A number of important matches can shape the outlook of the top four this week as the season heats up nearly a month out from finals.
Monaro Panthers v Riverina Rhinos – Duncan Fields – 3pm Saturday
Monaro will be searching for their first win of the season on Saturday when they host ninth placed Riverina in a bottom of the table clash at Googong. The Panthers played well last weekend against Gunghalin, but went down 2-0 as they conceded a brace to Antoni Timotheou in the second half. If the hosts can put in a full 90-minute performance here, they stand a good chance against a Rhinos side that have not won since the last time these two sides met. However, the issue for Monaro is scoring, having netted only twice in their past eight league matches since that meeting with Rhinos. Lloyd Hewitt needs to tweak his attack soon to get the most out of a matchup with a defence that has conceded as many goals as their own.
As mentioned, the Rhinos have not won since that clash in Griffith in Round Five, struggling in their travels to Canberra. Only two of their six points have come in Canberra, draws with Tuggeranong and Woden-Weston while at home they picked up that win and a draw with Canberra FC. The Rhinos have at least fared better in attack however, only averaging slightly under a goal a game but have only netted once in the three matches since their draw with Canberra FC. A win here would help to pull the Rhinos away from the foot of the table and their opponents this weekend, and all but guarantee the Panthers the wooden spoon.
Woden-Weston FC v Belconnen United – Woden Park – 3pm Saturday
Both Woden-Weston and Belconnen will both look to bounce back from losses last weekend when they clash at Woden Park on Saturday afternoon. The Wanderers had their recent run of good form halted by a strong Canberra FC outfit in the 4-2 loss last round, and sitting nine points out of the four with five matches remaining it is now or never in terms of finals. The last time these sides met Daniel Crkovski scored first for Tony Olivera’s side before they were overrun by the Blue Devils, who finished 6-1 winners at McKellar Park. With the side having progressed significantly since that point, expect a far closer result here in an entertaining matchup.
For Belconnen, a narrow loss at home to Olympic after leading for much of the second half hurt them, and they now sit on the cusp of the top four level with Gungahlin on points. Coach Dean Ugrinic is expecting a number of his first-team to be back in action, and should have an almost full-strength squad at his disposal for this one. United need to expect a much stronger Wanderers side than they faced in Round five, and a physical battle similar to their match against Olympic. While they have the better of the sides around them on goal difference, United cannot afford to slip again here as they are locked into a cut throat battle for finals.
Tuggeranong United v Canberra FC – Greenway Enclosed – 3pm Sunday
Tuggeranong United will continue their charge to the finals when they host Canberra FC at Greenway on Sunday afternoon. The hosts have won their past two as they chase the top four and have put themselves firmly in the mix of teams primed to make a challenge. They now sit only three points out of fourth and fifth spot. The last time these two sides met was the setting for one of the season’s biggest upsets, as Tuggeranong knocked off Canberra FC just days after losing their then head coach. Victory in Griffith last weekend was a good boost ahead of a stretch where they play this match, Belconnen United and Canberra Olympic all within four weeks. The loss of Niko Kalfas seems to have not effected the side at all yet, however they will face him here, and against one of the best defenses in the league will need to turn to other options.
Kalfas will line up against his former side for the first time, and he began his Canberra FC career well with a goal in his first match. Marko Vrkic’s side stopped their recent slide with a win over Woden-Weston last weekend and a win would very much entrench them in the finals picture at this stage of the season. Kofi Danning’s hat-trick last weekend showed his ability and he will prove to be a handful for a Tuggeranong defence that has struggled at times this season. While the visitors can head into this match with a degree of confidence, they must remain wary of what happened in the round five clash.
Tigers FC v Gungahlin United – Calwell – 3pm Sunday
Two sides vying for a spot in the top four meet at Calwell on Sunday as Tigers FC ‘host’ Gungahlin United. With the match moved out of Cooma due to ground issues the home match almost becomes an away fixture for Tigers, and they will need to shake off the travel when they kick off against their fifth placed opponents. Sitting four points behind Gungahlin, a win here for Tigers could pull them right back into the finals race after they appeared out of it at times following an inclement start, but a loss would spell trouble. Tigers make up the back of the chasing pack outside the top four, and need to avoid falling down the same rabbit hole as the round five match between these two sides, when tempers flared and Goran Josifovski and Daniel Barac both saw red in the loss.
For Gungahlin, they got things back on track last week against Monaro after two consecutive losses, and find themselves locked into the same battle as Tigers as the final month of the season approaches. United did not look overly convincing in that matchup until Antoni Timotheou got them home with a brace, but will be buoyed by the prospect of minimised travel for this match. Both these sides have similar goals for and against records, so while unlikely to be a shootout, this is sure to be an entertaining contest between two quite evenly matched sides.
Canberra Olympic v FFA Centre of Excellence – O’Connor – To be rescheduled