A header three minutes into stoppage time from Roko Strika ensured that Monaro Panthers claimed a narrow 1-0 victory over Canberra Croatia at the Riverside Stadium in Queanbeyan, a result that pushed the 2022 Grand Final winners up into third place on the league table.
Strika got on the end of a Jordan Thurtell free-kick deep into time added on to glance a header past Sam Brown in the visitors’ goal to inflict back-to-back league defeats on the League Champions, the first time that this has occurred since a trio of losses towards the tail-end of the 2021 campaign.
The goal settled a contest in which both goalkeepers were in exceptional form. Brown had earlier saved a header from Strika and sensationally tipped over a rising drive from Panthers’ midfielder Zac McLaren, a shot that appeared destined to nestle in the top corner of the Croatia goal.
At the other end Thurtell was also in unbeatable form. The Monaro custodian had superbly palmed a dipping volley from Jason Ugrinic over the bar in the opening stages, before tipping a Stephen Domenici free-kick onto the crossbar with a stunning piece of athleticism in the second half.
Thurtell also beat away a Ugrinic dead ball, being relieved as Daniel Barac could only divert the rebound straight at the prostrate ‘keeper. Indeed, Thurtell was at it again when he made a simply outstanding double-save to repel two shots from Croatia substitute Lukman Ahmed-Shaibu who seemed certain to score with his first touch against his former club.
That set the scene for the final minute heroics, an assist from the wonder ‘keeper and a goal for the hard-working Strika equalling to three massive points for the Monaro Panthers.
It was also a header that sealed the points for Tuggeranong United in the basement battle against West Canberra Wanderers at Melrose Synthetic as Clancy Hislop arrived from the substitute’s bench to get on the end of a Cuneyt Caglar pass and divert a header past the advancing Kristian Nel to secure a hugely valuable 2-1 success.
Hislop’s second goal of the season settled the contest in favour of the visiting team, giving United their first points of the season and lifting them off the bottom of the table, swapping places with the Wanderers who remain pointless after four matches.
It was what Tuggeranong deserved as they took the game to West Canberra in the second half, after the teams went in level at 1-1 at the break. Luke Stevens created the opener in the 21st minute, beating his man and delivering a delicious cross into the area which was buried into the net via a bullet Sam Walker header.
Wanderers responded well and, moments after Nick Roufogalis missed a chance to level, the striker made up for it, latching onto a pass behind the Tuggeranong defence to slot home. That equaliser should have allowed West Canberra to kick-on, but it was Tuggeranong who dominated the second-half and claimed the winner two minutes from the final whistle.
Nik Popovich landed a first-half hat-trick as Canberra Olympic overturned an early deficit to defeat Tigers FC 3-1 and swap places with their opponents on the league table, Olympic moving three points clear at the summit, although the Tigers do have a game in hand.
Even in the absence of five-goal Luca Florez, the striker suspended after being sent-off in the win over Tuggeranong United, Olympic showed the firepower and class they have in abundance coming out on top in a fiery encounter that saw ten players cautioned, six from Olympic and four for the hosts.
Tigers led after fourteen minutes when Amilio Kista crashed home a volley following up after Nik Taneski’s effort had cannoned off the post following good approach work from Nikos Kalfas, but Olympic were back in it as the Tigers were caught napping.
Thomas James quick free-kick released Popovich who curled an effort into the top corner to level the scores, before Alen James intercepted a poor Taneski pass to free Elie Darwich who squared for Popovich to tap in from close range. And the Olympic number nine would complete his treble before the interval.
Again, another free-kick from James created a mistake in the Tigers defence and Popovich collected a stray back-pass to round Jakob Cole and slot home his third.
At O’Connor Enclosed, O’Connor Knights and Gungahlin United shared six goals in a highly entertaining 3-3 draw. Maxx Green fired the Gunners ahead after five minutes, controlling an astute pass from Anton Timotheou before lashing a firm finish past Seb Arranz in the home goal.
Knights drew level just past the half-hour when Patrick O’Rourke twisted and turned to send over a cross that was headed home from close range by defender James Driscoll, before Green restored Gungahlin’s lead from the spot, converting his penalty for a ninth goal of the season in all competitions.
In a ding-dong affair O’Connor made it 2-2 four minutes into the second half as Tyson Livermore’s cross was diverted into his own net by the unlucky covering defender, Jack Peraic-Cullen before Micheal Adams put them in front for the first time in the fixture, robbing Jacob Quinn to tap in as the goalkeeper tried to take on the forward.
Gungahlin would earn a draw though with twelve minutes remaining. Jack Green, summoned from the substitute’s bench netting the leveller with a wonderfully deliberate and delicate chip that wafted perfectly into the far corner to earn his team a share of the spoils.
Saturday 6 May
West Canberra Wanderers 1 (Roufogalis 24’) Tuggeranong United 2 (Walker 21’, C. Hislop 88’)
O’Connor Knights 3 (Driscoll 31’, Peraic-Cullen 49’ (og), Adams 57’) Gungahlin United 3 (M. Green 5’, 43’ (p), J. Green 78’)
Tigers FC 1 (Kista 14’) Canberra Olympic 3 (Popovich 22’, 39’, 42’)
Monaro Panthers 1 (Strika 90+3’) Canberra Croatia 0
|7||West Canberra Wanderers||4||0||0||4||2||16||-14||0|
5 Luca FLOREZ (Canberra Olympic), Maxx GREEN (Gungahlin United), Josh GULEVSKI (Tigers FC), Nik POPOVICH (Canberra Olympic)
3 Stephen DOMENICI (Canberra Croatia), Phakedi MANDA (O’Connor Knights), Connor MYNOTT-SMITH (Monaro Panthers), Own GOALS
2 Micheal ADAMS (O’Connor Knights), Daniel BARAC (Canberra Croatia), Jack GREEN (Gungahlin United), Clancy HISLOP (Tuggeranong United), Thomas JAMES (Canberra Olympic), Micheal JOHN (Monaro Panthers), Amilio KISTA (Tigers FC), Roko STRIKA (Monaro Panthers), Nik TANESKI (Tigers FC), Jason UGRINIC (Canberra Croatia), Sam WALKER (Tuggeranong United)
1 Riley ANGELOSANTE (O’Connor Knights), Connor BILL (O’Connor Knights), Jake BISHOP (Tigers FC), Riley BROWN (West Canberra Wanderers), Elie DARWICH (Canberra Olympic), James DRISCOLL (O’Connor Knights), Josh GASPARI (Gungahlin United), Dom GIAMPAOLO (Gungahlin United), Sam HABTEMARIAM (Gungahlin United), Ed MCCARTHY (Tigers FC), Nathen MEGIC (Canberra Olympic), Marko MILUTINOVIC (Tigers FC), Lasse OLRIK (Canberra Olympic), Patrick O’ROURKE (O’Connor Knights), Jackson PAESLER (Gungahlin United), Kaz PATAFTA (Canberra Croatia), Euan PETERKIN (Tuggeranong United), Nicholas ROUFOGALIS (West Canberra Wanderers), Kyle SENIOR (Tigers FC), Hristjan TANOSKI (Tigers FC), Antoni TIMOTHEOU (Gungahlin United)