Slice of Cheese

The NPL Weekend Wash-Up

By Andrew Cooling.
The Weekend Wash Up: Title Favourite Flex Their Muscles

The 2022 McDonalds NPL Tasmania season is underway and it’s a familiar-looking group of sides who occupy the top spots on the table after the completion of the Opening Round. South Hobart, Glenorchy Knights and Devonport Strikers all registered thumping wins to start the season to fill the top 3 spots, whilst joining them on the winner’s list were Launceston City. Their clash with the Clarence Zebras was undoubtedly the most entertaining of the week’s action, with City firing back from 3-2 down to claim a stirring 4-3 win on home soil.

The big statement of the week however belonged to the Devonport Strikers, as they brushed aside a strong looking Kingborough Lions outfit, dispatching them 4-0 on the road and showcasing some enviable depth in their squad. Whilst reading too much into the early action is seldom a good idea, after the first weekend, you would have to say it’s the Strikers who loom large as the side to beat in 2022. 

South Starts with Warriors Blitz

South Hobart’s flawless start to the 2022 season continued Friday Night as they comfortably accounted for Olympia, routing them 5-0 in an impressive opening display to make it 6 wins from 6 games to start the year. 

The visitors were in the ascendancy for the vast majority of the game and never looked anything but the victors in the one, taking the lead early on courtesy of a thumping strike from Sam Berezansky from the tight angle, running onto Josh Divin’s chipped through ball.

Canadian import, Isky Van Doorne then made it 2-0 when he was afforded far too much space at the top of box after cutting in from the left, scoring with a low driven shot from the edge of the box that beat Mitch Stalker.

Stalker was kept busy in the Warriors net and acquitted himself well, making some fine instinct saves including an absolute blinder shortly after halftime to deny Berezansky from close range. He conceded a penalty midway through the half when he brought down Berezansky but instantly redeemed himself by keeping out the resulting spot-kick.  

The Warriors spent much of the evening launching long balls upfield towards the towering figure of Alex Holmes but South’s centre-halves in Luke Bighin and Loic Feral did a fine job in limiting the threat from this approach and largely shackled the big target man. 

The second half opened with Stalker saving brilliantly from close range from Berezansky and then denying Van Doorne, who had been put through on goal by Divin.

Olympia probably had their best period of the game midway through the second half with Ewan Sloan bobbing up in the box and coming close on a couple of occasions, but South quickly got back on top and Josh Divin made it 3-0 on 76 minutes with a well-placed shot to pick out the far corner. 

Bradley Lakoseljac came off the bench and added South Hobart’s fourth in the 82nd minute when he was left with a tap-in at the far post after being picked out expertly by Toby Herweynen.

Fellow substitute, Lachlan Semmler completed the rout in the dying minutes of the game when a long ball fell to him in the box and he hit a crunching volley past Stalker to make it 5-0 and cap off a dominant display from South. 

Devonport Strike All the Right Notes at the Den

Returning to the scene where the 2021 NPL Tas title slipped through their fingers against the opposition who denied them a fourth consecutive league crown, Devonport could hardly have been more impressive in their thumping 4-0 win over the Kingborough Lions.

It was vintage Devonport, not necessarily dominating the possession stakes, but looking rock-solid defensively, ceding very few scoring opportunities and then proving absolutely clinical up the other end of the pitch.

The scoring started in just the third minute when Roberto Fernandez Garrido was clipped in the penalty area and Brenton Kopra showed no hesitation in pointing straight to the spot. Fernandez Garrido made no mistake, sending Roan Gillam the wrong way and handing Devonport the dream start.

The first half was a fairly dour affair for the most part as the Lions slowly worked their way into the game and started to see more of the ball but failed to really create anything of note from that possession. 

On 40 minutes Devonport’s new keeper Keegan Smith showed he should be capable of filling the large shoes of Nathan Pitchford when he produced a fantastic save to keep out Noah Mies powerful drive from outside the area. It was as close as the Lions had come and it came off the back of their best spell of the half, but moments later they were suddenly staring down a two-goal deficit.

Aaron Kidmas slid through a perfectly weighted pass for Ali Dulleh to run onto and double the Strikers advantage as they headed into the sheds for halftime. Dulleh impressed throughout the afternoon with his willingness to run at the defence and showcase his dribbling skills.

Any hopes of a second-half fightback from the Lions were quickly put to bed when Max Reissig’s looping cross wasn’t dealt with by Gillam as he punched the ball into the back of his own net. The Lions keeper was expecting a foul to be blown on Henry Andrews, who leapt up for the header, but nothing was forthcoming from Kopra. 

