Christos Pounendis celebrates his goals against Sturt Lions in Round 18 (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms.)

Round 18 of NPL SA 2023 saw the Champions rise to third, the Young Reds see red, and a change in the relegation zone.

Hellas in trouble

West Adelaide 0-3 Campbelltown City

After being held to a draw by West Adelaide in Newton earlier in the season, Campbelltown City entered Round 18 determined to keep applying pressure on the league-leading MetroStars by claiming victory over Hellas. It was the perfect start for Michael Matricciani’s side when Harry Thomas’ heavy touch saw the ball land to Alex Mullen in the box, with the midfielder making no mistake to open the scoring for the visitors at West Beach.

Despite needing a goal, West Adelaide could not threaten Campbelltown with any consistency. The Red Devils on the other hand dominated territory but were unable to convert that positive play into further goals until late in the match when a Yohei Matsumoto free-kick caught out the Hellas backline and allowed Marc Marino to finish emphatically in the 81st minute to seal the game.

Campbelltown once again caught West Adelaide out in the final moments of the game and Brandon Centofanti put the cherry on top a routine win for Campbelltown. This defeat and South Adelaide’s subsequent victory meant that Hellas dropped into the relegation zone; Jim Tseknis’ side must begin picking up points soon if it is to survive dropping back down to State League One after a single season of NPL football.

Dominant half hour

South Adelaide Panthers 3-1 FK Beograd

With South Adelaide fighting for NPL survival and FK Beograd scrapping to keep pace with the top six, the two sides clashed for three points vital in the context of their situations. Despite a dominant first half, Beograd could not find the back of the net, most notably Josh Mori being denied by a Lewis Moss double save, with Micah Lea’alafa’s effort hitting the post between the two efforts.

Lea’Alafa was able to put the visitors ahead early in the second half after his build-up play and strong running allowed him to tap home Josh Mori’s cross in the 52nd minute. Despite conceding, the Panthers grew into the game and got a goal back in the 61st minute when Adam Leombruno’s errant headed clearance beat his own goalkeeper.

With momentum on its side South Adelaide pressed for another goal which Jonathon Rideout converted emphatically in the 68th minute. A foul on Daniel Evans in the box allowed Ibrahim Bigirimana to seal three points for South Adelaide in the 92nd minute, ensuring Anthony Rideout’s side escaped the relegation zone heading into the final stretch of the season.

Within striking distance

Adelaide Comets 0-3 Croydon FC

The Adelaide Comets entered Round 18 occupying the sixth Finals Series spot, but a resurgent Croydon FC, four points behind on the ladder, traveled to the SA Athletics Stadium looking to close the gap on its upwards trajectory on the league table. The Comets put their visitors under pressure to begin the game, with Croydon defending set pieces strongly and looking to break on the counterattack.

Despite its strong start, George Tsonis’ side was rocked by Croydon marksman Andre Carle who brought a Luke Klimek ball under his control before beating his marker in the box and slotting the opener in the 24th minute. Three minutes later, before the Comets could process what had transpired, Dan Vaughan was called into action to save a Klimek shot from close range, but his desperate defenders could not deny Patrick Caraccia who tapped home Croydon’s second.

The Comets pushed hard before and after the halftime break to no avail, and it was Croydon once again, this time through new signing Christian Esposito, that found the back of the net. The three-goal victory moves Croydon within a single point of the Comets on the table and more importantly a much-coveted top-six spot.

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Up to third

Adelaide City 4-0 Modbury Jets

While Adelaide City went into its week off after squandering a two-goal lead in injury time against the inconsistent Sturt Lions, Modbury entered its break on the back of three consecutive four-goal wins. The form line suggested a high-scoring match encounter between the two in Round 18 that leaned in Modbury’s favour, but games are not played on paper and when Aladin Irabona acrobatically converted Matt Dawber’s cross 10 minutes in, Maurice Natale’s in-form Jets were on the ropes.

Irabona was slipped in by Jai King in the 26th minute to make it two, and the Black and White entered halftime comfortably ahead while also keeping a free-scoring Modbury side to limited chances. City’s grip on the match only got stronger after the break and Matt Dawber recorded a well-deserved goal to lock in three points for his side.

Nicholas Bucco showed the class he possesses late in the game to audaciously nutmeg his marker and hit Modbury for four, as the Jets have done to their opponents in recent weeks. The victory takes Adelaide City up to third place and in a good position to defend its Championship when the Finals Series rolls around.

Reds see reds

Adelaide United 1-2 North Eastern MetroStars

Adelaide United is one of the two sides to have defeated the MetroStars in NPL SA Season 2023, and with Airton Andrioli’s side regaining Joeys Nathan Amanatidis, Fabian Talladira, and Bailey O’Neil the Young Reds received a confidence booster heading into the rematch. Despite the additions and some big chances missed early, it was a former Young Red that opened the scoring for the MetroStars in Michael Cittadini.

Adelaide United did not wait long to hit back, with Harry Crawford and Nathan Amanatidis combining to devastating effect and the latter drawing his side level heading into halftime. Just like the first encounter between the two sides was transformed after Noah McNamara was sent off for the MetroStars, this game took a different shape when Ryan White was given his marching orders 11 minutes into the second half for a second bookable offence.

The MetroStars took advantage of their extra number and Hamish Gow used the space he was afforded to smash a shot past Oscar Page to regain his side’s lead. When Patrick McGregor was sent off for a dangerous lunging tackle, the nine Young Reds left on the field were completely suffocated by a MetroStars side that is on the top of its game.

Late Olympic flurry

Adelaide Olympic 3-0 Sturt Lions

Round 18 ended on Saturday night at Adelaide Olympic’s APEX Parks Football Center, and finding themselves still deeply entrenched in a relegation battle but in form, the Sturt Lions entered the match hungry for a vital victory. A strong start put the visitors on the front foot, but a goalmouth scramble in Adelaide Olympic’s attacking end allowed the opportunity for Oliver Julian to open the scoring for the hosts.

Having not lost in five matches, Lino Fusco’s Lions did not allow the concession of the opening goal dull their initiative and continued fighting hard. This match showed Adelaide Olympic’s improved unity in the past few months, with Michael Jakobsen and Kristi Vangjeli particularly crucial in defence to repel Sturt’s advances.

With two minutes to go, captain Christos Pounendis recorded his sixth goal of the season with a rocketing shot finding its way to the roof of James Klappers’ goal. Youngster Issa Sindahalaye sealed the points for his side as the match entered its final minute, heading home his maiden senior goal for Adelaide Olympic.

Match to watch in Round 19

Last time the MetroStars took on Adelaide City neither net was breached, but Danny Graystone’s side was dominant. While the MetroStars will be aiming to claim the points they felt they dropped in their last encounter against Adelaide City, the Champions have shown a resurgence that has seen them climb to third on the table.

Fresh off the back of a Federation Cup triumph, the MetroStars are going from strength to strength, but Adelaide City will pose a challenge they will once again have to overcome. Paul Pezos’s men can send a real message of intent to the rest of the competition by becoming just the third side to defeat the MetroStars in 2023 in Round 19.

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