The top two teams in the early stages of the men’s NPL competition will go toe-to-toe on Sunday afternoon when Gungahlin United, who hold a two-point lead at the top of the pile, welcome Canberra Croatia to the Australian Institute of Sport.
Both teams remain undefeated after three rounds of the season, the Gunners having won twice and drawn once, with Croatia having the opposite record, and matches between the pair are usually high on excitement and incident. The Gunners swept past Belconnen United on the weekend whilst Croatia were held to a goalless draw by Monaro Panthers.
Attacking wise, the Panthers should be able to call on the services of leading scorer Andre Carle who missed the stalemate at the Riverside Stadium with Croatia and his addition should give the visitors the focal point they were missing in that draw.
Action in Round 3 will commence at Melrose Synthetic where West Canberra Wanderers will be out to make amends for their loss to Canberra Olympic in Round 3 when they roll out the welcome mat to the League Champions, Tigers FC, one of a trio of sides yet to taste defeat in 2022.
The Wanderers pushed Olympic all the way at O’Connor Enclosed in their last outing and forced their way back into the game late on, only to concede a killer third in the final minute. Having had an Australia Cup Quarter Final date with Tuggeranong United in midweek, the outcome of that may dictate how they are psychologically prepared for the Tigers.
Tigers themselves needed the three points against O’Connor Knights having come away from their opening brace of games with two points from two draws. A welcome return to the winning circle will stand them in good stead ahead of this fixture.
The O’Connor Knights meanwhile were brought back to earth with their loss to the Tigers, but the coaching staff would have been pleased with many aspects of the encounter, having forced the league champions to dig deep, and they will be keen to exact revenge on Monaro Panthers at O’Connor Enclosed.
This pair met in the Australia Cup Qualifying Round in 2021 with the Panthers coming from a goal down to advance with a 3-1 success. It’s fair to say much has changed in terms of personnel from both teams since that match played in the early part of the curtailed campaign and this time around might be even closer.
The Panthers held Canberra Croatia to a 0-0 draw last week, despite missing some key players, whilst the Knights have been feeling their way back into the elite level and welcomed some of their new signings into the fold from the bench against Tigers. The match-up should be a good one.
As is often the case in football, two teams who will clash in the Australia Cup Quarter Finals Qualifying on Thursday will do it all again 48 hours later in the league as Belconnen United host what could be a revitalised Canberra Olympic at McKellar Park.
How the pair come out of the cup tie will have a probable influence on the result here with the highs and lows of knockout football, and the potential for a place on the national stage in the Round of 32, beckoning for whomever is successful at Gungahlin Enclosed in that match.
The Blue Devils have been poor at home so far this season, losing twice and not scoring a goal, and yet won on the road in their visit to Melrose Synthetic and claimed a cracking victory at the AIS against Gungahlin United in the cup. With so many players from each team familiar with their former clubs, traffic between the two was almost a constant in the off-season, except a feisty meeting.
Saturday 30 April
West Canberra Wanderers v Tigers FC (Melrose Synthetic, 14:15)
Belconnen United v Canberra Olympic (McKellar Park, 15:00)
O’Connor Knights v Monaro Panthers (O’Connor Enclosed, 15:00)
Sunday 1 May
Gungahlin United v Canberra Croatia (AIS Grass Field, 15:00)
MATCHES ARE STREAMED LIVE ON NPL.TV