The MetroStars extended their lead at the summit of the NPL SA, a Fabian Barbiero goal enough to down Campbelltown City (Image: Ken Carter)

Round 14 saw the MetroStars extend their lead at the league's summit, Sturt and West Adelaide miss an opportunity, while two contenders began to click.

Five-star Comets

FK Beograd 1-5 Adelaide Comets

FK Beograd entered Round 14 fifth on the league table, but with its visitors, the Adelaide Comets, only a single point behind but seventh in the rankings this was a six-pointer clash vital for both sides. George Tsonis’ men looked the more intense side from kick-off and subsequently opened the scoring only 11 minutes into the encounter through a well-taken Jayden LoBasso goal, the fullback finding himself deployed higher up the pitch this week like he was earlier in his career.

Both sides had chances, notably, Beograd’s Josh Mori uncharacteristically putting a close-range shot wide, but the hosts pulled level through Peter Akot in the 34th minute. The joy did not last long for the home side, a handball in the box gifting Allan Welsh the opportunity to restore his side’s lead from the penalty spot, before LoBasso tapped his side two goals ahead heading into the break, leaving Beograd’s players and supporters in a despondent state.

The mood did not improve at Frank Mitchell Park after when Anthony Mavrolambados piled on the Comets’ fourth early in the second half, and when Byungatae Ahn received a red card for his late challenge on Ashton Rinaldo, even the most optimistic of Beograd fan would have conceded defeat. Substitute Niko Ikonomopoulos added insult to injury with a well-taken close-range volley to round out the Comets’ best win of the season, one that saw it return to the top six.

Vital captain’s goal

Croydon FC 3-2 Modbury Jets

Croydon FC has had a difficult 2023, but its Round 14n opponents, the Modbury Jets, have a tendency to allow teams into games through their lax attitude when it comes to defending. As a result, it was not surprising to see Stefan Matteo open the scoring for Modbury four minutes after kickoff, but that same feeling was present when Croydon equalised through Seb Goode only a minute later.

Having already canceled each other out on the scoreboard, both sides fought hard to gain the lead, and it was the Jets that restored theirs through a trademark curling effort from Hamish McCabe. The game’s script seemed to repeat minutes later when Patrick Caraccia was clumsily brought down in the box during a set piece which gave the midfielder the opportunity to equalise from the spot to send the two sides into the break level.

With the game there to be claimed in the second half, it was Croydon’s captain, Łukasz Klimek, that popped up higher up the field than his usual fullback slot to curl home the winning goal. The victory gives Polonia some breathing room in its fight for survival, while Modbury will see this match as a big opportunity lost in its own quest to appear in the Finals Series.

Fun down South

South Adelaide Panthers 3-3 Adelaide Olympic

Both South Adelaide and Adelaide Olympic have felt the effects of their cavalier defensive attitudes in Season 2023 but with firepower aplenty on both sides, a shootout was always a likely outcome when the two teams clashed in Round 14. Cooper Mullins opened the scoring for the visitors, finding the back of the net for the third consecutive game, before Phil Cash caught the ball sweetly on the half volley, from an Alex Rideout free kick, to get the Panthers level.

Jonathon Rideout gave the hosts the lead early in the second half, pouncing on an unfortunate goalkeeper parry, but the advantage was shortlived, Christon Pounendis cooly slotting a penalty to once again level proceedings. Minutes after his introduction, Olympic’s Tane Taka sparked celebrations for his side after scoring his first goal of the season and seemingly the winner.

When the Rideout brothers are involved, the Panthers are always a chance and they once again combined in the 80th minute when Alex’s freekick picked out Jonathon’s head to earn the home side a point in an entertaining affair. Despite the positive play, the Panthers end Round 14 in the relegation zone, while after a poor start to the season, Olympic finds itself only two points off the top six.

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Five points clear

Campbelltown City 0-1 North Eastern MetroStars

When second-placed Campbelltown City hosted the league-leading MetroStars it had an opportunity to leapfrog its North East counterpart on the summit of the NPL SA standings, but to do so it had to overcome a four-game losing streak at the hands of its opponents that stretches to the late stages of Season 2021. The two sides exchanged blows in the first half, but neither could open the scoring in this top-of-the-table six-pointer.

Despite starting the liveliest of the two sides after the break, it was the Red Devils that conceded first when Scott Nagel’s cross found the evergreen Fabian Barbiero who continued his rich vein of form in front of goals by tapping home the opener. The arm-wrestle continued and it looked like Campbelltown found an equaliser late through Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio, but referee Daniel Faulkner spoiled the celebrations by adjudicating that the winger had fouled defender Jackson Walls in the process.

During the five minutes of injury time, both sides had their chances, with last-gasp saves and goalline clearances being a feature of a breathtaking finish, but Danny Graystone’s side survived to extend its lead on the summit by five points. If both these clubs win their Federation Cup Semi-Finals we will be seeing this matchup once again very soon and South Australian football will be better for it.

Irabona lifts City

Adelaide United Youth 1-3 Adelaide City

Adelaide United entered Round 14 regaining Luka Jovanovic after the conclusion of his A-League season, but losing a plethora of players to international duty. Airton Andrioli handed young midfielder Giorgio Parhas his debut against the Champions, while Fergus Lynch made his first senior start of the season.

Despite being undermanned, the Young Reds made life hard for Adelaide City, but Paul Pezos’ men grew into the game and took a lead into halftime after Aladin Irabona’s inventive header caught out Steven Hall in the 41st minute. The Young Reds’ plans of a comeback were dealt a cruel blow when Musa Toure received his second yellow card for a flailing elbow during an attacking set piece.

Adelaide City took advantage of their vulnerable opponents and piled on the misery, with Aladin Irabona doubling his side’s lead with an unstoppable effort, before rounding off his hattrick six minutes later with a tap-in. Luka Jovanovic recorded a consolation goal for his side, but it was the Black and White that reclaimed the three points they dropped at home against the Young Reds earlier in the season.

Desperate for points

West Adelaide 1-1 Sturt Lions

With West Adelaide missing key players and the Sturt Lions rooted at the bottom of the table, Round 14 was always going to be a battle of attrition, with a potential winner benefiting largely in their bid for survival. With neither side finding scoring easy, it was no surprise when the two entered halftime goalless, but the Lions would have felt unlucky not to have the advantage after creating the better chances in the first period.

Sturt’s industry was rewarded early in the second half when Alex Sortini’s shot found the top corner to give the embattled visitors a much-needed lead. Fortune was on Hellas’ side minutes later when Karl Phelps’ miscued effort hit the crossbar before landing at the feet of Dimitri Toumazos on the goalline to level the scoring.

Despite getting a goal back, West Adelaide, a side that cannot afford to lose any more players, suffered another setback when Karl Phelps was sent off for aggressively confronting Tyreece Conway after an aggressive challenge. The match finished level but both sides were left not unsatisfied and with their own respective headaches in their fights to retain their NPL status.

Match to watch in Round 15

The 2021 and 2022 NPL SA Grand Finalists are back in form and they are taking on each other once again in Season 2023. Round 14 saw the Adelaide Comets produce the best performance of their season, putting FK Beograd to the sword, while Adelaide City comfortably defeated Adelaide United on Saturday.

With both sides facing their own challenges in 2023, seeing both recapture some of their confidence is an encouraging sign. No one expected that either team will have any difficulties returning to the Finals Series this season, but a mixed bag of form in both camps means that every result is important.

The last time the two sides met, Adelaide City claimed the three points in a seven-goal thriller. With the stakes even higher than their early season encounter, this clash is sure to entertain while confirming the legitimacy of at least one battling contender.

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