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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

NPL SA 2024: The winners and losers from Round 1

Throughout the 2024 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 1.

Front Page Football: Daniel Mullen Campbelltown City

Daniel Mullen (left) got on the scoresheet against Adelaide United in Round 1 of the NPL SA season. (Image: Ken Carter)


The Winners


Harrison Conant upstages his former side


Season 2024 kicked off with a Northern Derby returning to the NPL, and one of the players that had crossed from one club to the other during the off-season was Harrison Conant. The winger found himself playing out of position and often out of the side at Modbury in 2023 and was recruited by the Para Hills Knights after their promotion.


Conant wasted no time getting back at his old side, scoring through a stunning strike in the eighth minute to give his side the lead before Keshav Shrestha soon made it two. Frustration was evident in the Modbury ranks, and Conant often found himself on the end of it through fouls that abruptly ended his relentless direct runs.


Giuseppe Macheda pulled one back for the hosts after the break. But another Conant run saw the winger pick out Ali Rayez Muradi, who made it three soon after. That was enough for the Knights to cause an upset on the opening night of the season, and Conant played a big part in that against a side he was keen to show undervalued him.

Front Page Football: Harrison Conant Para Hills Knights

Harrison Conant was one of the difference makers for the Para Hills Knights against the Modbury Jets. (Image: Pagonis Photography)


Comets forwards make their mark


While the Adelaide Comets snuck into the 2024 Finals Series, their fatal flaw was always going to be their goalscoring ability. George Tsonis' side had scored at least eight fewer goals than any other finalist last season. It was a point the manager addressed in the off-season, signing Roberto Fernandez Garrido from Tasmanian champions the Devonport City Strikers and Adelaide City's Aladin Irabona.


A tight first half against Adelaide Olympic saw the Comets break the deadlock on the stroke of halftime when club stalwart Allan Welsh headed a cross right into the path of Fernandez Garrido, who opened his goal tally in South Australia. The striker possesses a different profile than the Comets have had in the past, but he is shaping up as a much-needed marksman for Tsonis' side.


The scoring was concluded in the 68th minute with Irabona putting up an early nomination for assist of the season. The forward controlled a cross and audaciously backheeled the ball under the legs of Rastko Ljujic and in the path of Welsh, who made no mistake to put the game beyond Olympic.

A fast start for City's new signings


The fact that Adelaide City has refreshed their squad may have been a big talking point in the off-season. The turnover was apparent with a new-look starting lineup, Paul Pezos giving starts to five players who were not part of his 2023 squad. Against a South Adelaide side missing its main threat in Jonathon Rideout, the new faces wasted no time contributing.

The old combined with the new at the half-hour mark when Nicholas Bucco picked out Gideon Arok, who made no mistake to open the scoring with a bullet header. Eight minutes later, Matt Dawber played Luis Lawrie-Lattanzio into the area before he confidently slotted the ball past Lewis Moss in goal.


New captain Bucco found the net in the second half before another new signing in Peter Akot rounded off the scoring from the penalty spot. On the defensive side, the aforementioned Arok, along with fellow fresh faces Fergus Lynch and Yared Abetew, helped ensure that South remained goalless in the season's first round.

 

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The Losers


Page's tough initiation to life as the Young Reds' number one


Oscar Page made his senior NPL debut in 2023, but after Joe Gauci and Steven Hall exited Adelaide United in January, NPL regular Ethan Cox was promoted to being James Delianov's backup, and young Page entered Round 1 as the undisputed starter for the 2024 campaign. There is no bigger stage than Hindmarsh Stadium to start off the season, and few opponents as formidable as Campbelltown City to come up against.


Unfortunately for Page, his day started with a mishap that saw him hold onto the ball for a second too long before reigning Sergio Melta Medalist Alex Mullen took advantage of the situation to smother the goalkeeper's pass and open the scoring three minutes in. Page could not do much about Daniel Mullen's header to make it two and even gained some confidence by smothering Josh Mori's shot when he came up one-on-one against the striker soon after.


Page could not be faulted for Mori's eventual close-range goal in the second half. But his day ended abruptly when Yohei Matsumoto intercepted an under-hit Sotiri Phillis back-pass, and the goalkeeper brought him down as the last man to receive his marching orders.


Page will undoubtedly be back between the sticks once he serves his suspension, but he will need his team's support as he slowly grows into the capable gloves of the goalkeepers that came before him.
Front Page Football: Oscar Page Adelaide United

Oscar Page (left) was sent off against Campbelltown City in Round 1 of the NPL SA season. (Image: Pagonis Photography)


Croydon's second half collapse


Travis Dodd would have entered halftime at the Croatian Sports Centre relatively happy with his Croydon side's opening half of football. Andre Carle's well-taken goal saw the hosts dampen the atmosphere at Adelaide Croatia's return game to the NPL and saw the visitors lead despite a few notable injuries coming into the game.


Adam Martinello's clumsy challenge on Katsuyoshi Kimishima early in the second half allowed Croatia's new signing to level the match from the penalty spot, encouraging his teammates and the fans in the process. Kimishima was again involved in helping the hosts take the lead in the 68th minute, rising highest to harass Jarrod Brazzale into forcing the ball into his own net.


As Croydon had to rely on their inexperienced bench due to injuries, the game swung even heavier in favour of the hosts. Another new signing, Stefan Matteo, also made an impact after clinging onto a mishit clearance, curling the ball past the goalkeeper to give his new side a two-goal buffer. Oliver Trimboli put the finishing touches on a comeback that made Adelaide Croatia's return to NPL football an unforgettable one, but one that Croydon will be looking to put behind them as soon as possible.

Beograd give themselves mountains to climb


Since returning to the NPL in 2022, FK Beograd have had a knack for doing things the hard way, and that remained the same in Round 1 of 2024. Hosting the MetroStars, the home side came out of the blocks noticeably slower. That fact was only compounded by Hamish Gow's deflected free-kick, giving the visitors the lead after just three minutes.


Only two minutes later, Beograd invited Metro into their box and failed to make any significant contact with the ball as Stefan Tantari scored his first goal for the club, doubling their lead in the process. After that slow start, Beograd worked themselves back into the game, only to be denied on multiple occasions by new MetroStars goalkeeper Cody Oestreich.


The slow start proved insurmountable, and then Beograd created problems for their Round 2 match this weekend, as Damian Ljujic got sent off for a second bookable offence before Michael Jakobsen received his marching orders for protesting Fabian Barbiero's goal to referee Christian Verdicchio.


A calamitous start and end to the game meant Beograd began their season with a loss that a more alert start could have prevented, and two late brain fades will now see them take on Adelaide Olympic without two starting XI players.

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