A late brace of goals in the final eight minutes enabled Canberra Croatia to come from behind to defeat Canberra Olympic and win by two goals to one to maintain their lead at the top of the NPL table after eight rounds.
The league leaders were, for the third match in succession, forced to dig deep to get the result as Canberra Olympic threatened the upset after taking the lead just past the hour mark from the penalty spot.
Alen James was upended in the area and Elie Darwich, who had missed in the Australia Cup Semi-Final shoot-out against Monaro Panthers, banished those demons to crash home his effort via the post.
For a long time, it appeared that the goal would be the difference and yet Croatia always seem to have something up their sleeve. They equalised via a quality goal, substitute Teeboy Kamara back-heeling a ball into the path of leading scorer Daniel Barac who swept home a left-foot shot.
And, far from being satisfied with a point, the home side went and won it when Jason Ugrinic struck with just four minutes remaining to deny Olympic a deserved point and keep Croatia at the top as the team to beat.
A second half goal fest saw Monaro Panthers enjoy the ideal preparations for their Australia Cup Qualifying Final against West Canberra Wanderers next weekend as they hammered Belconnen United 6-0 on a cool evening at the Riverside Stadium.
The Panthers found the key to unlock a dogged Blue Devils defensive line early into the second stanza and, once they did via a thumping header from central defender Kyle Senior from a Darren Bailey corner, they regularly found a way past the visitors back-line who were ran ragged by the end.
Kofi Danning struck the post via a deflected volley early on in a first-half in which the Panthers had the most of territory and possession without unduly threatening a stoic Belconnen rear-guard.
However, once Senior scored the opener, the gaps started to appear and Danning found space to wonderfully rifle in the second from the edge of the area. That precipitated a flurry of four goals in thirteen minutes as the roof fell in on the Blue Devils.
Amilio Kista rammed in the third off the base of the post after Zac Pagan had saved, before Nikos Kalfas rounded the ‘keeper to make it four. Less than sixty seconds later Adam Neou swept in the fifth and Danning rounded off the Panthers biggest ever NPL victory by skipping around Pagan in stoppage time to slide home his second and Monaro’s sixth.
O’Connor Knights garnered some measure of revenge for their Australia Cup Semi-Final defeat by West Canberra Wanderers by winning an enthralling contest at O’Connor Enclosed by the odd-goal in seven.
There was little indication of the feast to come in the second half in what was a rugged first forty-five minutes, as the teams went into the changing rooms all square at one apiece, the Wanderers levelling late on.
Eddie Coggan took advantage of a fortuitous break in the 34th minute to get in behind the West Canberra defence to lash in his first league goal in Knights colours, but the lead was cancelled out three minutes into first-half stoppage time as Blaise Vlazlovski strode clear to score.
A deflected free-kick from Regan Walsh, his shot flicking off the wall to give Jakeb Wiseman no chance in the Wanderers goal, restored the Knights lead and when Patrick O’Rourke slid home from a Michael Adams cut-back, the home side looked in complete control.
The Wanderers are made of sterner stuff these days and pulled one back within sixty seconds as Beau Harvey netted, only for O’Rourke to tap-in a second after superb approach work from substitute Connor Mynott-Smith. Lachlan Fields pulled one back, and Ibrahim Obeid could have equalised, but the Knights held on for a 4-3 success.
The misery continues to be piled on defending League Champions Tigers FC as Gungahlin United swept aside their challenge at the Australian Institute of Sport winning as comprehensively as the 5-1 scoreline suggests.
The Gunners didn’t need long to take control of the contest as winger Leon Michl cut inside and fired an effort from outside the box that took a deflection to loop up over the head of Jakob Cole and into the back of the net.
Tom McLachlan put the home side in total command eight minutes from the interval when he broke the Tigers FC offside trap and was afforded way too much time to flick a right-footed stab past Cole from medium range and push the Gunners into a two-goal advantage at the break.
There was more to come in the second half as Will Roberts made it three and Gungahlin continued to turn the screw. Michael John bagged the fourth, breaking his NPL goal drought in the process before substitute Dom Giampaolo netted the fifth a minute from time as Tigers capitulated.
Antoni Timotheou pulled one back in stoppage time with the last kick of the match, but it was small comfort for the Tigers.
Saturday 28 May
O’Connor Knights 4 (Coggan 34’, R. Walsh 56’, O’Rourke 60’, 66’) West Canberra Wanderers 3 (Vlazlovski 45+3’, Harvey 61’, Fields 75’)
Monaro Panthers 6 (Senior 48’, Danning 55’, 90+2’, Kista 58’, Kalfas 67’, Neou 68’) Belconnen United 0
Sunday 29 May
Gungahlin United 5 (Michl 5’, McLachlan 37’, Roberts 62’, John 75’, Giampaolo 89’) Tigers FC 1 (Timotheou 90’)
Canberra Croatia 2 (Barac 82’, Ugrinic 86’) Canberra Olympic 1 (Darwich 63’ (p))
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