There was no change at the top of the National Premier League with the top six teams all drawing with each other to maintain the status quo in the race for the title and the top four, whilst Belconnen United secured a massive win at the foot of the table with success over West Canberra Wanderers.
The Blue Devils were forced to come from behind in their massive encounter with the Wanderers who, on the back of this defeat, find themselves eight points adrift at the foot of the table. Even with thirteen games remaining for the Cup Finalists, there’s a sense that relegation might be on the cards unless they can find some form, and luck.
The visitors went ahead in this one after only seven minutes, Jenno Ceruti finding space at the back post to nod across Alex Connell and into the far corner for his fourth league goal of the season.
But Belconnen were ahead by half-time and, but for the assistant referee’s flag, may have been home and hosed before the 45 minutes were up. Maxx Green has been a welcome return to Michael Zakoski’s team and, unsurprisingly, was the man to draw his team level, wriggling through a crowd scene on the edge of the box to slide a finish past Jakeb Wiseman.
And Belconnen were in front by the break as Riley Brown picked an opportune time to score his first goal at NPL senior level. His exchange of passes with Green found room inside the box to slot home a tidy strike. By that stage Green, via a cute back-heel flick, had seen a goal ruled out for a marginal offside call, but it mattered little as Belconnen sealed a tremendous victory.
An early goal from Ryan Keir looked to have set the league leading Canberra Croatia on the way to three more points but Tigers FC, the defending champions, dug deep to dig themselves out and earn a point from their fourth draw of the season.
Keir nodded Croatia in front when he arrived unchecked at the near post to meet a corner with a firm header that flashed past Jakob Cole and into the net, the worse possible start for a Tigers FC side that look short on confidence.
Wit Croatia enjoying most of the possession and opportunities, it appeared to be a long road back for the Tigers and yet with character and determination which they offered in spades in 2021, they managed to find a way back as Croatia’s discipline suddenly dissolved.
Skipper Matt Grbesa, already having been booked, was sent to the sinbin for dissent midway through the second half and, during his spell on the sideline the home side managed to find a way back. Nik Popovich was the man on target, ending a frustrating spell in front of goal for the enigmatic forward.
Croatia ended the match with ten men when Daniel Barac received a second yellow card and was subsequently dismissed as the match ended all-square.
The dropped points from Croatia weren’t to prove costly however as their nearest challengers, Monaro Panthers and Gungahlin United shared the honours themselves in the evening game at the Riverside Stadium, a 2-2 draw a suitable outcome in a frenetic encounter.
The match will live long in the memory for two of the greatest goals scored in Canberra NPL history, the pair of strikes exchanged between Josh Calabria of the Panthers and Nick Dahl of Gungahlin within the space of three minutes of each other in the first stanza.
Calabria’s goal was a thing of real venom. Andre Carle’s cross eluded everyone inside the Gunners box and found the Panthers skipper at the top of the penalty area. He took a touch before taking aiming and unleashing a swerving, viscous, strike that flashed past Jacob Quinn in the away goal before he barely had time to move.
If that was stunning what followed from Nick Dahl was out of the top drawer. Will Roberts cross was only half cleared and Dahl, lining one up from almost thirty metres, clubbed a thunderous drive at goal that brushed the cobwebs out of the top corner of Jordan Thurtell’s goal with the Panthers stopper at full stretch unable to get near it.
Earlier, Roberts had opened the scoring with a firm downward header, meeting a Josh Gaspari corner, whilst the Panthers levelled with four minutes remaining. Albanian midfielder Amilio Kista’s free-kick taking a hefty deflection off the Gunners wall and crashing into the net off the inside of the post.
In the ‘BBQ Derby’ at O’Connor, the points were also shared as Canberra Olympic, and O’Connor Knights ended the ninety minutes unable to be separated with the final scoreboard reading 1-1.
Both the goals were scored inside the opening quarter of an hour of the match as the Knights went ahead only for Olympic to respond. Having lost 2-6 in the first meeting of the clubs in 2022, this would be a welcome point for Robbie Cattanach and his team with both teams having chances to win it.
Knights struck first after only seven minutes, a silky, slick move ending with Niko Kresic being played clean through on goal and clipping a neat finish with the outside of the boot past the onrushing Olympic keeper Seb Usai.
Usai was to make a super save later in the half, arcing backwards to palm over a dipping drive from Daniel Roberts but, by that stage of the match, the hosts had drawn level thanks to a well-crafted goal of their own.
Aisosa Ihegie was at the forefront, swapping passes with energetic midfielder Alen James and allowing James to break into the box and slip a tidy finish underneath Jack Miller in the Knights goal from an acute angle.
Saturday 11 June
Belconnen United 2 (Green 26’, Brown 44’) West Canberra Wanderers 1 (Ceruti 7’)
Canberra Olympic 1 (James 15’) O’Connor Knights 1 (Kresic 7’)
Tigers FC 1 (Popovich 61’) Canberra Croatia 1 (Keir 3’)
Monaro Panthers 2 (Calabria 34’, Kista 86’) Gungahlin United 2 (Roberts 8’, Dahl 37’)
|8||West Canberra Wanderers||8||0||1||7||-9||1|
Image: Elesa Kurtz, Canberra Times