Wanderers and Canberra Olympic in successive weeks. Rediscovering the art of goalscoring will be paramount in their search for form heading into an Elimination Final.
The Tigers have drawn an incredible ten matches out of the twenty they have played, whilst the Panthers have seen eight stalemates against their name in 2022, suggesting that a share of the spoils might be the most likely outcome.
With nothing but pride on the line, we may see an experimental selection from both coaches which should make for an interesting and intriguing night under the lights across the border in Queanbeyan.
Saturday 10 September
O’Connor Knights v Belconnen United (O’Connor Enclosed, 15:00)
Monaro Panthers v Tigers FC (Riverside Stadium, 17:45)
Sunday 11 September
Canberra Croatia v West Canberra Wanderers (Deakin Stadium, 15:00)
Gungahlin United v Canberra Olympic (AIS Grass, 15:00)
|1||Canberra Croatia (c)||20||13||5||2||+35||41*|
|7||West Canberra Wanderers||20||4||5||11||-14||17|
*Canberra Croatia deducted three points