The Easter break may have come at the wrong time for some of the early pace-setters in the National Premier League but there is no doubt that it will have allowed all clubs to reassess where they are at and prepare for the eagerly anticipated Round 3 set of fixtures, all of which will be played on Saturday afternoon.
Former league leaders Gungahlin United, they were top until Canberra Croatia’s 8-0 shellacking of Canberra Olympic, will set out to regain their advantage at the top of the league table, when they head to McKellar Park to take on Belconnen United in the Northside derby.
There may be a whiff of revenge in the air at the home of the Blue Devils as it was the home side that ended the Gunners interest in the Australia Cup in the early stages, dumping one of the favoured sides out of the competition in the third round with a highly impressive 3-1 victory at the AIS.
Since then, the Gunners have regrouped and taken four points from their opening two matches, tricky encounters on paper against last season’s champions Tigers FC and one of this term’s favourites, Monaro Panthers. The return of Josh Gaspari has added an extra dimension to the Gungahlin squad and his influence will undoubtedly have a large bearing on the outcome.
Belconnen responded to an opening day loss at this venue with a competent 2-1 away win over West Canberra Wanderers to get their season going and they will be confident that they can take the game to the Gunners in this one.
Both Canberra Olympic and West Canberra Wanderers saw their NPL season start a week late for differing reasons, but both may be wishing it could have been delayed seven more days following a brace of defeats at the hands of O’Connor Knights and West Canberra Wanderers respectively.
For Olympic, admittedly shorn of some of their off-season recruits, there was a chastening return to earth following their exceptional cup trumping of the Tigers to book their Quarter Final berth. A heavy loss to O’Connor Knights in the derby, followed by a humbling at Deakin Stadium, suggesting that there is work to be done for Robbie Cattanach and his team. The return of several players will help.
The Wanderers were narrowly beaten on the scoreboard by Belconnen United on their Melrose Synthetic base, yet the defeat was arguably more clear cut then the final scoreline may have suggested. Again, the break between cup success and league action may have been the defining reason, and the Wanderers possess the talent and ability to make this a tough afternoon for their hosts.
The League Champions Tigers FC have had a less than stellar start to their campaign, a pair of draws meaning that whilst they are undefeated in league action after two rounds, they have slipped behind the early pacesetters. There have been signs of improvement since a disastrous pre-season and their clash with the O’Connor Knights promises to be a tasty encounter.
There were signs in the draw with Canberra Croatia that the Tigers were finally rediscovering their groove, a groove that took them to the double in 2021. In Josh Gulevski they have an in-form attacker, having scored three goals in all competitions so far this season, and they will need to be on form at both ends of the park to stymie the Knights.
As far as returns to NPL action goes, the Knights 6-2 hammering of Canberra Olympic was virtually perfect. They even had the luxury of missing a penalty in the rout and looked eminently capable of scoring more goals with every attack. It was a testament to the work put in by Miro Trninic and his coaching staff that they took to NPL like the proverbial duck to water and this clash with Tigers will go a long way to telling us where they stand.
Action concludes in Round 3 with the Saturday evening clash at the Riverside Stadium where Monaro Panthers host early table-toppers Canberra Croatia in what promises to be an action-packed contest with both teams aiming for a maximum haul.
Panthers will be hoping that they aren’t caught by the Covid jinx that forced a trio of players to withdraw from their matchday squad on the morning of their Round 2 fixture last time out, and the return of those players, pending availability, will be key to them forging a successful afternoon against their storied visitors.
The dismissal of both Josh Calabria and Amilio Kista will hurt the Panthers, particularly the absence of the midfield dynamo Kista against his former club, and Frank Cachia will be forced to reshuffle his deck to put together a team capable of putting up a challenge. There is no doubt he has the squad to deal with this though.
Croatia meanwhile came away from their season opener with a point against the Tigers but would, perhaps, have been disappointed that it wasn’t three. They went incredibly close to doubling their lead at a crucial stage and showed throughout that they have the attacking arsenal to worry any team, which they showed in their hammering of Canberra Olympic in midweek. This match-up should be a corker.
Saturday 23 April
Belconnen United v Gungahlin United (McKellar Park, 15:00)
Canberra Olympic v West Canberra Wanderers (O’Connor Enclosed, 15:00)
Tigers FC v O’Connor Knights (AIS Grass Field 2, 15:00)
Monaro Panthers v Canberra Croatia (Riverside Stadium, 17:45)
MATCHES ARE STREAMED LIVE ON NPL.TV
IMAGE: Mike’s Soccer Pics (Facebook)