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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

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

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 second week of the Finals Series.

Ethan Cox had an outstanding game in the Adelaide United goal as his side downed Campbelltown City in the first leg of their Semi-Final clash. (Adam Butler/@8zerokms)

The Winners

Cox's well-rounded performance gives Adelaide United the advantage

Ethan Cox has been recognised as one of Australia's top young goalkeepers, having been called to represent Australia at youth level multiple times. This week, he will again do so for the Olyroos in their AFC U23 Asian Cup Qualifiers. Before jetting off, Adelaide United's NPL captain produced a crucial performance to leave his side in a strong position entering the second leg of their Semi-Final clash against Campbelltown City.

After Campbelltown scored early in the first leg, the Red Devils threatened to blow the game out. Had Cox not intervened by thwarting Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio at close quarters, the Young Reds may have been out of the game heading into halftime. Adelaide United drew level from the penalty spot early in the second half. But after keeping his side in the game, Cox helped the Young Reds go ahead after restarting the game quickly from a goal kick and finding Nestor Irankunda isolated on the wing, recording an assist as the winger tore through Campbelltown to score.

After helping his side take the lead, Cox had his hands full defending it. But he did so excellently, commanding his area and communicating with his teammates to contain the Red Devils. Cox was called into action twice and did an excellent job of denying Marc Marino and Alex Mullen late, sealing a significant victory for an Adelaide United side now 90 minutes away from a maiden NPL Grand Final appearance.

Fortunatow becomes Metro's unlikeliest hero

As the MetroStars can attest, winning can become a habit. But when a side has not lost since April and does not often fall behind, they can briefly forget what it is like to have to fight back. That happened for Danny Graystone's side, who took an early lead through James Temelkovski against the Modbury Jets before Stefan Matteo and Hamish McCabe turned it around for Maurice Natale's side.

Despite scoring 65 goals in the home and away season, MetroStars found it hard to create chances against a physical Modbury side until the last 15 minutes of the match. In the 82nd minute, Graystone raised eyebrows when he introduced young defensive midfielder Jackson Fortunatow, who had not scored a senior goal coming into the Semi-Final, for talisman Temelkovski, who had earlier recorded his 29th goal of the season.

In the 94th minute, Fortunatow justified his coach's trust. For a rare moment, Hamish Gow was allowed time and space to deliver a cross into the Modbury area, which Fortunatow met to record his first senior goal and ensure Metro's undefeated streak continued. After a tough day at the office, the MetroStars would have settled for a draw. But Fortunatow astonishingly smashed a bouncing ball into Ryan Neild's top corner two minutes later, sending the away fans into raptures and sending his side into the second leg of the Semi-Final with a lead that was a deficit only minutes earlier.

The Losers

Campbelltown learn they can't afford any lapses in concentration

Campbelltown City is a quality side, and along with knowing how to attack, scoring 56 goals in the home and away season, they know how to lock their opposition down. Two weeks ago, Michael Matricciani's men kept professional side and Australia Cup holders Macarthur FC scoreless for 93 minutes as they advanced into the competition's Round of 16.

A similar focus had to be adopted when facing an Adelaide United Youth side loaded with A-Leagues talent such as Nestor Irankunda, Panashe Madanha, Luka Jovanovic, and Ethan Alagich. The Red Devils took an early lead and should have added to it in the first half. But they let Adelaide United back into the game after a late Antoni Trimboli tackle allowed Luka Jovanovic to level proceedings from the penalty spot.

The fatal lapse in concentration occurred when the Red Devils claimed Ethan Cox had fouled Jake Halliday in the box. As the Campbelltown players protested, the goalkeeper hastily restarted the match with a goal kick and found an unmarked Irankunda on the wing. Anyone who has watched Irankunda play can imagine how that ended. Within seconds, the winger had beaten Alex Woodlands at his far post to give the Young Reds a lead they would not surrender, reminding Campbelltown of the importance of staying switched on throughout the match, particularly when facing a side that can hurt you at any moment.

Modbury invite Metro to find their groove

Coming into their two-legged Semi-Final against the all-conquering MetroStars, the Modbury Jets had to make the encounter uncomfortable for their opponents should they be able to challenge them. Modbury fought hard in the midfield, giving players like Hamish Gow and Michael Cittadini little space to operate. But the premiers were able to open the scoring through James Temelkovski's brilliance.

The Jets stuck to their plan, and by the halftime break, they had pushed their usually immaculate opponents into errors. They had taken the lead heading into the break. Taking an early lead against the MetroStars can be a blessing and a curse because you can be sure Graystone's side will return serve with all guns blazing.

As the second half wore on, Modbury dropped deeper and deeper, which invited pressure. With Metro missing suspended playmaker Austin Ayoubi, it seemed the plan would work. But when Hamish Gow was afforded only a bit of space in injury time to deliver a cross into the box, the game turned on its head as substitute Jackson Fortunatow drew his side level. Suddenly, the Metro avalanche had begun, and a stunning Fortunatow volley won the first leg to cruelly teach Modbury a lesson about what can happen if they sit back and let the MetroStars play their game.

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


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