League action is back for Round 9 of the National Premier League in the National Capital and there are crucial matches wherever you look in the latest quartet of fixtures to grace the fields of the ACT.
League leaders Canberra Croatia are the visitors to the AIS as they tackle the current League Champions Tigers FC with the latter having yet to hit their straps in defence of their title and finding themselves some eleven points adrift of their opponents ahead of this contest.
It’s a contest that ended in a stalemate last time out as the league’s leadings corers traded goals with Daniel Barac netting for Croatia and Josh Gulevski equalising from the spot in the second stanza.
Since that draw the trajectory of both teams have been going in opposite directions. Croatia are the only unbeaten team left in the competition having won six and drawn two of their matches, but they have been forced to dig deep in recent weeks, winning two of the last three in stoppage time and their last outing with two goals in the last eight minutes.
Tigers require a kick-start to get their season back on track and the injection of some youthful talent into the team has provided some promise. They have the ability and technical skills to challenge Croatia in what promises to be a spectacular encounter.
The battle of O’Connor takes centre-stage at O’Connor Enclosed as the two tenants of that venue, Canberra Olympic and O’Connor Knights lock horns with Olympic seeking a semblance of revenge for the 6-2 hammering they suffered at the hands of the Knights back in Round 2.
The Knights came out on top of a seven-goal thriller in Round 8 as they held on to defeat West Canberra Wanderers and move into the top four, jumping above the Tigers who lost at Gungahlin United.
Blessed with exciting attacking players who can hurt the opposition in transition, the Knights have been reliant on outscoring their adversaries in a shoot-out in recent weeks with goals aplenty flying in at both ends of the park.
Olympic meanwhile were curled late by Canberra Croatia in the ‘Canberra Classico’, the home side edging out Robbie Cattanach’s team by two goals to one after Elie Darwich had banished the demons of his miss from the spot in the Australia Cup Qualifying semi-final shoot-out with an empathic penalty.
Like the Knights, Olympic have been free-scoring of late, but have often left the door open at the back. This probably means that there should be plenty of goalmouth action in this one.
There’s a crucial fixture at the foot of the league table as Belconnen United meet West Canberra Wanderers at McKellar Park with the Wanderers entering the match currently five points adrift of the Blue Devils.
That gap in points means that a victory, even at this early stage of the season, is almost vital for the Wanderers, who fell agonisingly short in the Cup Final last weekend, as they could potentially fall at least eight points off the pace should they not ensure a maximum return.
That would be harsh on the men from Melrose who have been more than competitive in every match they have played in 2022, including the narrow 2-1 home loss to Belconnen back in Round 2 when a rather fortuitous opener from Phil Borgeaud was added to by a penalty from Maxx Green for the visiting team.
Recent weeks have seen the Blue Devils like Jekyll and Hyde. A 7-1 shellacking of O’Connor Knights followed by a 6-0 reverse to Monaro Panthers. They’ll eye this off as a chance to resurrect their own fortunes. A nervy afternoon awaits.
The final clash of the weekend will see two sides well positioned for a title assault meet at the Riverside Stadium as Australia Cup winners Monaro Panthers welcome Gungahlin United seeking revenge for a 2-1 loss at Gungahlin Enclosed earlier in the season, their only setback in the NPL up to this point.
The Panthers, who claimed cup glory last weekend and routed Belconnen United in their last league outing, putting in an astonishing second-half display in netting six goals without reply, to keep up the pressure on the league leading Canberra Croatia and increase their goal difference into the bargain.
Gunners meanwhile were in rampant form themselves, battering Tigers FC 5-1 at the Australian Institute of Sport and unfortunate not to score a few more in what was, arguably, their most complete exhibition of the season.
Both these teams have goals aplenty in their ranks and are two of the most attractive footballing teams seen in the division. Encounters are usually spicy affairs, littered with good football and goals. There is little reason to expect anything different under the lights in Queanbeyan.
Saturday 11 June
Belconnen United v West Canberra Wanderers (McKellar Park, 15:00)
Canberra Olympic v O’Connor Knights (O’Connor Enclosed, 15:00)
Tigers FC v Canberra Croatia (AIS Grass, 15:00)
Monaro Panthers v Gungahlin United (Riverside Stadium, 17:45)
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