Augustus Williams in action as the sun sets in the first game at the State Center of Football, Gepps Cross. (Image: Adam Butler/80kms)

NPL SA returned after a week of Australia Cup action. Round 8 saw the league's front runners challenged, struggling sides surrendering strong positions and as a consequence remaining entrenched in the relegation battle, while a powerhouse of past years continued rediscovering its groove with a statement victory

NPL SA returned after a week of Australia Cup action. Round 8 saw the league’s front runners challenged, struggling sides surrendering strong positions and as a consequence remaining entrenched in the relegation battle, while a powerhouse of past years continued rediscovering its groove with a statement victory.

Big Missed Call?

Croydon Kings 1-1 South Adelaide Panthers

Round 8 kicked off on Friday night, with the high flying Kings hosting the Panthers. After three league defeats in a row, including two scoreless efforts, Andrew Calderbank’s South Adelaide knew it had to make a statement at Jack Smith Park against a fellow championship smokey.

After an even opening half-hour, the Panthers drew first blood, Jonathon Rideout cushioning a cross down for Jack Rudge who finished empathically. The visitors pushed for a reply and when it all seemed lost, Peter Mercurio pounced on a defensive mistake from a corner to smash home an equaliser from a tight angle.

The spoils were eventually shared, but not without controversy. Three minutes into added time, what seemed like a clear Kings’ handball in the penalty area was inexplicably waved off by the referee, much to the displeasure of Panther’s coach Andrew Calderbank who made his feelings heard and subsequently got booked for his efforts in the dying minutes of the encounter.

City Spared Blushes

Adelaide City 1-1 West Torrens Birkalla

Championship contenders vs relegation battlers. Goliath vs David. Adelaide City vs West Torrens Birkalla. A matchup that on paper should not be close turned out to be anything but a cakewalk for the reigning champions.

The champions have looked irresistible at times in season 2022, but Jason Triboli’s Birks were surprisingly stingy in defence, not allowing City time and space to create the quality chances we have become accustomed to seeing. On the other side of the pitch, Birkalla went close multiple times through the attacking duo of Simic and Sudic.

With two minutes of regulation time to go, right as the match seemed certain to conclude in a scoreless draw, Austin Ayoubi unleashed a booming effort from outside the box leaving City’s keeper Dakota Ochsenham helpless as the visitors took a shock lead. The goal sent City to overdrive looking for an equaliser.

Daniel Bressan was denied by Nicholas Harpas soon after kick-off, but the keeper could not reproduce his magic when Aladin Irabbona set up the midfielder for his second clear cut chance in as many minutes, this time making no mistake. Birkalla will be disappointed with their inability to hold on for the win, but a point away at Oakden is as valuable as it is rare.

Back To Reality

Cumberland United 1-3 Sturt Lions

Fresh from defeating fellow relegation scrappers West Torrens Birkalla to kick-start its season, Cumberland hosted the streaky Sturt Lions hoping to take a step up the ladder with two consecutive wins. Sturt took the ascendency early on in the game, keen to cast aside the disappointments of last week that included a crushing loss to the Kings and an Australia Cup exit at the hands of the MetroStars.

The breakthrough for the visitors came in the 38th minute after a fortunate deflection caused chaos in the box which allowed Will Plush to open the scoring. The damage was not complete, with a wayward defensive header inviting Gonzalo Rodriguez in to double the Lions’ lead heading into the break.

Rodriguez picked up where he left off after the interval, completing his brace through a header from close range. The Foxes concluded a disappointing day with a consolation goal from Harry Thannhauser that mirrored Sturt’s goal from earlier in the half.

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Sliding Doors Moment

Adelaide Comets 2-1 FK Beograd

Two of the form sides of the NPL SA competition met to open up the brand new State Centre for Football at Gepps Cross. The match was decided in the most bizarre fashion, while all the goalmouth action occurred after the break, soon after the first goal was scored.

