AN UNLIKELY bunch of Monaro Panthers teenagers almost caused the biggest upset of the Canberra National Premier League on Saturday as they charged to an unexpected lead against competition giants Canberra FC.

But the team of under-23 players stumbled in the second half and were overpowered by Canberra 7-3 at Riverside Stadium.

Canberra coach Ray Junna expects the Panthers to cause nightmares for teams this season after his side was left stunned when it trailed 2-1 after half-time.

The Panthers are missing five injured first-grade players and coach Njegosh Popovich, who was away at a funeral, called on four 17-year-olds to help fill the gap against the most powerful Premier League club.

''We made it hard on ourselves, and we missed some chances early on,'' Junna said. ''When they got their chances, they took them and they made us pay. We probably had a bit more quality at the end and stepped it up a gear.

''But the Panthers will definitely give people a headache this year - [English recruit] Thomas James is a real handful.''

Aaron Evans slotted a hat-trick and Alex Oloriegbe bagged a double as Canberra scored six of the last eight goals of the game.

Deng Padiet and James scored for the Panthers to lift Monaro to an early lead.

But Canberra hit top gear and scored six goals in an electric 27 minutes of action.

Canberra's round-one clash was washed out, but the side has scored 15 goals in its past two matches, including the 7-3 win against the Panthers and an 8-0 thumping of Belconnen United in the pre-season Cup grand final.

''I just told the guys not to panic. There were plenty of chances, it could have been something like 15-6 if we'd taken all of them,'' Junna said.

AT A GLANCE

Canberra FC 7 (Aaron Evans 55', 73', 74', Alex Oloriegbe 79', 82', Domenic Giampaolo 29', Daniel Bennett 58') bt Monaro Panthers 3 (Deng Padiet 45', Thomas James 52', 90 (pen)). Sunday: Cooma Tigers face Canberra Olympic at Nijong Oval, 3pm.