21/02/2024

The Sturt Lions claimed their first victory of the season against West Adelaide. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms.)

Last season’s top two teams continue to struggle for consistency, while the final two winless sides finally claim the three points. All that and more in Round Three of NPL SA Season 2023.

Sturt holds on

Sturt Lions 1-0 West Adelaide

After finding itself as the only side to finish Round Two without a point, Sturt returned home needing a result against a West Adelaide side that earned its first victory of Season 2023 in its last outing. Despite being the side with the better start to the season, Hellas was not at the races to begin the game, being outplayed by the Lions early.

Jim Tsekinis’ side put itself under pressure and that led to a mistake by fullback Minsung Park who gifted the hosts a penalty which was duly converted by Samed Altundag in the 17th minute. The frustration built on the visitor’s bench, with Tsekinis making two changes, introducing captain Kosta Mantis and last week’s hero Harry Thomas, four minutes before halftime.

West Adelaide looked much improved after the break, and as the half wore on so did its influence on the game. Despite the improvements around the field, the visitors did not have enough quality in the final third to get out of the hole they dug for themselves, this saw the Lions live dangerously but survive to claim three valuable points at home.

Damaging set pieces

Adelaide Comets 3-0 FK Beograd

The Comets hosted FK Beograd at ServiceFM Stadium in Round Three and despite the attacking quality present on the field, the first half shaped as a physical, defensive affair, with few attacking highlights. This changed in the second half with the hosts utilising set plays to perfection.

Having to set up to defend the opposition’s corners and free kicks is a challenge for any backline, let alone a new-look one like the one Beograd possesses.

Within 10 minutes of the restart, the visitors had failed dismally in those particular defensive duties, first giving away a penalty from a free kick which was missed by Nathan Andijanto, before allowing both Comets centrebacks, first Giannakopolos and then Le Cornu, to find the back off after receiving the ball from a corner and a free kick respectively.

Despite Beograd noticeably lifting its game after conceding the quickfire double, it surrendered the game the same way it went behind with yet another poorly defended set piece, substitute Niko Ikonomopoulos finding the back of the net after getting his head on a corner with 15 minutes to go.

This win sees George Tsonis’ side enter a Grand Final rematch against Adelaide City with a much-needed boost of self-belief.

Jets have liftoff

Modbury Jets 2-1 FK Beograd

Despite entering Round Three undefeated and having scored four goals, Modbury kicked off its match against Croydon having not led at all in the opening two weeks.

Despite a strong start from the visitors, it was the Jets that finally opened the scoring for the first time in 2023, with Cooper Wegener recording his first NPL goal after converting a counterattack just after the 10-minute mark.

The first half saw both sides exchange blows, but Croydon eventually levelled the scoring before the break thanks to an expertly-taken Patrick Caraccia free kick.

The Jets regained their advantage early in the half, with 2021 Sergio Melta Medalist Hamish McCabe’s effort not being held by Croydon goalkeeper Gianni Tramontin and trickling to the back of the net.

The momentum Maurice Natale’s team was building was halted after Darsem Shaksi got sent off for a second bookable offence at the hour mark. Despite having the numerical advantage, Croydon could not find the back of the net again which ensured the Jets claimed their first win back in South Australia’s top division.

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Rideouts run riot

Adelaide Olympic 0-3 South Adelaide Panthers

South Adelaide was the side that made the biggest statement in Round Two, defeating Champions Adelaide City after a tough opening game of the season. This meant there was no room in the starting lineup for Alex Rideout to immediately return from suspension.

That did not prove to be any trouble for the Panthers, with Alex’s brother Jonathon continuing his hot streak from the previous week and opening the scoring from the penalty spot 26 minutes in.

Moments later Alex was introduced to the game due to a Daniel Evans’ injury and he inserted himself on the scoresheet early in the second half with a sweetly-struck free-kick which left Callum Nissen helpless in goals. Still shaken by conceding the second goal, Olympic’s backline was missing in action minutes later when Jonathon Rideout, determined to one-up his brother, tapped in Phil Cash’s ball to settle the match.

The Panthers are exceeding expectations to start the season, but this result leaves Olympic feeling the exact opposite way, having now lost two games it would have classed as winnable when the fixture came out.

North Eastern dominance

North Eastern MetroStars 3-2 Campbelltown City

Over the last couple of seasons, the MetroStars have had the wood over their northeastern rivals, Campbelltown. Michael Matricciani’s side did itself no favours trying to atone for that fact, inviting Metro midfielder Austin Ayoubi to cut into the box and finish past Alex Woodlands seven minutes into the match.

The Red Devils got single-handily dragged back into the game by a piece of superb individual brilliance from Yohei Matsumoto bringing the scores level, but Metro was to have the last laugh of the first 45 minutes. As the half was concluding, the league’s hottest striker, James Temelkovski, inexplicably found the roof of the net from a tight angle to restore his side’s lead.

Barresi’s header brought his side level once again close to the hour mark, but Temelkovski once again put his side ahead, tapping the ball in on the goalline after finding his way behind Campbelltown’s defence and goalkeeper Alex Woodlands.

Despite defender Jake Halliday getting sent off minutes later, the Red Devils had multiple chances to equalise at the death, but the three points remained at T.K. Shutter Reserve as they’ve done often in the past few encounters between these two sides.

Toure number three

Adelaide City 0-2 Adelaide United Youth

Coming off the back of their own disappointing Round Two setbacks, the Champions and the Young Reds met at Adelaide City Park, the scene where the two sides played out one of the games of the 2022 season.

A rainy day did not discourage either side from playing its game, but despite the intent being present and some close calls, including United’s crossbar being rattled, the deadlock was not broken in the first half.

A slick Young Reds move and a piece of individual brilliance saw the scoring open halfway through the second half, Musa Toure, brother of Al Hassan and Mohamed, celebrated signing a scholarship contract with the club by opening the scoring against the reigning, back-to-back Champions. The scoring was completed by second-half substitute Nathan Amanatidis who condemned Adelaide City to their second defeat of the season, already one more than they suffered last campaign.

The Young Reds continue to show that when they are on song they can trouble even the most formidable of teams. Meanwhile, Adelaide City has to quickly recover from their fortnight of reality checks to begin mounting a defence of their crown.

Match to watch in Round 4

Round Four will see the season’s first Grand Final rematch when Adelaide City hosts the Adelaide Comets at Oakden. Despite the Black and White claiming the bragging rights the past two seasons, they enter this game on the back of two disappointing defeats, while George Tsonis’ men are coming off two confidence-boosting victories.

Both benches will have an insight into the opposition, the aforementioned Tsonis having served as an assistant to Paul Pezos at City in 2022, while, former Comets boss Barney Smith replaced Tsonis on City’s bench for season 2023.

The two sides may be well-acquainted, but after shaking up their playing list over the off-season, the Comets will be keen to see how they can match up against the league’s standard bearers who will be hell-bent on returning to the winners list they’ve been absent from since Round One.

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