The relegation battle will go to the wire as both contenders for the drop faced defeat in Round 20 meaning that Belconnen United must win against O’Connor Knights in the final round if they are to avoid demotion to the Capital Premier League.
Belconnen United find themselves in that predicament after failing to earn anything from their Round 20 clash with Tigers FC who, with their 2-0 win at McKellar Park, not only secured their own safety but gave themselves hope of an outside place in the top four ahead of Canberra Olympic’s trip to Queanbeyan.
After a bright start by the home side, it was the Tigers who took control of the contest and opened the scoring in the eighteenth minute, Young winger Jake Bishop was instrumental, finding Julian Borgna who juggled into space before squaring for Antoni Timotheou to stab past Alex Connell from close range.
The Blue Devils needed a response and their fightback in the second half, after a rather timid opening forty-five minutes, was worthy. However, try as they might, they could not string together too many meaningful chances, Luke Vallone nodding wide from six yards in their best opening.
And Tigers sealed the points just before the hour. Timotheou fed Josh Gulevski who clipped a pass over the top for Kofi Danning. The striker had plenty to do when collecting the pass but was able to readjust his feet and slide the finish under Connell to secure Tigers place in the NPL in 2023.
The Blue Devils trail West Canberra Wanderers by a point as the Woden-based side were unable to secure their own place in the top-flight next season as they stumbled to a 0-4 reverse at home to a rampant Gungahlin United.
The Gunners had the points sealed by half-time, having netted all four goals before the interval, and having established a three-goal advantage as early as the 24th minute of the encounter.
Misko Naumoski was the man who put Gungahlin in the driving seat by hitting a brace in the first quarter of the match. His first came from a long ball via Jack Green at then back, the beautiful pass freeing Naumoski who wonderfully cushioned his volleyed finish over the head of Jakeb Wiseman in the West Canberra goal.
The Wanderers ‘keeper was picking it out of the net again eleven minutes later as Naumoski was in the right place to run across the front of his marker and clip a smart finish past Wiseman at his near posy. A minute later it was three as Will Roberts got in behind the home defence again to fire a shot into the bottom corner across the ‘keeper.
The visitors finished the scoring a minute before the break as Sam Habtemariam met a cross to flick a header nonchalantly into the corner of the goal for his sixth league strike of the season.
Tigers FC hopes of a top four place was dashed in the early evening kick-off in a tale of two penalties, one scored for Canberra Olympic, and one missed by their hosts, Monaro Panthers at the Riverside Stadium in Queanbeyan.
It was a backs against the wall, defensive masterclass from Olympic who were forced to play for over an hour with ten men after defensive midfielder Nathen Megic was sent off after appearing to catch Panthers’ Zak McLaren in the face with a loose arm. They were later reduced to nine as Daniel Linstead was sent to the sin bin after protesting the Panthers penalty award.
By then the visiting team were ahead. Having ridden out Panthers early raids, David Jenkins and Josh Calabria going close, Olympic struck in the final minute of the half as they were given a penalty after the referee adjudged the Panthers defence to have manhandled an Olympic player in the area at a free-kick.
Panthers’ goalkeeper Jordan Thurtell saved the initial penalty from Nik Popovich, a tame effort, but was off his line in doing so, prompting a retake which the Monaro custodian got a firm hand on but could only watch on agonisingly as the ball went into the net off the post.
Monaro went searching for an equaliser and were awarded a gilt-edged chance to level close to full-time. Shortly after Alen James had seen a fierce drive well-saved at the other end, Linstead felled Josh Calabria, earning a yellow card and a spell in the sin-bin for his subsequent protestations.
Darren Bailey stepped up but saw his strike arrow wide of the post to leave the Panthers stranded in third, and heading for the Elimination Final in a fortnight, whilst Olympic maintained fourth heading into the final round.
The only team that can stop Olympic playing finals football is O’Connor Knights who remained in contact with fourth place, two points behind Olympic, after winning the Croatian derby for the first time in three attempt, a Michael Adams goal defeating Champions Canberra Croatia at O’Connor Enclosed.
In a tight derby match played in front of a good crowd, the defining moment came with eighteen minutes to play as the Knights carved out the only goal of the match, a superb effort from one end to the other.
Kristian Tokic won the ball on the edge of his penalty area and found Patrick O’Rourke who played it forward to Phakedi Manda. The fleet-footed winger sent a pass with the outside of his foot in behind the Croatia defence, finding the arcing run of Adams who broke the visitor’s offside trap.
Adams still had plenty of work to do, holding off his marker, and curling a stunning shot around Sam Brown in the Croatia goal and into the top corner, sparking ecstatic scenes amongst the home faithful and keeping the Knights in the hunt for the top four on their return to the NPL.
Saturday 3 September
West Canberra Wanderers 0 Gungahlin United 4 (Naumoski 11’, 22’, Roberts 24’, S. Habtemariam 44’)
Belconnen United 0 Tigers FC 2 (Timotheou 13’, Danning 58’)
O’Connor Knights 1 (Adams 72’) Canberra Croatia 0
Monaro Panthers 0 Canberra Olympic 1 (Popovich 45’ (p))
|Canberra Croatia (c)
|West Canberra Wanderers
*Canberra Croatia deducted three points