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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

NPL SA 2023 Finals Series: The winners and losers from Week One

Throughout the 2023 NPL SA season, Front Page Football looks at each week's big winners and losers from the action-packed South Australian top flight. Below are our picks from the first week of the Finals Series.

Adelaide United's A-League Men players, such as Bernardo and Luka Jovanovic, helped the Young Reds beat a stubborn Adelaide Comets side. (Adam Butler/80kms)

The Winners

Adelaide United loads up NPL squad to squeeze past Comets

Heads were turned in the NPL SA Finals Series when Adelaide United Youth named a side including regular A-League Men players Bernardo, Luka Jovanovic, Nestor Irankunda, Ethan Alagich, and Panashe Madanha to take on the Adelaide Comets. A stunning Bernardo strike opened the scoring for the Young Reds. But Airton Andrioli's side astoundingly entered the break behind due to two strikes from the Ikonomopoulos brothers late in the half.

A lethal combination between Bernardo and Jovanovic saw the latter level the scoring minutes after the restart. The Comets' task did not get easier when Ryan Yates was sent off for a second bookable offence just before the hour mark. The match went to extra time, but only minutes after kick-off, three A-League Men players, Madanha, Bernardo, and Jovanovic, combined to restore Adelaide United's lead, with Jovanovic recording his brace.

Irankunda sealed the victory late in the first half of extra time, putting an exclamation mark on a win made possible by a stack of A-League Men talent. While Adelaide United take on Campbelltown City for a spot in the NPL SA Grand Final, the Adelaide Comets ended their season with a consolation goal from Ryan Cook, who ended up being sent off for denying the Young Reds a clear goalscoring opportunity late in the game.

Modbury go from promotion to champion slayers in 12 months

Maurice Natale's Modbury Jets was often described as an NPL side playing State League football in 2022. The Jets finished comfortably at the top of the State League One ladder to gain promotion while putting NPL WA side Armadale to the sword in the Australia Cup.

The core of the promoted side was retained. With a few key additions, the Jets became an offensive force to be reckoned with in their first season back in the NPL, scoring 46 goals, the third-best record in the competition, en route to finishing fifth and entering the Finals Series. Modbury faced Adelaide City, a side that beat them 5-0 in the Federation Cup Final last year. Things did not start well, with Paul Pezos' side dominating early, as Matt Dawber opened the scoring for the champions.

Modbury succumbed to a disappointing loss at Adelaide City Park weeks ago but held on in this match before levelling proceedings when Paul Wilson popped up late in the first half to nod home a Liam McCabe cross. The Jets were far from perfect in the second half. But their maturity kept them in the game, opening the door for Joshua Hernandez to score a winner deep in injury time to shockingly eliminate the champions in the first week of the Finals Series and ensure the Modbury fairytale writes another chapter in 2023.

The Losers

Valiant Comets succumb to costly lapses of concentration

The Adelaide Comets put together a solid fortnight to pip their rivals to the last Finals Series spot. It would not get any easier against an Adelaide United side stacked with A-League Men talent. But despite that fact, George Tsonis' men managed to come from behind and lead the match. They then proceeded to survive until the end of regulation time by only conceding once after going down to 10 men. Ryan Yates was sent off to a chorus of confusion and frustration.

The hard work was undone when a lapse of concentration only two minutes after extra time began allowed Panashe Madanha to pick a hole through the Comets' defence and find Bernardo, with the winger's sublime delivery making Luka Jovanovic's job of handing the Young Reds the lead almost routine. When it seemed like the Comets would enter the interval with a chance to regroup in the final minutes of the first half of extra time, Nestor Irankunda made it four to put the game beyond the reach of his opposition.

Ryan Cook recorded a consolation, but ultimately, two minor lapses in concentration amid a valiant effort were enough for Adelaide United Youth to prevail on the day. The Comets will return next season looking to improve after 2023 saw the talented side experience a rollercoaster of emotions, with a group of new players spending the campaign trying to gel together.

City's hot and cold title defence ends in the cruellest of ways

Unlike 2022, Adelaide City's 2023 championship defence never really took flight. In their quest for a championship three-peat, Paul Pezos' men faced an inconsistent first half of the year, seeing them even drop out of the top six before they eventually recovered enough to end the regular season in fourth.

The final standings saw City take on Modbury in the first week of the Finals Series. After a positive start, where Matt Dawber delivered a lead for the hosts, the ghosts of 2023 came back to haunt the defending champions when Paul Wilson equalised on the stroke of halftime.

Adelaide City arguably had the best of the second half. They should have won the game through Jason Konstandopoulos, whose 89th-minute strike was spectacularly saved onto the post by Ryan Neild. But deep in injury time, Jets forward Joshua Hernandez headed home a free-kick to cruelly end City's 2023 ambitions in one fatal defeat, sending the travelling supporters into raptures and through to the next stage of the Finals Series.

Click here to read more coverage of the NPL Australia-wide!


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