Jonathon Rideout celebrates scoring his second goal against Croydon FC (Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

A change in the relegation zone, a record tumbles, and a stack of goals as the NPL SA heads into its World Cup break after a breathtaking Round 20.

Another costly stumble

Adelaide City 1-0 FK Beograd

FK Beograd’s Round 19 victory over Adelaide United meant that despite a hot-and-cold season, Josh Smith’s men remained within striking distance of a Finals Series position heading into a game against Adelaide City, a side it had defeated earlier in its campaign. The Champions entered Round 20 a different side than the one that fell to Beograd at Frank Mitchell Park earlier in the year, but missing several vital players.

A tight first half played out as expected, with both sides measured and calculated in their approach, Adelaide City notably featuring two teenagers in its starting XI in the likes of Alex Battistella and Luca Fabrizio. The tension was relieved by Aladin Irabona just after the hour mark when the striker controlled the ball past Brodie Barrow in the air before finishing in the roof of Jamie Signorello’s net to give the hosts the lead.

Despite being behind on the scoreboard, FK Beograd, as has often been the case in 2023, could not break through Adelaide City in its search for an equaliser which led to it dropping three important points. In a week where all the teams surrounding it also dropped points, Josh Smith’s side may live to rue days like this once the regular season concludes.

Advantage South Adelaide

South Adelaide Panthers 3-3 Croydon FC

South Adelaide and Croydon FC entered their Round 20 clash fighting to escape the relegation zone and to maintain a spot in the top six respectively. Just 16 minutes into the game, the Rideout brothers combined, with Jonathon scoring, to give the struggling Panthers a perfect start, but it only took Croydon five minutes to respond with its own goal through Meiya Hisamoto.

As he does so often, Jonathon Rideout pulled his side out of a difficult spot, meeting Conner Higgins’ ball in the box and tapping home from a tight area to restore South Adelaide’s lead, but Polonia once again hit back minutes later when Dion Kirk was allowed a free header in the box during a corner. Coming out of the break level, the Panthers were keen to restore their advantage in search of an invaluable three points, but Hisamoto struck again for Croydon in the 77th minute to give Polonia its first lead of the afternoon.

It only took the Panthers a minute to respond, Conner Higgins turning goalscorer after his header from an Alex Rideout cross looped over Matt Woithe in the Croydon goals. South Adelaide had multiple chances to snatch all three points late but left the match with a single point which after Sturt’s collapse was enough to see it exit the relegation zone and put its destiny into its own hands.

Second half blitz

Sturt Lions 2-3 Modbury Jets

Sturt and Modbury entered their clash on opposite ends of the ladder, but with the Lions fighting tooth and nail for NPL survival and the Jets out of sorts in recent weeks, this encounter had all the makings of a danger game for Maurice Natale’s side. That possibility became a reality only 24 minutes after kick-off when Akira Kobaishi intelligently ran past his marker during a throw-in and delivered a perfect ball to Gonzalo Rodriguez who continued his hot run of form in front of goals for the Lions by opening the scoring.

Markus Orchard’s pin-point cross at the half-hour mark allowed the striker to double his tally and sent Sturt to halftime break two goals up. Frustration was clear in the Modbury camp, with Maurice Natale making two substitutions during the interval, and his side responded with Liam McCabe taking advantage of an errant Sturt clearance to peg a goal back for the Jets five minutes after kick-off.

Hamish McCabe continued putting his case forward as the best forward in the league not named James Temelkovski by following up with his own goal minutes after his brother’s strike to bring Modbury level. Hamish may often be the hero for Modbury, but Liam McCabe was the toast of the Jets in Round 20 after smoothly combining with Stefan Matteo to score his second goal of the afternoon and ensure all three points went to his side that entered the match as favourites but got pushed by the plucky Sturt who after this result once again finds itself in the drop zone.

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Another red card

Adelaide United Youth 1-3 Campbelltown City

Adelaide United entered Round 20 in the midst of a seven-game winless run, still depleted in depth and experience, and it was never going to get any easier when it came up against Campbelltown City. Just eight minutes into the game the Young Reds’ inability to clear their lines led to Yohei Matsumoto, who was sent off in the reverse fixture earlier in the year, opening the scoring for the Red Devils.

