It may have been thirteen years since O’Connor Knights graced the top tier of ACT football but they more than made up for their absence in an exhilarating debut in the competition, racking up half-a-dozen goals in a rampant 6-2 win over Canberra Olympic at O’Connor Enclosed.
The home side were simply irresistible as they thumped their co-hosts in front of their home support on a memorable afternoon for Miro Trninic and his team. To win was the ultimate objective, but to do so in such style has made the rest of the NPL sit up and take notice of the project that the Knights are undertaking.
Marcin Zygmunt, a relative veteran of the youthful, exuberant collective from the Knights, rolled back the years, striding forward from central defence to poach two smart finishes, one in each half. Phakedi Manda equalled that feat, his brace coming inside the opening 45 minutes as the Knights led 3-1 at the break.
Elie Darwich had pulled one back from the spot for the home team, but the Knights were unperturbed. Even when Noah Steinacker put through his own goal to bring Olympic to within touching distance, all that did was spur on the home side and Patrick O’Rourke squeezed home the fourth after Michael Adams had seen his penalty spectacularly saved by Sebastian Usai in the Olympic goal.
Zygmunt added the fifth and Adams rounded out the scoring on a never to be forgotten afternoon for the O’Connor club.
Gungahlin United moved into pole position at the top of the table with a narrow 2-1 win over Monaro Panthers in a feisty encounter at Gungahlin Enclosed. The officials issued three red cards during the second half, two to the Panthers as Josh Calabria and Amilio Kista were dismissed for second cautions, while Gunners’ defender Badreldin Abbas followed late on.
By that stage the home side were 2-1 up as a pair of set-pieces did for the Panthers who were missing their goal-scoring machine in Andre Carle. The returning Josh Gaspari showed what an immense signing he is likely to be as he put the Gunners ahead with a sublime free-kick from long-range.
Kista replied in kind for the Panthers, driving a fierce effort from outside the box into the bottom corner for a spectacular leveller, but it was Gungahlin who were to come away with the three points. Awarded a penalty with ten minutes to play, Jeremy Habtemariam lashed his spot-kick high into the net to send Gunners’ top.
Last season’s top two, Tigers FC and Canberra Croatia fought out a fierce 1-1 draw at Deakin Enclosed with the home side reduced to ten men for a twenty minute spell during the game as defenders Matt Grbesa and Luke Pilkington were sent to the sin bin.
The match featured plenty of strong tussles across the park and lots of presentable chances, but with both goalkeepers, Sam Brown and Jakob Cole in unremitting mood, a draw was probably the fairest result.
Croatia may feel they could have won it, Michael Piccolo being denied a chance to put them 2-0 up by a world-class stop from Cole midway through the second half, the Tigers shot-stopper stretching out a right boot to divert a certain goal around the post, much to the disbelief of all those associated with the home team.
Daniel Barac had given Croatia the lead in the first half, cushioning a superb volley past the onrushing Cole after an exquisite long-ball from Jadon Ugrinic, but there was always the threat that the Tigers might draw level and they were presented with that chance with nineteen minutes remining from the spot.
Josh Gulevski accepted responsibility and crashed the penalty into the roof of the net to draw the teams’ level and, although there were late half-chances for both teams to win it, honours remained even.
Belconnen United recovered from an opening day defeat to bounce back with three points as they travelled to Melrose Synthetic and came away with a 2-1 win over West Canberra Wanderers thanks to a pair of goals before the break, netted in contrasting circumstances.
Phil Borgeaud gave the Blue Devils the advantage after only two minutes when his in swinging cross from the left flank was mysteriously misjudged by Wanderers goalkeeper Jakeb Wiseman who allowed the ball to eke past him and into the net at the near post, much to Borgeaud’s delight.
There was a second for Belconnen before the interval when the visitors were awarded a penalty. Maxx Green, who will fly out to trial with La Liga side Rayo Vallecano this week, accepted responsibility and arrowed his penalty low into the bottom corner. Wanderers replied late, a debut goal at this level from Jenno Ceruti reducing the arrears, but it was too late to affect the result and Belconnen were worthy winners.
Saturday 9 April
West Canberra Wanderers 1 (Ceruti 90’) Belconnen United 2 (Borgeaud 2’, Green 38’ (p))
O’Connor Knights 6 (Zygmunt 15’, 73’, Manda 35’, 44’, O’Rourke 63’, Adams 80’) Canberra Olympic 2 (Darwich 22’ (p), Steinacker 58’ (og))
Canberra Croatia 1 (Barac 27’) Tigers FC 1 (Gulevski 71’ (p))
Sunday 10 April
Gungahlin United 2 (Gaspari 50’, J. Habtemariam 80’ (p)) Monaro Panthers 1 (Kista 68’)
PIC: Mike’s Soccer Pics (Facebook)