NPL SA 2023: The winners and losers from Round 21
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 21.
Campbelltown City players celebrate a crucial goal against Adelaide City in Round 21 of the 2023 NPL SA season. (Ken Carter)
A good time to be a MetroStar
Round 21 for the MetroStars took place a week before the rest of the competition due to the Australia Cup exploits of Danny Graystone's side. Taking on a side fighting to retain their NPL status in the Sturt Lions would always be a challenge, but one the MetroStars welcomed.
Admittedly, Metro did not have the smoothest start to the game. But it was all forgotten when Hamish Gow converted a penalty, won by James Temelkovski, to put his side ahead going into the break. Within the hour, Danny Graystone's men had played themselves into a four-goal lead through goals from Christian D'Angelo, Michael Cittadini, and Temelkovski, putting the game beyond any doubt and the premiership firmly in their sights.
As the rest of the NPL SA sides prepared for their Round 21 matchups, the MetroStars comfortably advanced to the Round of 16 of the Australia Cup after a five-star performance against NPL WA side Inglewood United. Having already won a trophy in 2023, being on the precipice of winning a second, and being in the Round of 16 of the national competition, it is an exciting time to be involved with the MetroStars.
A Yates stunner puts Finals Series fortune in the Comets' hands
2023 has not been kind to the Adelaide Comets. George Tsonis assembled a talented squad that has not played to its potential this campaign, meaning the Comets entered Round 21 ninth on the table, the lowest out of any side still competing for finals football.
Adelaide Comets and Modbury Jets could not be separated after an exciting first half on Saturday night—a moment of brilliance made all the difference after the break. Ryan Yates found himself over a free-kick, and his sublime execution gave goalkeeper Luke Luongo no chance in the Modbury goal, giving the Comets the lead.
The Comets managed to hold onto a vital three points. After Croydon's loss to Adelaide United Youth and the draw between fellow Finals Series hopefuls Adelaide Olympic and FK Beograd, Tsonis' side rose from ninth to sixth in one day. Currently occupying the last Finals Series spot, the equation is simple for the Adelaide Comets, who just have to beat South Adelaide in Round 22 to secure a return to the NPL SA Finals Series.
Fortunate Campbelltown live to fight another day
Nothing about Campbelltown City's first-half performance against Adelaide City was fortunate. The Red Devils needed all three points to keep their fading premiership hopes alive. They played with the intensity to match that mindset.
In the final minutes of the first half, Michael Matricciani's side scored twice through Connor Centofanti and Alex Mullen within a matter of minutes to take a convincing lead into the break. Campbelltown managed the second half well, but Adelaide City got a lifeline in the second minute of injury time when Mullen fouled Aladin Irabona in the box. The forward made no mistake from the spot to reduce the visitors' lead.
Three minutes later, ex-MetroStars forward Matt Dawber had scored a second Adelaide City goal to hand his old side the premiership before referee Christian Verdicchio ruled it out for an alleged handball. Campbelltown held on to win but now requires a victory against Adelaide Olympic and the MetroStars to lose, with the two games score-lines needing to bridge a 10-goal difference, should the Red Devils achieve a miraculous premiership triumph.
West Adelaide's fatal final stumble
West Adelaide entered their relegation six-pointer against South Adelaide, having only earned two points throughout the second half of the season. A win against the Panthers would go a long way to maintaining Hellas' NPL status as the 2023 season is heading toward its conclusion.
But 27 minutes into the match, Jonathon Rideout ensured it was his side who took the crucial step towards survival, putting the Panthers ahead. Just over 10 minutes later, Hellas got a reprieve when a goal was ruled out for offside, with a penalty instead given for a foul inside the box that preceded the attacking infringement.
Former West Adelaide goalkeeper Lewis Moss saved Karl Phelps' effort to ensure Hellas remained scoreless. Later on, Dimitri Toumazos was sent off to make West Adelaide's day even worse, affirming Jim Tsekinis' men had no response and succumbed to relegation after yet another disappointing defeat.
Croydon lets Finals Series advantage slip
After finding themselves in the relegation zone throughout the first half of the season, Croydon's strong run of form saw them rise into the Finals Series spots heading into Round 21. With their fate in their hands, Polonia had to win in the season's penultimate round to enter Round 22 in a solid position to return to the Finals Series.
In their way stood Adelaide United Youth, with A-League Men players Jonny Yull and Luka Jovanovic in the starting XI, presumably to improve their match fitness ahead of the Reds' Australia Cup clash against Northcote City. Yull took only six minutes to give the Young Reds the lead, with a tight first half seeing the visitors enter the break ahead.
Five minutes after the restart, Jovanovic made it two for Adelaide United. Despite Andre Carle pulling a goal back for Croydon minutes later, it was not enough to claim any points from the match. While the Young Reds sealed a Finals Series spot after their first win since May 12, Croydon must now win against Adelaide City while hoping the Comets drop points against South Adelaide, should they climb back into the top six.
Beograd and Olympic remain in the sixth spot logjam
Croydon's inability to take advantage of their position coming into Round 21 meant two other Finals Series hopefuls in Adelaide Olympic and FK Beograd had the chance to pip Travis Dodd's side as they clashed at the APEX Parks Football Centre. After a Beograd goal was chalked off for offside, Olympic took control of the game and went into halftime ahead thanks to Liam Wooding, who had momentarily put them in the coveted sixth spot.
In the second half, Yared Abetew redirected a Damian Ljujic pass the way of Micah Lea'alafa, with the Solomon Islands international beating Seb Matosevic in goal to get Beograd level. Olympic pushed forward because a win was required to enter the final round in control of the last Finals Series spot. Tito Bontor punished Beograd's lax marking in the box to seemingly win it for his side.
However, only two minutes later, Christian Sotira rescued a point for the away side after latching onto Gideon Arok's mighty headed clearance to tap home a second equaliser and ensure the two sides were level come full-time. While both teams remain in the race for sixth, the Adelaide Comets took advantage of the inability of either to collect all three points. They will enter the final round of the regular season in control of the four-horse race.
Click here to read our NPL SA winners and losers from Round 20!