NPL side pull off ‘game-changing’ off-season coup with arrival of one-time Welsh international

WATCH: Despite finishing in fourth place after the regular season Canberra Croatia have rallied to defeat O’Connor Knights 6-5 in a penalty shoot out to seal the NPL – Capital Territory Grand Final.

It was another entertaining weekend of football in the National Premier Leagues, and beyond, across Australia. KEEPUP brings you the best bits.

NPL Victoria outfit’s huge off-season coup

Hume City have wasted no time to make a splash this off-season by announcing the signing of Welsh winger Lloyd Isgrove for the 2024 NPL Victoria campaign.

The 30-year-old joins the club after a decade playing in England for the likes of Southampton, Peterborough, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Portsmouth, Swindon Town and most recently, Bolton Wanderers – who released him at the end of last season.

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After emerging through Southampton’s academy, Isgrove made one Premier League appearance during his spell with the Saints, coming in a 2-1 loss to Liverpool in August 2014 at Anfield.

He added a further seven appearances in all competitions until his departure in 2017, and has one senior cap to his name for Wales’ senior national team in a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland in 2016.

Isgrove only made a six senior appearances last season for Bolton, after injury cut down his 2022-23 campaign. Prior to that, he made 58 appearances for the club, helping them secure promotion to League One in the 2020-21 season.

The move comes after Hume – who are helmed by former Adelaide United midfielder Cameron Watson – missed out on finals for a second successive season, finishing 13 points behind sixth-placed Altona Magic.

Hume are best remembered in national football circles for their run to the 2015 Australia (then, FFA) Cup semi-finals, where they lost to Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park.

Shocker in the capital

Canberra Croatia are 2023 Capital Football champions, after stunning premiers O’Connor Knights in a dramatic penalty shootout on Saturday night.

Croatia keeper Sam Brown was the hero, saving Harrison Palic’s penalty to give his side a 6-5 victory on spot-kicks.

The win secures a 19th top flight championship for the club and their third in the NPL era, taking them equal with Canberra Olympic with the most titles since 2014.

Palic – in fact – opened the scoring for Knights in the 17th minute, before semi-final hero Lukman Ahmed-Shaibu equalised before half-time. Neither side was able to find the all-important winner, meaning the 2023 champions would be decided in a shootout.

Tyson Livermore and Keegan Vucetic missed opportunities for their respective sides in the first five spotkicks, ensured the shootout would go to sudden death with the scores level at 4-4.

Both sides traded blows again, before Tony Spaseski gave Croatia the ascendancy once more and forced Knights into a must-score situation. Palic stepped up and was denied by a brilliant stop from Brown.

It caps off an unbelievable run to the Championship for Croatia, who only snuck into the top four on goal difference ahead of 2022 champions Monaro Panthers and Cooma Tigers, before knocking off Olympic on penalties in the elimination final and Gunghalin United in the semis.

They finished a whopping 16 points behind O’Connor on the table, who took home the premiership with relative ease, but it was their rivals who had the last laugh on Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, in the women’s competition, Canberra Olympic were crowned champions after a thrilling 4-3 win over Belconnen United.

It now means Olympic have won a whopping four trophies since Canberra United legend Nicole Begg took over as head coach in 2021.

Olimpico steals the show in Tassie Grand Final

The capital wasn’t the only place to play host an NPL Grand Final boilover, as South Hobart shocked Devonport Strikers 2-0 in Saturday’s decider.

Eduardo Castaneda stole the show with a superb ‘olimpico’ to open the scoring, before Bradley Lakoseljac wrapped up South Hobart’s 20th top-flight Championship.

Just like in ACT, South Hobart finished well behind Devonport on the standings, ending the season 15 points off the pace of the premiers – who went into finals as hot favourite to complete the double.

The win also comes after Strikers head coach Tom Ballantyne said it was on “South to do something different” in order to win, after South had struggled to defeat Devonport in previous encounters – including two of the three meetings in the regular season.

“They’ve had one win from, I think this will be the tenth meeting, in the time I’ve been here,” he added.

In the end, it was South Hobart and their coach Jack Morton who came away with the last laugh.

However, the Strikers’ women’s team would come away with top honours earlier in the day, after defeating Clarence Zebras 2-0.

Meanwhile, Fremantle City secured a place in NPL Western Australia next season after defeating Joondalup United 3-1 in the promotion playoff.

It ends a 32 year wait for the side to play in the the top tier of WA football.

Victoria claim bragging rights in first ever Battle of the States

Victoria completed a clean sweep of Queensland in the first ever Battle of the States on Saturday, with both the women’s and men’s sides coming away with victories at the Home of the Matildas.

The Victorian women’s representative side started the day with a 2-1 win, thanks to goals from Steph Galea and Danielle Wise. Abigail Evetts pulled one back for the visitors, but it wasn’t enough for Queensland to mount a late comeback against the Victorians.

It means Victoria were crowned the inaugural winners of the Jones-Millman Cup.

Later in the evening, the men’s sides played out a thrilling contest. Yusuf Ahmed opened the scoring for Victoria, before Queensland marksman Andy Pengelly pulled one back to send the game to penalties.

Neither side could be split as it entered sudden-death, with Kristian Trajceski giving Victoria a 6-5 advantage before Ryo Emoto had his penalty denied by Javi Lopez – meaning the Vics were crowned winners of the Rigby-Willis Cup.