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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

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

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 third week of the Finals Series.

A string of excellent Steven Hall saves laid the foundation for Adelaide United to qualify for their first NPL SA Grand Final. (Ken Carter)

The Winners

Hall makes the most of his opportunity to help Young Reds seal Grand Final ticket

Adelaide United goalkeeper Ethan Cox put in a man-of-the-match performance against Campbelltown City in the first leg of the Semi-Finals. But with the young goalkeeper getting a call-up to Olyroos camp, meaning he would miss the second leg, the absence caused a potential disruption in the Young Reds' ranks. In his place came Steven Hall, a talented young goalkeeper with A-League Men experience, slotting in for only his third senior NPL start this season.

Adelaide United conceded early, but with the tie level on aggregate, a proactive Hall thwarted Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio when the two came face to face in the box to maintain parity and allow teammate Ryan White to put the Young Reds back in front minutes later. The script repeated itself before the break, with a pair of exceptional Hall saves bookending a second White goal to put Adelaide United one goal up on the day and two up on aggregate.

Giuseppe Bovalina made it three for the Young Reds shortly after the restart. But Hall was not letting complacency seep in between the sticks. He arguably pulled off his most impressive save to deny Alex Mullen from close range. The young goalkeeper's heroics were enough to secure Adelaide United a spot in their first NPL SA Grand Final, where he and his teammates hope to replicate their recent performances to claim silverware.

Modbury learn their lesson to continue a fairytale season

Just over a week ago, an intense and physical first half saw the Modbury Jets take a shock 2-1 lead against the MetroStars heading into halftime of their Semi-Final first leg. As the second half wore on, Maurice Natale's men began to sit off the premiers, who started to find their rhythm. They were duly punished by a Jackson Fortunatow brace in injury time, meaning they would enter the second leg behind despite a promising performance.

The Jets were not discouraged and made life difficult for a James Temelkovski-less MetroStars in the first half of the second leg. Neither team could find a breakthrough in the first half. But that all changed when Hamish McCabe was afforded too much space in the box, being picked out by his brother Liam before curling home the goal that brought his side level on aggregate.

An exhausted Metro side was there for the taking, which Modbury could sense. Hamish McCabe doubled his account within six minutes of his first, sending the away fans into raptures behind the Jets' bench. Modbury would not squander their lead this time, with substitute Joshua Hernandez pressing Hamish Gow into a costly error before finishing past Isaac Carmody for a 5-3 aggregate win, sending the relentless underdogs into the NPL SA Grand Final.

The Losers

The top two squander dominant seasons

For most of the season, the top end of the local South Australian competition was purely between two sides, MetroStars and Campbelltown City. The two North-Eastern sides had a stronghold over the top two positions for most of the season. They even competed against each other in the Federation Cup Final. But neither could make it through their respective Semi-Final encounters.

MetroStars finished at the league's summit with 56 points, 26 more than Semi-Final opponents Modbury Jets. But their opponents showed they could get the best of their opponents by making them uncomfortable. The physicality of Maurice Natale's Jets, compounded with Metro's heavy schedule, ensured that other than a spectacular ending to the first leg, most of the two clashes played out the way the underdogs wished, with Modbury being victorious on aggregate.

Campbelltown ran into the problem of an A-League Men youth side dropping their higher calibre youngsters to play in the Finals Series. Despite the Red Devils taking an early lead in the first and second legs, Luka Jovanovic, Nestor Irankunda, Ryan White, and Giuseppe Bovalina found the back of the net across both games. Along with their loaded lineups, strong performances in goals from Ethan Cox and Steven Hall saw the Young Reds advance to the Grand Final 5-2 on aggregate.

Australia Cup commitments take their toll

The Australia Cup is a brilliant competition serving many different purposes for sides across Australia. For A-Leagues sides, it is a pre-season competition and an opportunity for silverware. For underperforming NPL sides, it is an opportunity to shake off the shackles of their league table and showcase their communities on the national stage.

The competition is a blessing and a curse for NPL clubs succeeding, such as the MetroStars and Campbelltown City. Like all ambitious sides, both Metro and Campbelltown embrace the national spotlight. But the reality is that the competition comes at the most crucial time of the season, with both clubs playing their Round of 16 games between the two legs of their NPL SA Semi-Finals. Campbelltown even had to travel to Melbourne.

This scheduling meant both the MetroStars and Campbelltown City, both semi-professional clubs with players juggling football with full-time jobs, would play three games in nine days. When you view the Semi-Final shortcomings of South Australia's two 2023 powerhouses from that lens, it is understandable why neither could find another gear after falling behind in their respective encounters.

Click here to read our NPL SA winners and losers from the second week of the Finals Series!


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