Gungahlin United won a bonkers match at home to Canberra Olympic to keep the pressure up on the league leading Canberra Croatia by defeating their visitors to the Australian Institute of Sport by the odd-goal in seven in a thriller that could easily have ended up 8-all!
There were stunning saves, posts hit and goals galore on an afternoon of wonderful National Premier League football in the national capital with the scene set as early as the second minute when Gunners’ Will Roberts turned home a low Leon Michl cross at the far post.
The lead lasted only six minutes as Luca Florez levelled, before hobbling off injured, the forward sliding home a Simon Rohan-Jones pass to make it 1-1. Rohan-Jones should have scored himself, somehow hitting the bar with the goal at his mercy from six yards, but equally Seb Usai at the other end denied Philippe Bernabo-Madrid twice.
Gungahlin custodian Jacob Quinn wasn’t to be outdone, pulling off two astounding saves from headers by Max Mellick and Dave McCarron whilst Usai would later claw a free-kick from Josh Gaspari that was headed for the top corner, around the post.
Michl had thrashed home the Gunners second before the interval, a super finish across Usai into the top corner as a breathless opening forty-five minutes ended with the home side narrowly in front.
It took Olympic just three minutes to equalise after the break, Aisosa Ihegie on off the bench, heading a through ball around Quinn before slotting home from an acute angle for his 51st NPL goal of a nascent career.
Robbie Cattanach’s team then went ahead for the first time, Rohan-Jones appearing to mis-hit a cross that somehow looped over Quinn and dropped into the far corner of the net, only for Gungahlin to make it 3-3 when one of their substitutes, Samuel Habtemariam, reacted quickest in the area to fire home his fifth goal of the season.
A winner was on the cards, and it came for the Gunners. Two further substitutes combined to claim it, Misko Naumoski squaring unselfishly for Nico Abot to stab in from inside the six-yard box and claim the points for the title-chasers, and yet you had to feel for Olympic who went home with nothing, despite playing their part in a modern classic to the full. Such is football.
It was honours even in the Battle of the Big Cats Part 2 and the outcome of a 1-1 draw was a fair result as Monaro Panthers and Tigers FC fought out a stalemate on a difficult surface at Nijong Oval in Cooma.
This was a rare home match for the team from Cooma, who have been playing their matches at the Australian Institute of Sport in the main during the 2022 NPL season, and both teams took time to settle on a pitch that, whilst looking better than it has in recent years, was still bobbly in parts.
However, outside of this, both teams were evenly matched across the park and chances were few and far between in the opening half, although it was during the first stanza that the Tigers went in front.
Josh Gulevski played a prominent part, his fierce drive was parried by Panthers’ stopper Gary Mehmetaj, making his debut in the NPL, only for Tom Krklec to follow up and ram home the loose ball from close range.
The Panthers drew level in the second half with a finely crafted goal of their own. Josh Calabria and Ben Basser-Silk initiated it, finding Nikos Kalfas on the top of the penalty area. The Greek forward faked to shoot before back-heeling into the path of substitute Seb Woods who gloriously found the bottom corner.
Both teams had half chances to win it, Tigers’ Kofi Danning going closest when he hit the underside of the crossbar against his former club, but a point each appeared to be a fair assessment.
Canberra Croatia eased past West Canberra Wanderers at Deakin Stadium claiming their tenth win of the season in far more prosaic fashion than the final score of 4-2 may have suggested.
The league leaders led comfortably at 4-0 before a late Wanderers resurgence threatened the most unlikely of comebacks, but in truth the home side were home and dry well before Angus Bailey converted two well taken goals within four minutes of each other during the final thirteen minutes of action.
It had taken Croatia only four minutes to get in front as Stephen Domenici fired home at the end of an incisive move, and they doubled that when Luke Pilkington arrived to slide in the second after only 25 minutes after yet another superb attacking combination from a side looking in ominous form.
The third goal arrived eleven minutes before the half-time whistle and was the culmination of another sweeping move as Nik Taneski made it 3-0 with his second goal in successive matches.
With the points as good as won, Croatia relaxed their grip in the second half, but not before Domenici had converted his seventh goal of the season from the penalty spot nine minutes after the resumption. That allowed Bailey to show his quality in front of goal with two sublime finishes, but Croatia had already done enough for the points.
O’Connor Knights ensured they would end the Round still in possession of a top-four spot as a late winner from substitute Gabriel Ayuel saw off Belconnen United on a tense and nervy afternoon at O’Connor Enclosed.
Ayuel was summoned from the bench by Knights’ Head Coach Miro Trninic and responded to the call to action with his first league goal of the season, latching onto a magnificent through ball from Patrick O’Rourke to slip around debutant Blue Devils ‘keeper Izac Alves and roll the ball into the empty net.
It was tough to take for Belconnen, who will feel that they should have earned a share of the spoils, but the Knights win means that the Blue Devils remain just four points clear of the Wanderers at the foot of the table and slip further away from a potential outside burst for a place in the top four.
O’Connor Knights 1 (G. Ayuel 81’) Belconnen United 0
Tigers FC 1 (Krklec 27’) Monaro Panthers 1 (Woods 62’)
Canberra Croatia 4 (Domenici 4’, 54’ (p), Pilkington 25’, Taneski 34’) West Canberra Wanderers 2 (Bailey 77’, 81’)
Sunday 24 July
Gungahlin United 4 (Roberts 2’, Michl 37’, S. Habtemariam 78’, Abot 84’) Canberra Olympic 3 (Florez 8’, Ihegie 48’, Rohan-Jones 67’)
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