The reigning A-League Women premiers gave a terrific account of themselves in an emotional return to Kogarah and gave their chances of retaining the crown a massive boost in this six-pointer against leaders Western United. A second-half double from Rachel Lowe and a thumping finish from Princess Ibini were reward for their patience, but the game was littered with injuries and the referee drew the ire of the crowd with some unusual decisions. Sydney FC will need to call upon their squad depth for next week’s game, and the race for the title is not over yet.
Shoe-horning A-League games into Sundays is a challenge at this time of the year, with pre-season club games and the NPL underway. This one fell perfectly for one half of this football-loving partnership, however Michelle had to forego her pre-season game, and we were running late as we set off from Christie Park in the northern suburbs of Sydney just before 3.30pm. Luckily it’s a direct route, and by 4.10pm we were parking up in the appropriately named Park Street and heading towards the mecca that we know as Netstrata Jubilee Oval. There was no indication of any other gate than Gate B being open, so we headed for that entrance, under the main stand, and trotted down to the front of the stand where the Cove had taken up residence. The setting was beautiful, what a lovely stadium, we should play here more often. Said no one ever. But the field was looking pristine, and the blue skies and hot sunshine made us feel at home.
Sydney FC toiled in the first half, Western United had missed a chance early on by all accounts, and Hannah Keane was looking every bit the powerful forward we knew her to be. Almost as soon as we’d arrived, Cortnee Vine raced through the middle on the counter-attack to tee up Mackenzie “Bob” Hawkesby who rattled the cross bar, and Vine herself took aim from distance, the US keeper Hilary Beall diving full length to see the ball wide. It took a while to work out the formation, and Nat Tobin was in midfield, with Lowe up front, a definite reshuffle but an attack-minded structure that would hopefully result in some goals in the second half. Western United gave a good account of themselves, and they managed a number of dangerous crosses into the area to no avail.
The half-time break saw Sydney FC CEO Adam Santo appear at the Cove for a chat, alas without any leftover catering goodies. He had one eye on the NPL game going on, and was interested in results elsewhere, but was in good spirits with this game still at 0-0 and was happy to answer questions from the fans. There was a family atmosphere in the main stand, all other sides of the stadium closed, and with shade from the sun, this was actually a very pleasant place to be.
The second half wasn’t that old when Sydney FC struck, just after they had been pulled up for a marginal offside. This time Hawkesby fed Vine and her inch-perfect ball in saw Lowe race clear and pick her spot, finishing impeccably with a side-foot shot for 1-0. The Cove was bouncing.
A second goal followed, Western United gifting the ball to Vine, who advanced and took the ball all the way to the byline. It looked unlikely that she would be able to squeeze the ball through to the centre, but her low ball evaded two lunging stretches, and Lowe was there to sweep the ball into the net for a quick-fire second strike.
There were stoppages as Western United needed the physio on two occasions, one of those allowing a drinks break to take place, before a third goal arrived. Tobin lifted a lovely ball over the top for Ibini to run on to; her pace, when she chooses to use it, is impressive and she took the time to steady herself and smash a left foot shot in off the bar, the ball bouncing twice before we knew it was in. What a finish, and Ibini was mobbed by her teammates who knew they were coasting now to victory.
A baffling sending off then occurred with ten minutes remaining. Tobin beat her player and play went on, but the Western United player raced to the referee in protest and the referee decided that what she said warranted bringing the ball back and booking Tobin, who had already had a yellow card and was subsequently shown a red. Honestly, who’s the ref? Is this normal? What a calamity. The fans couldn’t believe it. We had already seen a blatant push in the back go unpunished earlier on that had the Cove’s Auntie Carol off her seat, howling in disgust, and this was the icing on the cake. Tobin trudged off in disbelief.
Just as the Cove was starting the “We are Sydney…” chant to round off a wonderful performance, a ball was played in to the Sydney FC area, Jada Whyman came to collect and collided with a couple of players, one of those clearly in distress being Charlotte Mclean. Both Whyman and Mclean made way as Sydney were forced into two late changes, and the final ten minutes of added time went without incident for the ten remaining Sky Blue players.
Sydney FC had taken the vital three points, scored three good goals and given their fans a second half show. Charlotte Mclean had an ice pack to the side of her face as she received a big hug from Cortnee Vine, the whole squad minus the casualties came across to celebrate the win with the Cove, and there was plenty of time for the fans to meet the players and share the love. This was the ideal A-League Women post-game scene and players and fans alike would have left with a wholesome feeling after that one.
We had to get back to Christie Park for the end of the Gladesville Ravens v Sydney Olympic fixtures, and were quickly back on the road for our fourth game of the day as the sun set over a fabulous footballing weekend.
Next up, Sydney FC Women v Wellington Phoenix on Saturday, members’ open day, and we’ll see another big reshuffle in personnel by super coach Ante Juric as the Sky Blues look to cement their unexpected spot at the top of the ladder. See all you lovely people there!