A goal eight minutes from time by central defender Lachlan Fields breathed new life into the relegation dogfight at the foot of the National Premier League table as West Canberra Wanderers secured a critical three points with a solitary goal success over O’Connor Knights at Melrose Synthetic.
Fields reacted sharpest to a loose ball in the Knights area in the 82nd minute to smash a half-volley past Jack Miller in the Knights goal for his second strike of the 2022 season and close the gap on Belconnen United and Canberra Olympic ahead of them before their huge encounter with the Blue Devils in Round 16.
It was the crucial moment in a contest that, in stark contrast to the duo’s three previous meetings this season, failed to produce the glut of openings that was expected, Connor Mynott-Smith going closest for the Knights in a tight but highly absorbing encounter.
But Fields was able to settle the contest, hammering home after a corner caused consternation in the Knights defence, and the late dismissal of defender Jake Wilsener for the visitors ensured that the home team were able to see out the final moments to claim only their second win of the year.
Belconnen United needed a response in the evening game at the Riverside Stadium and, to a certain extent, they got one as they fought their way back from two-goals adrift to secure a point against the Monaro Panthers.
Panthers looked home and dry at the interval, dominating the contest and leading 2-0 thanks to a brace of superb goals, and yet wilted after the break, one eye perhaps on their impending Australia Cup Round of 32 encounter with Sydney United 58 at Edensor Park allowing the Blue Devils back into it.
But it was a credit to the Belconnen determination and character to ensure they took full advantage, easing their way back and securing a point that might in the long run prove to be extremely important.
In the first half Monaro went ahead when Ben Basser-Silk drilled a superb finish into the bottom corner of the net past young Blue Devils goalkeeper Izac Alves, but that was merely a prelude to what was to follow as Amilio Kista unleashed a sensational effort from 35 metres out that dipped and swerved past Alves.
Belconnen came back and Chris Fayers reduced the deficit with a shot that deflected off Adam De Franceschi and past Jordan Thurtell, his first goal for the club, before the visitors were awarded a penalty eight minutes from full-time.
Maxx Green took the responsibility and hammered his spot-kick high into the top corner to earn his team a vital point.
League leaders Canberra Croatia made sure that they continued their impressive form as they swept aside Canberra Olympic in the Canberra Classico, proving too classy for their opponents at O’Connor Enclosed, winning 5-1 and effectively sealing the points with a superb opening eighteen minute spell.
It was a devastating opening for the team at the top of the table as they scored three times to stun Olympic who had parted company with Head Coach Robbie Cattanach in the lead up to this fixture.
Daniel Barac, who would net a second hat-trick of the season. opened the scoring in straightforward manner, heading home a corner in the eight minute, before the striker bagged his ninth goal of the season to make it two. Nik Taneski increased the lead to three, five minutes later, as Croatia threatened to blow Olympic away.
It took until the 51st minute for Croatia to add to the tally, Barac scoring again, before Nik Popovich struck a consolation, his first since re-signing for Olympic. A late fifth, Barac volleying home to move onto double figures and a lead in the race for the Golden Boot, iced the cake for Dean Ugrinic and his team on a desperately disappointing day for Olympic.
Tigers FC continued their resurgence as they dented Gungahlin United’s championship hopes with a 2-1 win at the Australian Institute of Sport in a match in which Gunners played with eight men for a time after Nick Dahl was sent off and Jack Green and Misko Naumoski were sent to the sin-bin.
The defending league champions moved to within four points of the Knights in fourth with the win, going in front as early as the twelfth minute when Julian Borgna swept in a long-range free-kick to open their account.
A second was needed to shake off the Gunners response and it came when substitute Jared Tonini shook off the attentions of his marker to side-foot a finish across Jacob Quinn and into the corner of the goal.
Gunners hit back late when they were short-handed, the goal of the afternoon coming from Jeremy Habtemariam, his fifth of the season curled magnificently beyond Jakob Cole and into the top corner but it was too late to stop the Tigers claiming the points and allowed Croatia to increase their advantage at the top to six points.
Saturday 30 July
West Canberra Wanderers 1 (Fields 82’) O’Connor Knights 0
Tigers FC 2 (Borgna 12’, Tonini 74’) Gungahlin United 1 (J. Habtemariam 90’)
Canberra Olympic 1 (Popovich 60’) Canberra Croatia 5 (Barac 8’, 18, 89’, Domenici 13’, Taneski 51’)
Monaro Panthers 2 (Basser-Silk 32’, Kista 36’) Belconnen United 2 (Fayers 73’, Green 82’ (p))
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