Matej Busek struck a dramatic 91st minute matchwinner to break O’Connor Knights hearts and give Canberra Croatia all three points in a memorable and incident packed Croatian derby at Deakin Stadium.
The first Croatian match-up in thirteen years lived up to the hype and had a stunning denouement. With the teams locked at 2-2, Stephen Domenici unleashed a stunning overhead kick from the edge of the penalty area that clattered back off the Knights crossbar and fell for Busek to hammer home.
Earlier Connor Mynott-Smith had given the Knights the lead, tapping in from close range after Patrick O’Rourke had seen his shot saved by Sam Brown. Mynott-Smith would later hit the base of the post and the crossbar, the latter with a superb header, as the Knights threatened with every attack.
Michael Piccolo drew Croatia level with a shot that went in off the upright, he too would hit the bar in the second half, before Mynott-Smith brought down a looping cross, cut inside his marker and lashed home to restore the Knights lead and give them a 2-1 advantage at the break.
O’Rourke passed up a glorious chance to make it 3-1, blazing over after he had picked his way through the Croatia defence, and the newly promoted side were made to pay when Jason Ugrinic was upended in the area by Miller and substitute Domenici calmly rolled the resultant penalty home to level the scores for a second time.
That set-up the dramatic conclusion in which the home side struck late to go three points clear at the summit.
Monaro Panthers moved into second on the table after they leapfrogged their opponents, Canberra Olympic, winning 4-1 at O’Connor Enclosed via a brace of goals each from Nikos Kalfas and substitute Andre Carle.
The Panthers roared out of the blocks and were two to the good within twenty-five minutes thanks to a brace of goals from striker Kalfas. The Greek forward was at his mercurial best in that opening portion of the match, as illustrated by the first goal of the encounter. Kalfas received the ball close to halfway and bumped off a couple of challenges on the way to racing towards goal, finishing with a low drive into the bottom corner.
Kalfas was at the double four minutes later, capitalising on some less than stellar Olympic defending, pouncing on an under strength back header to round Olympic ‘keeper Sebastian Usai and flick the ball into the empty net.
Olympic’s reply was spirited and they pulled one back before the interval, Alen James on the end of a one-two on the edge of the Monaro box to rifle a finish past Jordan Thurtell in the visitors goal. James almost levelled matters with a v free-kick after the break, Thurtell denying him at full stretch.
The Panthers regained the initiative in the second half when Carle, introduced from the bench, flicked home from close range off a corner and then rounded off the scoring with a blistering free-kick, struck from distance, that brought up a tenth goal of the season in all competitions for the free-scoring striker.
Tigers FC leapt into third for 24 hours with their second win of the season as they came from behind to defeat Belconnen United at Nijong Oval, forward Josh Gulevski adding another two to his Golden Boot leading tally.
The Blue Devils were fastest out of the blocks and in front after only six minutes here Chris Reay arrived unmarked inside the area to meet a Dustin Wells cross field pass and nod past Jakob Cole and into the net.
Tigers got back on terms on the half-hour as Josh Gulevski latched onto a ball played over the top to round Zac Pagan and, under pressure, roll the ball into the unguarded goal. And it was Gulevski who was at the heart of the goal that out the home side ahead before half-time.
He collected a Ross Costanzo clearance, and advanced on goal, before squaring the ball for Antoni Timotheou to sweep home from close range, netting on his 100th NPL appearance. It was Gulevski who rounded off the scoring, securing the points with twenty-two minutes to go banging home his sixth NPL goal of the season from the penalty spot.
Gungahlin United had to dig deep to see off West Canberra Wanderers at Gungahlin Enclosed with a double from Sam Habtemariam pushing the Gunners up to third on the table with a 3-1 victory.
Habtemariam struck either side of half-time, the first into an open net after Will Roberts had won a fifty-fifty challenge with Wanderers goalkeeper Jakeb Wiseman, the ‘keeper forced off in the second half with the leg injury sustained in the tackle, and the second after getting in behind the Wanderers defence with twenty minutes to play.
Earlier, Sam Habtemariam had somehow managed to hit the crossbar from three metres out when it appeared easier to score, but his blushes were eased when substitute Dom Giampaolo, on for the injured Philippe Bernabo-Madrid, brushed off a challenge from Daniel Grove to sweep home a delightful finish.
Habtemariam made amends by making it two before half-time but when Harrison Palic netted from close range in the second half, the Wanderers were back in the contest. As they pushed for a leveller though they left themselves exposed and Gunners hit them again through Habtemariam for the win.
Saturday 14 May
Tigers FC 3 (Gulevski 30’, 68’ (p), Timotheou 41’) Belconnen United 1 (Reay 6’)
Canberra Croatia 3 (M. Piccolo 22’, Domenici 73’ (p), Busek 90+1’) O’Connor Knights 2 (Mynott-Smith 14’, 34’)
Canberra Olympic 1 (James 38’) Monaro Panthers 4 (Kalfas 21’, 26’, Carle 58’, 77’)
Sunday 15 May
Gungahlin United 3 (Giampaolo 43’, S. Habtemariam 45’, 70’) West Canberra Wanderers 1 (Palic 50’)
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