With the result beyond doubt the game didn’t hit any great heights in the rest of the second half, with Fernandez Garrido further extending the lead with his second converted penalty of the game after he was brought down by Jordan Mundy.

It ended 4-0 and could scarcely have been a more impressive opening statement from the Strikers, announcing themselves as the team to beat this year. The Lions will need to bounce back quickly, they should still be a side that wins a lot of games this year, but they will need to offer a lot more than they did here. 

Defending Champions Open Up with Comfortable Win

The Glenorchy Knights began their title defence with a resounding victory over Riverside Olympic, claiming a comfortable 5-0 victory and dominating the clash from start to finish. 

Hugh Undy has always been a player capable of producing magic and his third-minute free-kick demonstrated just that, bending the ball expertly past the wall and into the side of the netting. 

That lead was doubled from the penalty spot ten minutes later by skipper Eli Luttmer after Austin Yost was sent tumbling in the box. Yost almost found a goal of his own on 20 minutes but his low effort was brilliantly kept out by a fine kick save from Ari Johnson. 

The Roos keeper was the only reason it remained 2-0 at halftime as he produced another two fine stops in the shadows of the break to keep out Hugh Undy on both occasions.

Johnston continued his stellar play in the second half, keeping out Kyle Vincent and Connor Schmidt’s long-range drives but the sheer weight of chances eventually told and Knights found their third goal 15 minutes from full time when Nick Naden followed up and blasted one home.

Then it was time for the Austin Yost show, as one of the league’s most impressive young players demonstrated his eye for goal with two scintillating strikes.

His first was an incredible free-kick, getting his effort up and over the wall before dipping it inside the near post leaving the keeper who was covering the other side of the net absolutely no chance.

His second was an absolute laser, thumping home an emphatic shot from outside the box that did Johnson for sheer power. Yost is going to be one of the stars of the league this year and expect plenty more goals from him in the coming weeks.   

Bigger challenges await the Knights and their trip to Valley Road next week to take on the Devonport Strikers will offer the new-look backline a much sterner test, but they didn’t put a foot wrong here and did nothing to suggest they won’t be in the thick of the title race once again this year.  

Riverside were outgunned in this one, but realistically the top few sides on the road are not where they are going to pick up their points this season and KGV has never been a happy hunting ground for them. A tough season looms for them, but in fairness, it doesn’t get too much tougher than this Knights side on the road first up.  

City Emerge Victorious From Thriller at Buckby Park

Coaches tend to hate goal fests, but for the spectators, they offer tremendous entertainment, which is exactly precisely what we were treated to at Buckby Motors Park with Launceston City rallying back from 3-2 down to claim a 4-3 win in a see-sawing contest. 

It was a game that both sides will feel they deserved something out of, but City ultimately ran the game out stronger and were good value for the three points. 

Having been denied by Zebra’s goalie Nicholas Graver in the early moments of the contest, there was to be no denying Englishmen Daniel Smith on 21 minutes when he launched an audacious chipped effort that dipped perfectly in at the back post to provide a stunning opening goal for the match.

City’s joy was short-lived though, as a man who has been such a reliable performer for Zebras in recent years, Riley Dillon answered back in a hurry, taking advantage of a fortuitous bounce in the box and firing home past multiple defenders.

City was having the better of the contest, doing the bulk of the attacking and were rewarded when they took the lead shortly before halftime when Jaden Fidra finished off Albert Amankwaa’s well placed through ball to send them into the sheds with a 2-1 lead.

Samuel Tooze was a big off-season recruit for the Zebras and he continued his strong form line from the preseason with a goal shortly after the restart. The youngster cut inside sharply before beating Clark at his near post to square the game at 2-2.

American Daniel Baumgartner then made a near-instant impact, scoring five minutes after his introduction from the bench with a booming header from a long way out, getting on the end of Samuel Hills’ long-range free-kick and giving Zebras the 3-2 lead with just 20 minutes remaining.

A long-range set-piece would then also offer City their next goal as Matthew Oh’s ball into the area wasn’t cleared properly leaving Adrian Paez to take full advantage of his good fortune by poking home from close range. 

Buoyed by the equalizer, City went one better three minutes later with Fira coming close to scoring one of the great solo goals, taking it in midfield before launching a barnstorming run past two defenders and into the box. His shot ultimately rolled into the upright denying him a stunning goal, but following up was Daniel Smith at the back post, and he tapped home from close range to send the home crowd into raptures and secure City a valuable 3 points to kick off season 2022.

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