Two minutes into the second half, the usually reliable Adam Le Cornu cheaply gave the ball away to Josh Mori while attempting to play out from the back, Mori took no time to find space, crossing the ball and finding an unmarked Paul Radice who headered truly to open the scoring. That was when madness ensued.

Radice was spectacularly sent off for his celebration, the referee brandishing a straight red card with the moment spectacularly captured by Adam Butler (80kms) (see below). This allowed the Comets to attack Beograd freely for a half of football, but the comeback was started and completed within two minutes.

Despite strong resistance, Beograd’s keeper Nikola Jokic would have been disappointed to be beaten in his near post by a low, long-range shot by Nikolas Ikonomopoulos who just keeps finding the back of the net.

Straight from kick-off, a relentless Comets press led to Jaiden Diamantis, who recently returned from a long-term injury, dispossessing Beograd before serving the ball on a silver platter for Tom Briscoe who made no mistake, giving Barney Smith’s Comets their second goal and all three points in a hectic half of football.

Are They Back?

Campbelltown City 3-0 Adelaide Olympic

Both sides entered this matchup after a bittersweet week. The Red Devils won both their league and cup matchups but lost marksman Marc Marino to an injury, meanwhile, Olympic lost to Comets in the league before knocking them out in the cup days later.

It took the hosts 21 minutes to find an opener, Josh Barresi converting after a couple of fortunate deflections in Campbelltown’s attacking third. The game was later sealed by Alex Mullen who recorded a brace, making it four goals in the last three league games as he keeps reminding the competition of his quality.

Mullen made himself a nuisance during set-pieces in the second half, finding the back of the net twice; a booming header in the 71st minute and an expertly taken, close-range volley 12 minutes later to ice the game.

After a slow start to the season, Campbelltown has quietly gone about its business, not having lost a match since the end of February. Round 8 saw the hosts make a statement that is sure to put the rest of the league on notice, putting three past Olympic while also ensuring its star-studded artillery drew blanks; overall an impressive, well-rounded performance.

The Hard Way

Adelaide United Youth 2-3 North Eastern MetroStars

Despite progressing to the next round of the Australia Cup midweek, the MetroStars came into the encounter against Adelaide United Youth on the back of disappointing league losses to Adelaide City and FK Beograd, conceding six goals in the process.

It looked like another disappointing loss was imminent when Asad Kasumovic dispossessed Paul Blefari to open the scoring for the Young Reds three minutes into the game. The visitors kept creating their own problems, with Tim Henderson’s erroneous clearance finding its way past Luke Ostbye giving United a two-goal lead at the break.

Metro entered the second half renewed, focused and ready to play. Ren Nagamatsu pulled his side level with two trademark header goals in the 49th and 68th which left Reds’ keeper Ashton Rinaldo helpless. The game was decided when Hamish Gow’s hopeful ball was deflected into the way of Justin Davis whose header gave super-sub Ariath Piol an empty net to wrap up an impressive comeback; another example of the cliché “game of two halves” ringing true in NPL SA Season 2022.

Metro is constantly proving that they do not do things the easy way, and that rang true once again against Adelaide United Youth. Despite the fact that they ended up with the three points, Rob Saraceno will be hoping that his side can stop putting itself in unfavourable situations that take an incredible amount of energy to overcome.

Match to Watch in Round 9

Unbeaten in the league since February and keen to announce themselves as a powerhouse once again, Michael Matricciani’s Campbelltown City visit Adelaide Comets, who sit second on the table, in Round 9. Despite not being fully convincing, the Comets keep getting the job done.

The Red Devils will be missing their star striker Marc Marino, but star Alex Mullen has found his best form in the past month and will undoubtfully be an obstacle for Barney Smith’s side.

As the ladder starts taking shape, this matchup will reveal plenty about the quality of two of the competition’s strongest performers and their ability to go all the way at the pointy end of the season.

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