West Canberra Wanderers FC 0 v Canberra Croatia FC 4 (Churchill 6’, Palombi 28’, Berkeley 72’, Gill 90+2’)
Canberra Croatia closes in on a complicated week with a dominating third win in eight days, reclaiming their seat at the top of the table.
Nik Brozinic’s troops did not look too affected by fatigue on Melrose Synthetic, showcasing their usual physicality and aggression on the ball. A bit of luck was with them too early on, when five minutes on, Alice Churchill’s cross was missed… into Janet King’s nets, with the ball taking a dip just under the crossbar. Churchill adds her name to the long list of goal scorers in Deakin this season, where 13 players, including the 11 in the usual starting line-up on Sunday, contributed offensively. Caught cold, West Canberra tried to answer, without much success against the reigning champions, well in place in the midfield and defensively. The visitors managed their third game this week with all their experience, and managed to score a second goal just before the half hour mark, thanks to the most prolific striker in the league, Brittany Palombi. At the receiving end of a cross from Olivia Fogarty, the left footed assassin took the time to control the ball in the box, turn around her defender and used her right foot to sneak the ball between King and her near post. Besides a few attempts from long range and some set pieces in the box, the Wanderers failed to really bring any danger around Chantel Jones, always reassuring between the sticks.
The leaders came back on the pitch with similar intentions, ensuring the Wanderers were stopped as early as possible, without pressing too high. The visitors kept bringing the ball in King’s area too, and reaped their reward 15 minutes into the second act. At the end of a good sequence instigated by Grace Gill and Jenny Bissett, Jamie Berkely stole a loose ball right in front of King’s nose, drove the ball around the keeper and tapped the ball in for the third goal of the day. The keeper had to stay focused to keep the score line unchanged, when Palombi and Gill kept taking chances. The latter did get the fourth goal for her team in the dying moments of the game. Canberra Croatia was installed in the Wanderers’ dangerous area for a solid four minutes when Krista Hagen saw her captain unmarked in the box. The number 3’s cross found Gill perfectly, whose header left King no chance. After CUA last Sunday and Gungahlin midweek, Deakin had seen off a third potential semi-final opponent with a performance they could be proud of given the circumstances.
Canberra Croatia is three points away from Belconnen at the end of the weekend, and will need to stay alert next week when they visit a revigorated Tuggeranong team. West Canberra will play another crucial game in the meantime, in Hawker against the Academy.
Canberra Olympic FC 4 (Sykes 17’, 23’, 25’, Cook 60’) v Gungahlin United FC 5 (N. De Marco 2’, Robertson 5’, Heyman 36’, J. Brown 57’, 83’)
Without a doubt the most exciting game of the round, from a neutral point of view at least, was played at O’Connor Enclosed, where Gungahlin ended on the winning side of a 9 goal thriller that could be their turning point this season.
The Gunners had the better start, scoring twice in the opening five minutes. Natalie De Marco opened the goal festival after 90 seconds, with a volley in the bottom corner that Haynes could do little about. The second goal came from a corner kick, that Ayla Robertson somehow managed to head in within a dozen of players in the 6-yard box. Olympic was caught cold, but players coached by Nicole Begg did not let their shoulders drop and started attacking with more intensity. It paid off, with style, since the incredible Ashleigh Sykes only needed eight minutes to complete a hattrick and turn the game on its head. She first cut through a cross from her captain Victoria Jamieson to head it from point blank range in the back of Kailey Tonini’s nets. Five minutes later, at the receiving end of a cut back pass by Anna Vandenbroucke, Sykes used her left foot to swerve the ball into the top right corner. On the very next Olympic opportunity, the lightning-quick striker was stopped illegally by Courtney McCann on the left wing. The following free kick, by Ally Cook was headed away by the defence, only to land in Sykes’ feet, who struck a powerful shot that pierced through the forest of legs in the box to end in the bottom corner. Michelle Heyman tried to lead her team to recovery minutes later, but her left footed attempt from the edge of the box crashed onto the crossbar. Gungahlin kept pushing and a second later, Jade Brown had a golden opportunity, but lost her one-on-one with Haynes.
Heyman would finally bring both teams back to a tie. Following a perfect through ball by Stella de Marco, the W-League all-time leading goal scorer dribbled past Haynes and scored the 6th goal of the game. The game remained open, both teams trying to get back upfront, but the tie held until the break.
The second half started with more of the same. Five minutes in, the Gunners were disallowed a goal, rightfully, for offside and moments later Heather Garriock was testing Tonini from long range. The Gunners would strike first again. A long range free kick by Elke Aitolu was followed by a scramble in the box, and the ball landed on an Olympic defender’s hand. The referee pointed at the penalty spot, with a bit of confusion regarding where that spot was on a pitch not spared by the weather the past 2 weeks. Jade Brown took her time and picked up the top right corner to put her team back in the lead, for a short time. Three minutes later, a corner kick taken by Raechel Harwicke found Ally Cook’s knee at the far post, who pushed the ball in the empty nets. Olympic kept pushing for a 5th goal, but Gunners’ defence showed enough resilience to push back the waves of attack from the home side. The visitors also had their moment, but Natalie De Marco, alone in front of Tonini was tackled at the last second by Brittany Fiorese. The fatal blow did come from the Gunners, with five minutes left to play, when Jade Brown was found by Erika Pennyfield’s cross in the middle of the box. The number 11 volleyed the ball from point blank range and Tonini was beaten to end this thriller.
