A Sky Blue summer’s day, the day before New Years’ Eve, a stark contrast to Monday’s wet and wild encounter, this was the book end to a year that started with a win in Wollongong for the men and finished with a win in Wollongong for the women. And what a stylish first half performance it was, just one of those Mackenzie Hawkesby goals would have done on Monday, but she saved them up for this game in her home town in front of her friends and family and the job was done well before half time. An awesome day out for the fans too, this trip rivalling Central Coast away for the title of ‘best away trip of the year’.
We set off around 1.45pm for this one from Ryde on this mini road trip, and were aiming to have plenty of time before the game to get some food and drink. The detour via the Grand Pacific Drive was our downfall though, and despite taking in the views of the ocean and the impressive bridge, we caught up with the traffic and Thirroul was bumper to bumper as the clock ticked further towards kick off. The usual back seat car park finding was ignored and we jagged the premium spot, right in front of the Steelers club, directly in front of the main entrance to WIN Stadium. It’s the simple things in life…
Unfortunately we caught Illawarra Steelers Leagues Club in between servings for food, so a quick drink is all we had before making the decision to grab a bite in the stadium and join the party early in the Cove. There were plenty of Sky Blue shirts already in the crowd, capo Michelle though had planted her flag in the bottom left of the main stand and that was going to be the active area. No other stands were open, the hill on the far side was empty, the opportunity to create a bit of atmosphere was definitely not lost with a roof to return the echo.
The players were welcomed onto the field for the line-up to a chorus of “We Are Sydney” which boomed around the stadium, and it continued well after the music and announcer had stopped. Sydney looked supremely confident, Jada Whyman clad in her black shirt today instead of the fluoro pink, and right from the start they piled on the pressure. We didn’t have to wait long either for an opening goal, and it was silky midfielder Rachel Lowe, making her first start of the season, who got it, latching on to a loose ball on the edge of the area to smash an unstoppable shot into the corner of the net. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, and one that we’ll see replayed plenty of times during the remainder of the season. What a hit!
A second goal followed soon after, Lowe and Cortnee Vine combined, but Princess Ibini had been felled in the area in an off-the-ball incident, and when the chance came to nothing, the referee called it back for a penalty. Mackenzie Hawkesby tucked in an expertly taken penalty for 2-0 and we weren’t even a quarter of an hour into the game.
A third goal then followed, and the active support was totally oblivious to it as we worked out some chants, the roar of the crowd signalling a second Hawkesby goal, after play seemed to stop to allow Remy Siemsen to roll the ball across the goal for a tap in. Thankfully we have the games on our mobiles, as there was no big screen to help us piece together what had just happened, and on TV it did look as though time had stopped to give Sydney FC all the time in the world to walk the ball in.
Goal four was an excellent team goal, Ibini to Siemsen and then out to Vine. She motored past her unfortunate defender who had been exposed time and time again and bore down on goal. The finish was devastating, low to the keeper’s right. There was still time for another too, and it was the same combination, Ibini over the top to Siemsen this time and the perfect ball in for the perfect run saw Hawkesby finish like a true centre-forward, showing composure and passing the ball into the net to make it 5-0 just before half time.
The whistle sounded and Sydney FC found themselves in a commanding position. There would be changes in the second half, but could they keep up the goal scoring momentum? Hawkesby’s family were interviewed for Channel 10 at half time and must have been over the moon with what they had experienced. Membership champion Shane popped by and we thanked him for getting the FFA Cup game cancelled. Vine was replaced by Kiwi Paige Satchell and the game got back underway with an expectant active support in full voice. It was Satchell who almost grabbed the next goal, a speculator from thirty yards on the spin caught the keeper back-pedalling and she saw the shot touched onto the bar and hacked away.
Nat Tobin had played a stellar role at the back so far and went in hard for a tackle to clear the danger. Her next involvement was chasing a loose ball in midfield and she appeared to roll her foot in the turf, going down under a challenge. She was immediately in pain, and the sound of sobbing as the crowd fell silent brought concern to the players and fans alike. An extended delay saw her stretchered off by a ramshackle bunch of burly blokes, and a reshuffle saw Cote Rojas brought on to add some fire up front. Taylor Ray left the field to the tune of Orinoco Flow. In the end, the second half didn’t really live up to the five-star billing of the first half. A series of corners from the right brought no reward, Ibini could have done better with a run into the box and Rojas’ tricky dribbling couldn’t unlock the Phoenix defence. The final ball into the box was easily dealt with by the resolute Phoenix defence. With Ally Green now limping off, it was Wellington who went the closest, a shot well over and some enterprise down the left still not getting the home side on the score sheet. Whyman’s handling was exemplary again to maintain the clean sheet.
The final whistle came after a decent chunk of injury time and Sydney FC had their win. The players continued their tradition of celebrating with the Cove, a gesture that is much loved and appreciated, and Cortnee Vine and Rachel Lowe were serenaded after their fine performances. The after-match belonged to Mackenzie Hawkesby though, what a moment for her.
As always, there was some milling around to be done at the end while the stadium cleared. A quick chat with Ally Green, a hello with match day presenter Amy Duggan and warm applause for the hat-trick hero and it was time to be on our way.
Unsurprisingly we were the last people out of the gates and they were closed behind us. Calem Nieuwenhoff came and said hi, which was a lovely touch from the former Cove member. The eight second walk to the car and there was some assistance required from Sarah Hunter’s family to guide us after getting well and truly parked-in, a fifteen point manoeuvre eventually freeing us up for the trip back to Sydney. Back through the door before 9pm, this was a bloody good day out, a fabulous way to wrap up 2021 and appetites ready for more in the new year.
Big thanks to capo Michelle and the Sydney FC women’s active regulars for making a din today. There was plenty of love from fellow fans and the players seemed to enjoy the support they received. We’re building something good here. It’s good wholesome fun, there is a kind of delirium that envelopes the stadium when the songs start up (the Lion Sleeps Tonight, anyone?), and there are laughs a-plenty. Come along and see what it’s about. Next game at Leichhardt in a couple of weeks, see you there.
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