Adelaide United’s red card epidemic continued minutes later when Sotiri Phillis was sent off for denying Shogo Yoshikawa a clear goalscoring opportunity as the last man, making it five red cards for the Young Reds in the past eight games. Campbelltown took advantage of the holes that began popping up around the field and Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio took advantage of the time and space afforded to him by a Brandon Centofanti dummy to curl his side to a two-goal lead heading into the break.

Shogo Yoshikawa joined his compatriot, Yohei Matsumoto, on the scoresheet just before the hour mark, and Giuseppe Bovalina recorded a consolation goal for the Young Reds as Campbelltown cruised to a routine victory after the break. Perhaps no side will be as grateful for the Women’s World Cup break as Adelaide United, while Campbelltown will return from its own break plotting to pip MetroStars to the Premiership with only three points separating the two sides entering the final two matchdays.

Punishing late drama

West Adelaide 2-2 Adelaide Comets

In the pointy end of their respective disappointing seasons, West Adelaide hosted the Adelaide Comets with the former side desperately looking to find the points to retain its NPL status, while the latter are fighting an uphill battle to return to the Finals Series. A hotly contested first half, amounting to 16 fouls, saw both sides come close to opening the scoring, with Comet Jaiden Diamantis seeing his chance go wide after hitting the post being the highlight of the first half.

An eventful game got its first goal in the 71st minute when Karl Phelps tapped home the opening goal off a Jagajeet Shrestha freekick to give the battling hosts a vital lead. An opportunistic finish by Jayden LoBasso in the 84th minute leveled the scores as this clash headed for a grandstand finish, both sides desperate for all three points.

A booming Allan Welsh finish in the third minute of injury time saw George Tsonis’ side celebrate coming from behind to what seemed to be a victory, but only a minute later, after being thrown from the backline to the front in search of a goal, West Adelaide’s Martins Abesida astonishingly poked Hellas level. The match finished as an entertaining draw, with neither side fully pleased by a single point after leading, but still alive in their respective races for survival and finals football.

Club record broken

Adelaide Olympic 1-5 North Eastern MetroStars

Round 20 concluded at the APEX Parks Football Centre where Adelaide Olympic set out to avenge its four-goal loss to MetroStars from earlier in the season. On that day, MetroStars marksman James Temelkovski recorded a hat-trick, and in Round 20, despite missing a penalty just shy of two minutes after kick-off, it only took the striker 12 minutes to open the scoring, with Jackson Walls’ perfectly placed cross ensuring the ball was placed on a silver platter for his teammate.

Adelaide Olympic grew into the game and had its chances, but the importance of a forward like Temelkovski was once again evident when the striker latched onto an Austin Ayoubi ball and confidently finished past Seb Matosevic to put the MetroStars two goals up at halftime. That strike saw Temelkovski equal Perry Mitris’ club record for 22 goals in a campaign, a stat that was quickly broken by the marksman in the second half after a quickfire double saw him put the game beyond any doubt.

Christos Pounendis was able to pull a goal back for Olympic from the penalty spot, but Hamish Gow’s late penalty ensured the margin stayed at four goals between the two sides for the second time this campaign. This victory ensures that Temelkovski and his side remain in pole position to secure the Premiership with two rounds to go, while also keeping their sight set on the Australia Cup Round of 32 and NPL SA Finals Series.

Match to watch in Round 21

The competition pauses for three weeks due to the Women’s World Cup but when the NPL SA returns, the final two matchdays will decide the fate of clubs on both extremes of the ladders. An intriguing matchup in Round 21 is the relegation battle between West Adelaide and South Adelaide.

Hellas will enter this encounter bottom of the table but only a single point away from the safety of the 10th spot which the Panthers currently occupy. South Adelaide can go a long way to ensuring its ticket to another NPL campaign by earning three points against West Adelaide, but Jim Tsekinis’ men will be looking to claw their way out of the drop zone and ensure their opponents replace them in it heading into the final round of the season.

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