Gungahlin records a very important win against a direct competitor for a spot in the top four, yet remain a point behind Olympic at the table. They will travel to the Riverina on Sunday, while Nicole Begg’s squad will have their work cut out for them in McKellar on Saturday against Belconnen United.
Canberra United Academy 0 v Belconnen United FC 2 (Backhouse 28’, 52’)
Playing the Academy at Hawker is never an easy feat, but the Blue Devils delivered a serious performance to get all three points and a clean sheet on Sunday.
Canberra United Academy’s home pitch was the theatre of a disputed clash between two teams needing a win in their respective fight for a top 4 spot and the title. From the get-go, the midfield appeared to be where most of the action was going to happen, and the more experienced Belconnen squad had to be on their A-game to stop the young tireless Academy from developing their passing football. The Blue Devils were more dangerous upfront, with Olivia Bomford, Talia Backhouse and Keira Bobbin bringing danger, but also thanks to Michaela Thornton, who was allowed more freedom offensively with Sarah Johnston and Sam Price next to her in the midfield.
The visitors’ captain took several chances from mid and short range, but Chloe Lincoln, or one of her defenders was always on the way. Lincoln could not do anything however, when Backhouse faced her just the half hour mark. Thornton’s run through the home side’s midfield ended with a clever ball through for Belconnen’s number 9, who was able to chip the ball over the Academy’s keeper leg to open the score in Hawker. The Blue Devils seemed happy to leave the ball to their opponents after the goal, playing more direct football for the rest of the first half. Canberra United rarely had any open look, while on the other side, Lincoln had to show off her skills in front of Backhouse to avoid conceding a second time before the half.
The Blue Devils started the second half on the front foot and Thornton, again, forced Lincoln to a save from close range, before Bobbin, perfectly served by Tiana Jaber, hit the post from the edge of the box. The early pressure from the visitors was rewarded after just 7 minutes, when Backhouse took advantage of a miscommunication between Lincoln and her defence to head the ball in from point-blank range. The 2 goal lead did not seem to satisfy Belconnen, who kept attacking throughout the second half. Canberra United thought they had found the way to come back into the game just after the hour mark, but Nikita Perry’s volley was parried away superbly by Cristina Esposito. The rest of the game was a cagey affair, mainly in the midfield, both refusing to leave an inch of space to their opponents. Belconnen resisted the attempts from the Academy and recorded a third consecutive clean sheet, the 8th this season, best in NPLW.
Belconnen stays three points behind Canberra Croatia, before what promises to be a spectacular showdown at McKellar against Canberra Olympic on Saturday. The Academy will host West Canberra on Sunday, and with five games left, this could be a season decider for them.
Tuggeranong United FC 2 (Bui 45+10’, 51’)v Wagga City Wanderers FC 0
They did it! Tuggeranong recorded their first win of the season at “home”, on the AIS synthetic against the Wanderers.
Paulo Romero’s game plan was executed to perfection by his troops, who pressed relentlessly and collectively from the get-go. The visitors barely made it past the half-way line for the first 20 minutes. Tuggeranong was not able to reap the reward for their hard work yet though, unable to really endanger Sam Emms despite a dozen situations around the box. It went from bad to worse for Wagga City, who lost two players on injury in the first half hour, Kimberley Cameron and Abbey Nolan-Hodges. The only dangerous opportunity for the Wanderers came up five minutes before half time, when a powerful free kick by Piper Lockley was deflected by the Tuggeranong defence near the goal line. Tuggeranong answered the best way to this first alert. With seconds left in the first half, Maddie Magee, unstoppable on her left wing on Sunday, was found behind the Wagga’s back line. On her left foot, her shot from inside the box lacked power, but Emms was only able to palm it away. The quickest player to jump on the loose ball was Sophia Bui, who just had to tap it in!
Back from the break the domination was still for the home team, who tried to push to score that precious second gaol as soon as possible. The Wanderers resisted 6 minutes, until Bui, again, skilfully dribbled passed a defender in the box, and picked the opposite side net to put the ball out of reach of Sam Emms. At 2-0 the task at hand was too hard for Wagga City, still struggling to string 3 passes together in their opponents’ half. Tuggeranong not only focused on defending their 2-goal advantage fiercely, but also decided to keep attacking, and could have scored a third goal, if it was not for the woodwork. Magee, at the edge of the box, struck a powerful right footed effort, out of reach of Emms, that came crashing against the crossbar. The home side kept pushing until the end, removing any chance of a comeback for the Wanderers.
Tuggeranong comes back two points behind Wagga thanks to their first win of the season. They will face Canberra Croatia at home this weekend, while Wagga hosts Gungahlin United.
Image: Anthony Caffery Photography