It’s been thirteen years in the making but it’s back! The Croatian derby headlines Round 6 of the National Premier League as Canberra Croatia welcome O’Connor Knights under the lights of Deakin Stadium for what promises to be a special occasion for both sets of players, officials, and supporters.
As well as being a passionate occasion, and a derby for the ages, there are three important points up for grabs as well as Croatia, leading the pack by two points, will be aiming to consolidate their lead against a Knights team that have impressed neutral onlookers with their start to life back in the top-flight.
Croatia are the only team left unbeaten in the competition following their 2-0 win over Belconnen United at Deakin in Round 5 whilst the Knights netted three in their away win over Gungahlin United.
The last time this pair clashed at the elite level was in August 2009 with Canberra FC, as they were known, won 5-0. It seems unlikely that the scoreline will be repeated this weekend.
Three days before they are scheduled to meet in the Australia Cup Qualifying Semi-Final the other two teams that make up the top four, Canberra Olympic and Monaro Panthers, go head-to-head at O’Connor Enclosed.
Both these teams won last week, albeit in differing fashion, as Olympic scored four against Tigers FC whilst the Panthers were forced to rely on a late penalty from Darren Bailey to squeeze home and gain the three points at the Riverside Stadium.
Olympic’s upturn in form has been superb, three wins from their last three matches overturning their horrendous start to the season, but it has been no surprise to those who know Robbie Cattanach and his squad and, as even more of his young guns return from injury, they will be tough to match.
The Panthers have injury concerns of their own as well, they were missing several players in their victory last week, and Frank Cachia will be wary of Olympic’s counter-attacking threat. This should be a high-scoring match.
Tigers FC need a response against Belconnen United as they return to Nijong Oval for the first time since a narrow win over West Canberra Wanderers in July last year following their 2-4 reverse against Canberra Olympic at O’Connor Enclosed. Whilst it may have been their first loss of 2022 it has left the champions playing catch-up.
Attacking-wise they have been in good form, but it’s defensively where the Tigers need to tighten up and the potential return of Lasse Olrik, who missed the Olympic match whilst serving a suspension for reaching four yellow cards, would be a welcome boon in that area of the park.
The Blue Devils were better defensively themselves against Canberra Croatia, blocking numerous efforts and seeing an unfortunate deflection on the cusp of half-time leaving them up against it. It was better for Michael Zakoski and his team, but they will be aware they need to start gaining some points sooner rather than later.
There’s one fixture on Sunday afternoon and it pits two teams against each other who were defeated last time out. West Canberra Wanderers make the visit to the Australian Institute of Sport to take on Gungahlin United and will be keen to turn around their fortunes after being heartbroken at the death against the Panthers.
The Wanderers are a far better side than the one point they have suggests but the loss of influential playmaking midfielder Ben Obst, who suffered a serious knee injury at the Riverside, will be a huge loss.
Gungahlin meanwhile will need to put behind them the loss against the Knights at home, a last-minute penalty miss meaning they ended the match with no return from a highly entertaining contest. The manner of defeat was unfortunate, an unlucky own goal condemning them to a loss, and the Gunners will be out to redeem themselves in front of their home crowd.
Saturday 14 May
Tigers FC v Belconnen United (Nijong Oval, 15:00)
Canberra Olympic v Monaro Panthers (O’Connor Enclosed, 15:00)
Canberra Croatia v O’Connor Knights (Deakin Stadium, 17:00)
Sunday 15 May
Gungahlin United v West Canberra Wanderers (AIS Grass 2, 15:00)
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