29/05/2024

Adelaide City Captain Matthew Halliday and Campbelltown City midfielder Josh Barresi competing for a ball in one of their encounters in 2022. (Image: Ken Carter)

The NPL SA Season 2022 Finals Series is upon us, and every side has a question to answer if it is to go all the way. The Inner Sanctum puts each under a microscope.

Can Adelaide City complete the sweep?

In 2021, in his first year in charge of Adelaide City, Paul Pezos finished with his side holding aloft its first Championship in a decade. Such a successful ending to the season made it easy to gloss over previous disappointments faced that year.

The Black and White managed to make the Federation Cup final, falling agonizingly short in extra time and then missing out on the Premiership in the final minutes of the season to the Comets. The 2022 version of the City side has been ruthless conquering both crowns.

The Championship is the honour everyone is after and winning it was why 2021 was earmarked a success for City. Pezos’ side has put itself in a perfect position to retain its crown by completing a sweep of all South Australian silverware available to it, with any other result leaving a sour taste in the mouths of fans.

Nicholas Bucco remonstrates during City’s disappointing 2021 Federation Cup loss to Adelaide Olympic (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms).

Will Campbelltown’s late goal habit suffice on the big stage?

Campbelltown found itself second on the table at the conclusion of the regular season, but it was its late goalscoring habit that got it in that position. Michael Matricciani’s men often looked destined to drop points only to receive a late reprieve.

Birkalla, Olympic, and the Comets have been just some of the Red Devils’ victims in 2022. Just those three games ensured that Campbelltown collected the maximum points nine from positions of disadvantage in the dying efforts of games.

With the competition getting cagy in do-or-die battles, if Campbelltown finds itself in positions of disadvantage, it may not be able to find the avenue to goals it has relied on in the regular season.

With players like Alex Mullen, Marc Marino, Yohei Matsumoto, and Lui Ditroia chasing those goals though, it wouldn’t be wise to ever count the Red Devils out.

How will the Comets deal without a safety net?

The Adelaide Comets find themselves in a finals series without the safety net of a top-two finish for the first time since 2018. The last time that occurred, the third-placed Comets fell at the first hurdle to an Adelaide United Youth side that finished nine points behind them on the ladder.

2022 is a far different proposition for Barney Smith’s men with the squad including much more quality but the same unmet expectation of a Championship. Despite being on average the best home and away season side of the past four years, the Comets have failed to convert their dominance into that elusive trophy.

The Comets have made the previous three grand finals, but have constantly been second best on the final day of the season.

Will the Comets fold under pressure as they did in 2018 and the forthcoming grand final appearances or will they embrace not having the luxury of getting complacent and take the final step on the big stage?

Adelaide Comets player Jayden LoBasso watches on as his side’s rivals Campbelltown City celebrate winning the 2020 Grand Final (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms).

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Will the MetroStars find consistency?

When you look at some of their results, you can’t help but be impressed with the MetroStars. Adelaide City’s only loss came at its hands, second-placed Campbelltown was swept by Metro, while it took a vintage Julian Torresan performance in the Comets’ goals to force a draw at T.K. Shutter Reserve early in the season.

Despite those impressive performances, Metro found itself finishing comfortably below all three of those sides. Rob Saraceno’s side has struggled for consistency in the starting 11 and their results, especially in matches that they’d expect to win.

On its day, Metro has proven it can trouble any side, with quality players like Ren Nagamatsu, Cam Woodfin, Hamish Gow, Fabian Barbiero, Christian Esposito, and Ariath Piol always a handful.

The question remains, is it too late to put the puzzle pieces together or will Metro’s individual brilliance come up big when it matters?

Can Adelaide United win with kids?

When talking about Manchester United’s struggles in 1995, pundit Alan Hansen stated “you can’t win anything with kids”.

That is exactly the stereotype the Young Reds are trying to defeat in 2022. A side comprised of players as young as 15 years old and where a 20-year-old would be classed as “experienced”, it is an achievement just getting to finals, but the ambition does not stop there.

It is just the second time the Young Reds have reached the NPL SA Finals Series in their short history. They found some success back in 2018, knocking third-placed Comets off their perch before being defeated in a close game by second-placed MetroStars.

The 2022 version of the team has proven it can score big but it can also concede just as heavily. On their day, the Young Reds can down any team in the division, but often their results can get quite ugly.

Can the Young Reds make an impact or will they merely be a footnote in someone else’s story?

Current Perth Glory player Carlo Armiento celebrates a goal in Adelaide United Youth’s first NPL SA Finals Series appearance, a 3-1 win over the Adelaide Comets in 2018 (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms).

Can Croydon score enough to trouble anyone?

Croydon may have snuck into the finals but it is hard to ignore, it scored 10 fewer goals than any other side in the top six. Despite being a phenomenal forward in his playing days, Travis Dodd’s Croydon has excelled defensively while looking toothless going forward.

Croydon’s success in 2022 has not been by outscoring opponents or by cutting deficits. The positives usually come when it gets the first goal and it contains the opposition, just as it did against the Comets in Round 22 to earn a ticket to the pointy end of the season.

The question remains, what does Croydon do if it concedes first? Can it land a punch?

One goal may not be enough to secure a win when the opposition is fighting for its life, but Croydon’s defence will be at its stingy best when the time comes to find out.

Players like Jared Clark have had a great season for Croydon in defence, but it needs more firepower in the final third (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms).

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