21/02/2024

Jaiden Diamantis fired the Adelaide Comets to an eighth consecutive Finals Series appearance (Image: Adam Butler/@8zerokms.)

The final round of the NPL SA season saw the Premiership sealed, the final relegation confirmed, as the top six took shape.

MetroStars seal Premiership

Modbury Jets 0-1 North Eastern MetroStars

Barring a catastrophe that would see MetroStars drop three points against Modbury Jets, and Campbelltown pick up a win and make up a 10-goal difference, Danny Graystone’s side would finish Round 22 as Premiers. Despite that, the visitors decided not to leave their aspirations to fate and started strongly, after a string of corners culminated with Fabian Barbiero’s header meeting captain Anthony Solagna on the goalline who opened the scoring for his side.

The festive atmosphere amongst the away fans at Smith Partners Stadium was dampened when referee Andrew Kite judged that Austin Ayoubi had impeded Liam McCabe on the last line of defence, sending off the midfielder half an hour into the match. After Metro went a man down, the Jets had their first real opportunities of the game, but the league leaders went into the break ahead on the scoreboard.

Just after the hour mark Paul Wilson brought James Temeklovski in the box, but Hamish Gow’s effort from the penalty spot was met by Ryan Neild to keep MetroStars lead to a single goal. Both sides had chances but the score did not change, MetroStars celebrated its first Premiership since 2014 and even joined Modbury after the game to help raise money to fight MND, in support of Jets’ club legend Ray Coull who is currently fighting the rare condition.

Keeping Comets honest

Croydon FC 1-0 Adelaide City

After dropping points to Adelaide United in Round 21, Croydon FC needed to beat Adelaide City at home and hope results went its way if it was to return to the Finals Series for a second consecutive year. Andre Carle could have given an early advantage to the hosts, but Dakota Ochsenham was able to save the forward’s effort from close range.

An even first half could have ended in Adelaide City’s favour if it wasn’t for a strong save from Croydon’s Matthew Woithe in the 43rd minute to deny a powerful Tom Brown volley from inside the box. The tension continued rising, with this encounter being the only one of six in the NPL SA that entered the second half without a goal, but Andre Carle changed that in the 67th minute after running onto a through ball in the box and chipping the Adelaide City goalkeeper with aplomb to open the scoring.

The goal temporarily saw Croydon rise to sixth on the ladder, but after the Adelaide Comets found a winner against South Adelaide they dropped out once again. Travis Dodd’s side held onto the lead, but unfortunately for Polonia so did the Comets who claimed the last Finals Series spot on a night in which three sides occupied it at some point.

Diamantis seals Finals

South Adelaide Panthers 1-2 Adelaide Comets

After rising from ninth to the coveted sixth position in Round 21, the Adelaide Comets entered the final round of the NPL SA season with a simple equation ahead of it in the quest for an eighth straight season of Finals football; win and you are in. Despite that, a rejuvenated South Adelaide, fresh off a win that just about guaranteed its NPL status, opened the scoring in the 20th minute when Alex Rideout’s free-kick was nodded home by Chol Wel to throw a spanner in the works for the Comets.

The visitors brought the game level in injury time of the first half when Anthony Mavrolambados cut onto his left foot to pick out Allan Welsh who made no mistake to bury his header past Lewis Moss from close range. The second half saw the Comets take the match by the scruff of the neck and dominate territory with a multitude of chances created.

The decisive moment occurred when Ryan Yates, whose stunning free-kick put the Comets in this advantageous situation heading into Round 22, played a pinpoint cross-field ball from his own half to Jaiden Diamantis in the box which the substitute controlled sublimely before giving his team the lead in the 73rd minute. The Comets held on to their lead, and despite Croydon FC and FK Beograd winning their respective matches, George Tsonis’ men claimed the last spot in the NPL SA Finals Series.

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A familiar story

Adelaide United Youth 3-1 West Adelaide

An already relegated West Adelaide played its last NPL match for the foreseeable future at the Southern Soccer Facility against an Adelaide United Youth side gearing up for the Finals Series. After weathering an early storm it was Hellas that opened the scoring, Adelaide United defender Panagiotis Kikianis turning in a Kucha Guut cross for an own goal while attempting to clear the ball in the 14th minute.

Things looked good for West Adelaide, but eight minutes later Abou Keita was sent off for a dangerous tackle, but despite that the visitors remained dangerous, making it hard for Adelaide United to play against 10 men, even taking their lead into halftime. After a positive first half of the season West Adelaide disintegrated and that was the case in the final match of the season, with the Young Reds emerging after the break renewed and leveling proceedings through Patrick McGregor.

With momentum on their side, as well as an extra player, the Young Reds made West Adelaide hurt in transition, with Ryan White putting his side ahead and McGregor finding his way on the scoresheet again to put the cherry on top of what ended up being a comfortable victory. While Adelaide United now takes on the Adelaide Comets in the Finals Series, West Adelaide will already be plotting to ensure its return to State League One is a brief one this time around.

Australia Cup preparation

Campbelltown City 2-1 Adelaide Olympic

In order to pip MetroStars to the Premiership in Round 22, Campbelltown City needed several miracles to occur. With his side’s Australia Cup clash against Macarthur three days after the clash against Adelaide Olympic, Campbelltown coach Michael Matricciani opted to rotate his squad to ensure peak condition when the big day arrives.

Despite players like Jake Halliday, Joel Allwright, and Shogo Yoshikawa starting on the bench, the Red Devils took the lead when an attempted clearance of an Antoni Trimboli cross rebounded off Olympic’s Michael Jakobsen and into the back of the net for an own goal. With eight minutes to go in the first half, Campbelltown star Alex Mullen was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for a high foot, throwing a spanner in the works not only for the rest of the match but for his side’s upcoming game.

Coming off the bench, Shogo Yoshikawa won and converted a penalty in the fifth minute of the second half to ease Campbelltown’s concerns. Olympic captain Christon Pounendis was also sent off later in the second half to even the playing field, and his side ended its season with a goal from Tito Bontor from the spot which was not enough to get a point against the second-placed Campbelltown City which will now begin gearing up for its Australia Cup and NPL Finals Series ties.

Sturt bows out

FK Beograd 3-1 Sturt Lions

After a disastrous first 11 rounds, the Sturt Lions have shown the ability to compete in the NPL in the second half of the season. Despite that, Lino Fusco’s side entered Round 22 needing to defeat FK Beograd and for South Adelaide to suffer a heavy defeat in order to maintain its NPL status for the 2024 season.

FK Beograd’s Christian Sotira stepped up to extinguish any hope by cooly opening the scoring for the hosts after only 13 minutes. Just before the half-hour mark, Josh Mori pounced on a loose Caden Yates ball before beating his markers to make it two for Beograd, who briefly held onto a Finals Series spot before other results went against it.

Eight minutes after the second half kicked off Gideon Arok put an exclamation mark on his side’s performance, his strike from range finding the back of the net. Gonzalo Rodriguez continued in his valiant scoring ways to pull a goal back for Sturt, but it was not enough as the Lions officially joined West Adelaide on the way down to State League One for the 2024 campaign.

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