Acting Adelaide City Captain Nicholas Bucco releasing a shot in his side's finals match against Campbelltown City. (Image: Brenton Bessell; Adelaide City FC)

Week one of the NPL South Australia finals played out across the weekend, with plenty catching the eyes of football fans across the state.

The Inner Sanctum breaks down what stood out in the first three finals fixtures.

Adelaide Comets 1-0 Croydon FC

Welsh settles the nerves

For the first time in years, the Adelaide Comets entered the finals series fighting an uphill battle.

Finishing outside the top two meant that the safety net the second chance provides was gone for Barney Smith’s side. Their opposition, Croydon FC, defeated them the previous week, with the high scoring Comets going goalless.

If that was not a difficult enough situation for the Comets, they entered the game with their only available goalkeeper, Daniel Vaughan, playing with an injured hamstring out of necessity.

The Comets players knew he could not kick the ball, which meant passing back to the keeper to alleviate pressure was out of the question.

The pressure was eventually released early in the second half, with a show of synergy from the Comets deciding the game. Augustus Williams passed the ball towards Logan Marley-McFall who intelligently dummied it, tricking Croydon defenders, and allowing captain Allan Welsh the space to smash the ball home for the match’s only goal.

Croydon draw blanks

Croydon FC entered the finals series as the lowest ranked side, having only scored 28 goals, but the club knew it was a chance against the more fancied Adelaide Comets side.

Despite its low attacking output, Travis Dodd’s side has been one of the competition’s most competent defensive units, only conceding 27 goals and keeping the high-scoring Comets goalless in their last outing.

The question we asked last week was, “could this side respond if it got hit first?” This hypothetical became a reality when Allan Welsh gave the Comets the lead with 36 minutes to go.

Despite knowing Daniel Vaughan was severely limited in goals, Croydon’s attacking play was not enough to break down a Comets side that was hell-bent on protecting its goalkeeper and slender lead.

Croydon can call this season a success and should face a more settled year in 2023 with its stadium finally complete.

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North Eastern MetroStars 2-1 Adelaide United Youth

Experience finds a way

After splitting their two encounters with the Young Reds in 2022, both five goal thrillers with the away side taking the chocolates home, the MetroStars needed to reverse that trend if they were going to advance at the expense of an Adelaide United Youth side making its first finals appearance since 2018.

It all stated perfectly for Metro, Christian Esposito’s exquisite finish only two minutes into the game putting the home side in front. The Young Reds hit back shortly after to negate that positive start.

As the game wore on and both sides looked for a winner, Metro’s experienced shot-stopper, Luke Ostbye, was forced into multiple saves to keep his side level.

Substitute Alessio Melisi rewarded his keeper’s heroics with some of his own only three minutes after being subbed on by converting Cam Woodfin’s cross to seal the game.

As the clock ticked down, the experience of the home side got the best of its opposition’s youthful exuberance as it professionally saw off any late advances.

The kids are alright

Despite its rollercoaster journey in 2022, the Young Reds found themselves competing in a finals series, their first one since 2018.

What promised to be an exciting occasion felt like it was gone before it even started when Airton Andrioli’s side conceded two minutes into the game.

The mental fortitude of the side shone bright and instead of going into their shells, as has been the case in the past, the Young Reds were valiant, hitting back through Giuseppe Bovalina.

The young fullback’s late runs in the box have combined with his aerial ability and tendency to get on the scoresheet to become a real weapon for the Young Reds in 2022.

The Young Reds hung in with the experience of the MetroStars and even threatened to win the game on multiple occasions. Ashton Rinaldo was particularly fantastic in goals for his side.

Despite eventually going down, Adelaide United’s next generation can be proud of its season and achievements that were made possible by team spirit combining with the exceptional South Australian talent that’s been displayed and developed throughout the year.

Adelaide City 0-0 Campbelltown City

Pezos keeps them guessing

Paul Pezos stunned South Australian football fans on Wednesday night by subbing on a forward, Matt Dawber, in centre back against Adelaide United.

The safety of finishing in the top two allowed Pezos to continue to tinker, making life difficult for oppositions that are never fully prepared for what City may throw at them.

Skipper Matt Halliday was unavailable due to injury and despite starting, Matt Dawber was placed in his familiar position; the spot of centre back reserved for Bradley Corbo who can usually be found at fullback.

With City not conceding a goal and Corbo fitting in seamlessly at the heart of defence, this was a successful move.

Pezos also substituted fullback Juan Gutierrez at halftime for midfielder Daniel Bressan, a move which did not make much sense on paper, but unfolded in a logical way on the pitch. Forward Aladin Irabona was moved from his advanced location to right back, a position he played earlier in his career.

Bressan proceeded to help City overload the midfield and get a stronger grasp on the game. It may not have counted on the scoreboard, but Adelaide City’s tactical flexibility is a huge asset in the battle of attrition that is finals football.

Adelaide City forward Aladin Irabona found himself playing at right back in the second half of his side’s clash against Campbelltown City. (Image: Ken Carter)

Undermanned but at home

Campbelltown entered the first leg of its final cautiously optimistic that it has what it takes to vanquish the all-conquering Adelaide City.

Paul Pezos’ men may be the talk of the town, but Campbelltown’s sustained excellence and experience accrued over a period of years is hard to deny.

Unfortunately for the Red Devils, dangerman Marc Marino went down with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, something he has a history of, just before halftime.

Things went from bad to worse for Michael Matricciani’s charges when Joel Allwright was handed his second booking after fouling Ayom Majok who had him beaten for pace.

Campbelltown survived the late City onslaught, and thus enter the second leg of the match level, but undermanned. The solace is that the tie will be decided in front of its home crowd in Newton.

Anything can happen in a single match, and the Red Devils will certainly not be holding back with a spot to the Grand Final available for the taking.

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