NPL SA 2023: The winners and losers from Round 18
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 Round 18.
Sturt goalkeeper James Klappers (bottom left) watches on as Issa Sindahalaye (middle left) celebrates his first senior goal. (Adam Butler/@8zerokms)
Count out the champions at your own peril
Despite winning the last two NPL SA championships, Adelaide City's 2023 has been anything but smooth. Paul Pezos' side has even found themselves outside the Finals Series spots at times this season, but in Round 18, the Black and Whites showed they are still a force to be reckoned with.
Hosting Modbury, a side that had scored 12 goals in their last three outings, City was up for the fight and within half an hour, they were two goals up thanks to an Aladin Irabona brace. City held their advantage heading into the break and, more impressively, kept the free-scoring Modbury to very few opportunities.
Adelaide City went to another level after the break, with Matt Dawber and Nicholas Bucco adding the finishing touches to a comprehensive victory. Meanwhile, the team ensured Modbury had no attempts at Dakota Ochsenham's goal. In an inconsistent season, the champions now find themselves up to third on the ladder and, should this form continue, in contention to retain their crown and complete a championship three-peat.
Clinical Croydon now within striking distance
Travis Dodd's Croydon FC slipped into the relegation zone only a couple of months ago. But after a resurgence in form and confidence, Polonia entered Round 18 only four points off the coveted sixth spot their opponents, Adelaide Comets, occupied. Despite starting the stronger of the two sides, the Comets were powerless to stop Croydon forward Andre Carle after he brought a Luke Klimek cross under control in the box and finished confidently past goalkeeper Dan Vaughan.
Still shocked by the concession, the Comets could not regroup as Polonia struck again minutes later; Patrick Caraccia tapped into an empty net after Vaughan saved a Klimek shot at his near post. Despite the game looking competitive on the halftime stats sheet, Croydon's ability to take their chances, which has not always been the case, meant they entered the break with a comfortable lead.
New signing Christian Esposito showed his value in the second half, opening his account for Croydon with a close-range header from a corner to seal an impressive victory. After a forgettable first half of 2023, Croydon is only one point off the top six heading into the season's final four games.
Adelaide Olympic's blend of youth and experience reaping rewards
Adelaide Olympic's victory over Sturt saw some of Jason Trimboli's young charges take the opportunity provided to them with both hands. What would always be a tight game saw youngster Oliver Julian sweep home the opening goal for his side amid a goalmouth scramble in only his second senior match of the season.
Desperate for points in their quest to survive the drop, Sturt pushed forward to equalise but were repelled on multiple occasions by the experienced centre-back duo of Michael Jakobsen and Kristi Vangjeli. The match seemed to be concluding as a hard-fought 1-0 victory for Olympic until experienced captain Christos Pounendis rocketed a shot past Lions goalkeeper James Klappers in the 88th minute to confirm the result.
With the game all but sealed, another youngster, Issa Sindahalaye, made his mark off the bench, heading home his first senior goal to spark jubilant celebrations. Only a few months ago, Adelaide Olympic looked condemned to relegation. But Trimboli has squeezed the most out of his side, combining youth and experience to place them only a point outside the top six with four matches to play.
Two Young Reds see costly reds
Adelaide United Youth's first encounter with MetroStars in 2023 was sullied by an early red card to Noah McNamara in a match the Young Reds left with all three points. In Round 18, the two sides exchanged blows in the opening half to go into halftime level with a goal apiece in what seemed to be a match-of-the-season contender.
Ten minutes after the restart, Adelaide United's Ryan White was caught out of position and fouled Cam Woodfin in transition, with the challenge seeing referee Christian Verdicchio rightfully produce a second yellow card, leaving the Young Reds a player light. Adelaide United worked hard to keep up with the MetroStars after that. But when Hamish Gow was afforded too much space in the box, the midfielder smashed the ball past Oscar Page to give his side a deserved lead.
Tempers boiled once again when the referee adjudged Patrick McGregor's lunging challenge as another red card. The Young Reds were suddenly left with only nine men. They could not muster any more meaningful opportunities against a high-flying MetroStars that marched to yet another victory.
Another FK Beograd collapse sees another opportunity missed
FK Beograd's trip to South Adelaide to take on the relegation-threatened Panthers seemed to be going to plan for most of the game. Josh Smith's team could not convert on a dominant first half. But Micah Lea'alafa tapped in the opener shortly after the break to give his side a deserved lead.
But that is when it all started going wrong for Beograd as they allowed South Adelaide the territory they did not give them earlier in the game, and when Adam Leombruno's attempted headed clearance found its way into the back of the net, the Panthers were level with momentum on their side. Jonathon Rideout took advantage minutes later to give his side the lead with an emphatic finish.
Beograd tried to rectify the situation, but South Adelaide would not let go of a precious three points that ensured they exited the relegation zone for a week. Ibrahim Bigirimana made sure of that fact when he converted a late penalty. FK Beograd's collapse was reminiscent of their Round 16 defeat at Croydon. It ensured Smith's side failed to make up ground to the Adelaide Comets in the battle for the last spots in the top six.
West Adelaide stumble into trouble at the pointy end of the season
West Adelaide entered Round 18 as one of the competition's most out-of-form sides, with only a point claimed in their last five games. Coming up against Campbelltown City, life would not get any easier. The Red Devils took an early lead against the struggling Hellas when Alex Mullen capitalised on a Harry Thomas error to open the scoring.
The score remained at 1-0 for most of the match. But West Adelaide could not threaten the Campbelltown goal consistently, with a lack of quality and depth starting to appear as the season wears on. Marc Marino did score a second goal for his side late in the game before Brandon Centofanti confirmed victory for the visitors at West Beach deep into injury time.
After South Adelaide's win over FK Beograd, West Adelaide dropped into the relegation zone for the first time since the start of the season. With only four games to go, Jim Tsekinis' men will be desperate for points. With matches against Croydon, South Adelaide, Adelaide Comets, and Adelaide United, Hellas must rediscover their miserly nature and ensure they take their chances when they come.
Click here to read our NPL SA winners and losers from Round 17!