Adelaide City celebrate winning the 2022 NPL SA Premiership. (Image: Football South Australia)

The NPL SA regular season concluded with the Premiers being crowned, the finals being set, and one side having its heart broken on the final day of the season.

Better than Goode

Croydon FC 1-0 Adelaide Comets

Croydon entered Round 22 with a tall task before it if it was to play finals. Travis Dodd’s men had to defeat a Comets side that was coming off a seven-goal win, while also hoping that either FK Beograd or Adelaide United Youth dropped points in favourable games.

A cagy first half did not see either side threaten to score, Croydon’s stinginess not surprising anyone but its lack of firepower concerned fans who knew of the day’s requirements.

Any worries were forgotten early in the second half when the Kings caught the Comets napping and Seb Goode tapped in a well-placed cross.

The score remained that way, an impressive effort by a desperate Croydon, and despite Adelaide United Youth stamping its ticket to finals, the Sturt Lions upset Damian Mori’s FK Beograd. That result saw Travis Dodd’s men get rewarded for a superb final day effort, funnily enough securing a date with the Adelaide Comets for the second consecutive week, this time with much higher stakes.

Hamish Gow wows

North Eastern MetroStars 2-1 South Adelaide Panthers

With the MetroStars firmly locked in at fourth on the ladder and the Panthers safe from relegation but far-removed from promotion, this Round 22 match saw the two sides free to express themselves.

The gap between the two sides was evident in the first half, the home side clearly looking like a side primed for finals football.

Despite not converting prolifically, Metro dominated proceedings in the first half, its dominance was rewarded when a fortunate deflection saw Ariath Piol tap the ball into an open net.

With Metro taking its foot off the pedal in the second half, South Adelaide grew in confidence but was punished by a stunning Hamish Gow free kick, not his first in 2022.

Chol Wel tapped in a consolation goal for South Adelaide minutes later, ending a disappointing season for a side that had an impressive 2021 finals series.

Metro now awaits Adelaide United Youth, a side that managed to knock it off in its last visit to T.K. Shutter Reserve.

Final day heartbreak

Sturt Lions 1-0 FK Beograd

Damian Mori’s FK Beograd entered the final round of the 2022 regular season with a simple formula in their chase for finals, win and you’re in. Going up against a Sturt Lions side with nothing to play for may have sounded simple, but it never seems to be against a side that has endured a disappointing year but never seems to be beaten easily.

A cagy Beograd side failed to trouble its opponents early before calamity struck half an hour into the encounter. Jacob Butler-Bowdon was adjudged to have brought down a Sturt player whilst defending a set piece and Akira Kobaishi got his first goal for the season from the spot to give the Sturt the lead.

In the meantime, both Adelaide United Youth and Croydon FC had taken leads which saw Beograd out of the six. Unfortunately for Damian Mori’s men, they could not complete a fairytale first season back in the NPL, falling on the final hurdle without producing enough to trouble Sturt and missing out on finals to a solitary goal to nil defeat while its rivals triumphed.

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Young Reds return

Adelaide United Youth 3-1 West Torrens Birkalla

After their seven-goal humiliation at the hands of the Comets, the streaky Young Reds entered Round 22 with their fate in their hands. In their way stood an already relegated West Torrens Birkalla side fighting for pride.

An early Adelaide United onslaught was denied by Birks keeper Nicholas Harpas who made multiple strong saves. Neither he nor his defenders could deny a stubborn Luka Jovanovic who refused to lose the ball in a strong individual effort, the young forward continuing his breakout season by giving his side the lead going into the break.

Harpas continued his heroics by saving an Asad Kasumovic penalty early in the second half, before midfielder Jonny Yull, recently returning from his trial at Chelsea, scored an impressive, quick-fire brace to seal the deal. Austin Ayoubi and Asad Kasumovic exchanged goals in the dying moments.

With the two sides reflecting on a contrasting regular season, the Young Reds return to the finals series for the first time since 2018.

Adelaide United Youth players celebrating a return to finals (Image: Adelaide United)

Double chance sealed

Cumberland United 1-2 Campbelltown City

Cumberland United farewelled the NPL stage by hosting Michael Matricciani’s Campbelltown City who needed a win to have a chance at the Premiership. Glory was not in Campbelltown’s hands, but a top-two finish and the double chance definitely were.

The Red Devils meant business and took the ascendency with a Jack Schoen own goal giving them the lead, before marksman Marc Marino added insult to injury, doubling Campbelltown’s score.

Despite the dynamic start, Adelaide City were already three goals and a man-up at halftime against Adelaide Olympic, only a minor miracle denying them the Premiership.

Cumberland’s Yuya Taguchi converted a late penalty for the relegated Foxes, but Campbelltown took home the chocolates.

It was not elation for the Red Devils, but a top two finish will now give them a two-leg tie against Paul Pezos’ all-conquering Adelaide City in the first two weeks of finals.

Never in doubt

Adelaide City 6-0 Adelaide Olympic

The formula was simple for Adelaide City, beat Adelaide Olympic and win the Premiership that eluded Paul Pezos’ men on the final day of the 2021 season.

Fellow Premiership challengers Campbelltown would have been disappointed to see Olympic defender Benkert Abdija not able to handle Ayom Majok’s pace and receiving his marching orders just minutes into the game.

It was a sign of things to come, with Majok taking advantage of Olympic’s diabolical defending to give his side a three-goal lead at halftime, the striker recording a rapid hat-trick. With the Australia Cup clash against Adelaide United approaching and the job done, Majok was subbed off early in the second half.

City’s Premiership party only got better, Nicholas Bucco recording a quick-fire brace and Daniel Bressan also finding his way on the score sheet after the interval.

City’s Premiership-winning elation was contrasted with a fitting ending to a frustrating season for Olympic, Tzoi Tsarkani being sent off for an unnecessary kick-out late in the game.

Final to watch in Week One

It may not be an elimination game just yet, but it is impossible to deny Adelaide City’s clash against Campbelltown City. Paul Pezos’ side will begin the serious task of defending its Championship while Campbelltown will be wanting to prove it is a worthy number one contender.

Both sides know how to win, but they will be thrust into a situation where they must ensure they are ahead on aggregate after two games. City’s midweek Australia Cup match against Adelaide United throws a spanner in the work for the champions, with the Red Devils’ full attention being to knocking them off their perch.

Neither side will be easy to defeat, with strong defensive units, game-changing talent in the midfield, lethal finishers in the final third, and coaches that have sold their projects to their charges successfully.

Whichever way this goes, first against second rarely disappoints, an eventual spot in the Grand Final for the winner only raises the stakes for this must-watch match.

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