NPL SA 2023: The winners and losers from Round 1
Throughout the 2023 NPL SA season, Front Page Football will look at each week's big winners and losers from the action-packed South Australian top flight. Below are our picks from the opening round of the new season.
Adelaide City's recruitment
On the Front Page Football Podcast, Adelaide City's Nicholas Bucco spoke about the importance of the two-time champions refreshing their squad to pursue a three-peat. Clearly, Paul Pezos agreed with his star, handing out debuts to new signings Gus Williams, Andrew Marveggio, and Katsuyoshi Kimishima in round one.
Adelaide City embodies that it takes a squad, not just a starting XI, to win a championship, and its new additions went to work immediately. Williams opened the scoring for his new club on the stroke of halftime. Meanwhile, Kimishima brought the fans at ServiceFM Stadium to their feet early in the second half with a superb volley to double his side's advantage.
Marveggio fit seamlessly in the new-look midfield, both defensively and offensively. Darcy Dawber was even promoted from the Reserves to refresh the left-back position to good effect. City's planning and purposeful recruitment significantly contribute to Pezos' team remaining the hot favourite to retain its crown.
Luka Jovanovic's stocks
Season 2022 was a breakout one for young Adelaide United forward Luka Jovanovic. The striker recorded 12 goals in the NPL SA and earned a spot on the club's A-League Men roster.
Round one saw Jovanovic continue his impressive trajectory, this time at the expense of the South Adelaide Panthers. Despite being left frustratingly goalless in his side's eight-goal triumph over the Panthers in 2022, fortune was on the young forward's side in 2023, as he tapped in the opener just three minutes into the match.
Jovanovic recorded his brace and hat-trick within a minute of each other early in the second half before adding a fourth goal in a ruthless display of his raw potential. Having already reached a quarter of his 2022 goal tally in just one match, Jovanovic promises to take an even more significant step up in his development in 2023. He aims to become a mainstay in the Adelaide United A-League Men squad.
Christos Pounendis' positional change
Despite his natural position being upfront, Christos Pounendis has often been deployed at centre-back to cover for Adelaide Olympic's defensive struggles. Olympic's addition of former Danish and Albanian internationals Michael Jakobsen and Kristi Vangjeli strengthened the team's defensive core and inadvertently improved its attacking shape.
Olympic scored three goals against Croydon FC, a team with an impressive defensive record from season 2022. Pounendis was heavily involved in the attack. The striker tapped in a goal following a cheap Croydon giveaway, Olympic's second of the night, before winning and converting a penalty to seal the three points later in the game.
Pounendis' physicality at the point of the attack also provides Olympic with a bailout ball option which the forward often brings down, relieving his team's defence while bringing his midfielders and wingers into play. Pounendis can perform capably at both ends of the pitch. But the bolstered security at the back has allowed him to return to the forward line, where he does his best work.
The confidence of the battlers
In Front Page Football's season 2023 preview article and podcast, we forecasted that West Adelaide and South Adelaide would struggle to pick up points in their fight against relegation. The season's opening round did little to fill the two battling sides with confidence.
West Adelaide was always going to have a fight on its hands against the champions. Despite giving City a competitive game for most of the first half, Jim Tsekinis' side would have been discouraged from conceding four goals without a reply. Meanwhile, the Panthers conceded six goals to the Young Reds. With Adelaide City up next, it becomes more challenging for Anthony Rideout's men.
It is a long season, and while both sides have time to put points on the board, losing in the manner they did can have long-lasting effects. Both teams hope to improve from their round one showings and earn their first points this week.
West Adelaide could not keep up as Adelaide City ran riot in the second half of the season opener. (Adam Butler/80Kms)
Sturt's home record
After moving to its stunning new Karinya Reserve facility at Eden Hills in 2022, Sturt was tipped to string together results at home and make an impact come finals time. Despite 10 of their last 11 games being at home, the Lions only managed three wins. The only time Lino Fusco's side triumphed over a team outside the relegation zone was in the last round of the 2022 season against FK Beograd when finals qualification was impossible for the home side.
It looked like the Lions had turned a corner at Karinya in round one, giving Campbelltown a challenging game and even taking the lead into halftime. That became a distant memory quickly after the restart. The Red Devils outplayed their opposition and equalised minutes into the second half.
Another loss was added to Sturt's home record after Alex Mullen once again claimed all three points at Karinya after a late goal, as he did in 2022. If the Lions are to return to finals football, their home record must swiftly improve.
Alex Mullen celebrates making yet another dent in Sturt's home record. (Ken Carter)
It is not an exaggeration to state that Croydon's defence carried it into the Finals Series last season. Travis Dodd's side was meek in attack, only recording 28 goals. But despite that, its backline contained opposition sides to only 27.
To improve, Croydon entered 2023 aiming to consolidate their defensive unity while also hoping the additions of Vianne Kurikwimana and Tom Visser compensated for the loss of Antoni Trimboli and vastly improved their efficiency in front of goal. Croydon was left disappointed on both fronts in round one against Adelaide Olympic.
The exits of Jared Clark and John Hall were felt, with Croydon's usually assured backline conceding three goals to Olympic, one from a comical act of self-sabotage. Croydon scored twice, but both came late in a match where the visitors were three goals behind and realistically out of the game.
Want to learn more about the 2023 NPL SA season? Click here to read our full team-by-team season preview!