The race for finals takes shape in a number of big encounters this weekend, while Canberra Olympic can have the chance to claim the league title.
Riverina Rhinos v Tigers FC – Saturday 3pm – Noe Santolin Oval
Tigers will look to follow up last week’s thumping win over Gungahlin as they take on the Rhinos in Griffith, seeking to further their top four hopes. The win last week pushed them right back into the mix for a finals spot and further tightened the race for the few remaining spots. Thomas James opened his Tigers account with a brace and will prove a threat for the Rhinos equal league-worst defence. This match also gives Tigers a chance to improve their struggling goal difference, which sits at just +4 with four matches remaining. With Tuggeranong and Gungahlin sitting on 0 and -6 respectively, an improved for & against could prove to be vital come the final day of the season. Expect Gaby Wilk’s men to come out firing on all cylinders as they get ready to make a statement.
The Rhinos 2-2 draw with Monaro last week came in a shabby performance from both sides, and coach Ross Morgan afterwards said that “neither side really deserved to win’. He will be hoping for improvement this week, and to avoid a repeat of the 7-0 drubbing that the Rhinos suffered when these sides met in Round six. The Rhinos have struggled for numbers of late and Morgan admitted that there are a number who need to look at where they are, and this weekend may be a good chance to show it in a tough outing.
Belconnen United v Tuggeranong United – Saturday 5:30pm – McKellar Park
Belconnen United will host Tuggeranong United in a tie that could prove pivotal for the outlook of the top four on Saturday evening. Tuggeranong enter the match on the back of a three-match winning streak that has seen them jump right back into the finals conversation. The introduction of Chilean forward Fernando Jorquera has proved important, as was his brace last week in the upset win over Canberra FC. Tuggies responded well after going behind at Greenway and came away with a 4-2 victory. They will need more of that spirit and resolve at McKellar Park against Belconnen, who ran Olympic very close here two weeks ago and picked up a comfortable 3-1 win over Woden-Weston last weekend.
Dean Ugrinic has had a number of players come back into the fold since that match as well and will have a mostly full-strength squad to take into the finals run-in. A hat-trick of free kicks took them to the win against Woden-Weston last week and Ugrinic’s side continued to chase the game despite already leading, a good sign this late in the season. With tough games to finish the season against Tigers and the FFA Centre of Excellence after a match against Monaro, it is important that United begin to build momentum here and if they drop any points, then Olympic can claim the title with a win.
Canberra FC v Monaro Panthers – Sunday 3pm – Deakin Stadium
The Monaro Panthers will aim to build on their first point of the season as they take on a struggling Canberra FC at Deakin Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers drew 2-2 with the Riverina Rhinos on Saturday at Googong in a scrappy affair, but will need to be much better here to get points. Lloyd Hewitt’s side started well but fizzled off after scoring and conceded just moments later as they struggled to keep the momentum. With no finals on the line Monaro go into this match pressure free though, but will face a Canberra FC side who are struggling to keep their foot in the door as the chasing pack close in.
Marko Vrkic’s side are out of reach of the title if Olympic pick up a win this weekend but could drop as low as sixth if they lose this match. Their goal difference is their main advantage over the sides directly below them and if they play well they have the chance to add to that against the weakest team in the league. Michael Mensah will not play this match after picking up another red card last weekend and Vrkic will need to reshuffle his defense to start this one. A win here is vital at home with a tough run-in of Tigers FC, the COE and Gungahlin United.
Gungahlin United v FFA COE – Sunday 3pm – GEO – Live on BarTV Sports
Sunday’s meeting with the Centre of Excellence could prove pivotal to Gungahlin United’s season after their big loss to Tigers FC last weekend. United went down 4-0 and were pulled right back into the mix of teams fighting for a spot in the top four. There are now only five points separating Belconnen United and Tigers FC from third to fifth, with the COE in second. The youngsters are not eligible for finals however they can still get in the way of other teams plans, and the last meeting between these two saw a 4-2 win for the Centre of Excellence. United need to rediscover the fire that saw them on the heels of Canberra Olympic after round nine, since which they have picked up the maximum points on only one occasion.
The Centre of Excellence come in off a week break after their match with Olympic was postponed and will be raring to go. They sit only three points ahead of third place but with two games in hand, but with a defense that is far and away the tidiest in the league, they will be tough for United to break down. Tony Vidmar’s side outran and outgunned United in that round six encounter and if they can overcome a tricky Gungahlin Enclosed pitch then they will have every chance of winning this matchup too.
Canberra Olympic v Woden-Weston FC – Sunday 3pm – O’Connor Enclosed
Canberra Olympic head into this matchup off the back of their FFA Cup loss in Perth on Wednesday night, and will need to make sure they turn up with fresh legs at O’Connor. With a nine-point gap to Belconnen United in third, the reigning Premiers can build an almost unassailable lead with a win this weekend. If Belconnen drop any points on the Saturday evening then a win will give Olympic the title with three weeks still remaining of the league. Frank Cachia has a big enough squad to rely on that he can put out a strong team while still resting players from the midweek fixture, but will face a Woden-Weston side far improved from the one that went down 8-2 in this fixture in Round six.
A disappointing loss to Belconnen United last round has all but ruled Tony Olivera’s side out of the finals race unless they essentialy win out from this point. That won’t change their approach to this match though and expect them to come out firing. Olaide Yinka-Kehinde came off the bench and scored within minutes of the second half starting last weekend and will be pushing for a start at O’Connor. After a run of four wins in five matches the Wanderers have lost their last two outings and a strong rebound here would give them good momentum heading into the final stretch of the season.