Belconnen United finally found their scoring touch and, in some style, as they routed O’Connor Knights 7-1 at McKellar Park with strike partnership Maxx Green and Luke Vallone netting a brace apiece.
The result completed a miserable week for the Knights who lost the Croatian derby to a stoppage time goal, saw their Australia Cup dreams ended after losing a penalty shoot-out and now suffered their heaviest loss since their return to the elite level of the NPL competition.
Few would have predicted the outcome, even after the returning Green, back after a trial in Spain, headed the Blue Devils ahead with a superb finish in the 19th minute. The Knights responded well and equalised when Michael Adams ghosted into the box and fired over a cross that the unfortunate Zac Maybury diverted past his own ‘keeper.
Belconnen hit back straight away, and Green made it two just six minutes later, before Izach Clements rose majestically to thunder in the third, another header, this time from a well-placed corner.
Vallone added the fourth, a wonderful sweeping move involving Green flicking a pass into the path of Keegan Vucetic who sent a through ball weighted to perfection allowing Vallone to cut inside and poke his finish past Seb Arranz in the Knights goal. Vallone netted for a second time eight minutes later as the Blue Devils ran riot.
Vucetic rammed home the half-dozen with twenty minutes to play and the afternoon’s work was complete when, fittingly, Christian Kreskas wearing the number seven, made it seven by slamming a stunner, arguably the pick of the bunch, into the top corner.
A stoppage time winner from substitute Ryan Keir kept Canberra Croatia three points clear at the top of the table and inflicted NPL heartbreak on West Canberra Wanderers who were seconds away from claiming a second point of the season, the hosts falling to a 1-2 defeat to the table-toppers.
Keir, introduced into the match only ten minutes prior, was unmarked at the back post to nod in the winner much to the delight of his teammates and the travelling Croatia supporters.
Earlier, Hristjan Tanoski has fired Croatia ahead four minutes into the second half, advancing from fullback unchecked into the penalty area to slip a finish beyond the Wanderers ‘keeper Jakeb Wiseman and into the far corner.
Wanderers, after the glory of 120 minutes and a penalty shoot-out win over the Knights in midweek to reach their first Australia Cup Qualifying Final, dug deep and levelled when Jenno Ceruti pounced on a Sam Brown save to equalise from close in. But the league leaders had the last word as Keir secured three precious points.
Monaro Panthers came out on top in the battle of the big cats at the Australian Institute of Sport as a winner, netted ten minutes from time via central defender Adam De Franceschi, secured a narrow 1-0 win over Tigers FC.
De Franceschi was left unmarked at the back post to volley in past Jakob Cole and seal a vital win for the Panthers who, after reaching the Australia Cup Qualifying Final themselves following a gruelling 120 minutes and a penalty shoot-out on Tuesday evening, kept in touch with the pacesetting Canberra Croatia.
It’s been a tough season so far for the defending champions who find themselves eight points off top spot and ended the match with ten men when striker Nik Popovich was sent off in the final minute after receiving a second yellow card for a foul on Panthers’ goalkeeper Jordan Thurtell.
Meanwhile, a goal just past the hour from Tom McLachlan ensured that Gungahlin United also kept in touch with the front-runners as the Gunners narrowly defeated Canberra Olympic 1-0 at O’Connor Enclosed.
McLachlan finished off an incisive Gungahlin move in the 63rd minute scoring against one of his former clubs after coming off the bench, the second substitute to have a telling impact on a match at the top end of the league table.
It was a timely intervention from the Gunners midfield general, securing a vital win against a tenacious opponent who made several changes from the team that pushed the Panthers the whole way in their Cup semi-final at the Riverside Stadium. Olympic remain fifth, four points behind Gungahlin.
Saturday 21 May
NPL1: ROUND 7
West Canberra Wanderers 1 (Ceruti 62’) Canberra Croatia 2 (Tanoski 49’, Keir 90+1’)
Belconnen United 7 (Green 19’, 35’, Clements 39’, Vallone 49’, 57’, Vucetic 70’, Kreskas 79’) O’Connor Knights 1 (Maybury 29’ (og))
Tigers FC 0 Monaro Panthers 1 (De Franceschi 80’)
Canberra Olympic 0 Gungahlin United 1 (McLachlan 63’)
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