Wellington Phoenix 0-5 Sydney FC (30/12/21)
By Ben Gilby
Above: Sydney FC celebrate after Rachel Lowe put them ahead against Wellington Phoenix today. Photo: Jason McCawley/Getty Images.
Sydney FC ran out comfortable winners over Wellington Phoenix to ensure that they will remain top of the table for at least another week as two teams who were playing their second game in four days faced off at Wollongong.
The Harbour City side created endless chances in their previous encounter, a goalless draw against Western Sydney Wanderers on Monday. Mackenzie Hawkesby was notable in getting shots away in that cross-city clash, but this time both the Wollongong-born midfielder and her team converted their opportunities with five first-half goals the consequence.
Despite the short turn-around in games, Phoenix head coach Gemma Lewis named the same starting 11, which, due young age of her squad raised some eyebrows. Sydney made several changes with Rachel Lowe coming in for her first start of the season. Also reintroduced was Remy Siemsen, who missed Monday’s game with a non-Covid related illness, Jessika Nash and Charlotte Mclean.
Saskia Vosper was under pressure from Cortnee Vine in the early stages in a sign of things to come. Another build-up down the right between Hawkesby and the returning Remy Siemsen caused confusion in the Phoenix defence before Lily Alfeld dropped on the ball.
This was a sign of Sydney’s intent. Just moments later, from a throw on the right, around 25 yards from goal, Taylor Ray found Nash. The 17-year-old’s ball into the box was cleared by Grace Wisnewski straight into the path of Lowe, unmarked centrally just beyond the ‘D’, and her first time shot arrowed into the top left-hand corner.
When Phoenix gained possession, it was notable just how strong Sydney’s press was, with several Sky Blue shirts gathering around the Wellington player in control of the ball to force a turnover.
The Sky Blues were comfortable and had plenty of room to move the ball around in midfield. With thirteen minutes on the clock, they doubled their lead in an ominous warning to the Kiwi side. Ray played a one-two with Princess Ibini and had time to run on and find Cortnee Vine on the right-wing. The Sky Blues’ star exchanged passes with Lowe before finding space to cut back to Siemsen who was denied by Alfeld.
Yet, referee Lara Lee pointed to the spot. There were two potential reasons for the award as, behind play, Ibini had been pushed to the ground by Wiesnewski and Kate Taylor looked to have handled as Vine pulled the ball back. Local girl Hawkesby, a former Illawarra Stingrays player, stepped up and slotted home comfortably from the spot into the right-hand corner.
Ante Juric’s side kept pressing forward. Ally Green drove along the left and pulled a ball over for Vine who got up slightly too early, allowing Alfeld to gather.
Whilst Phoenix had begun to put together some consistent possession, Sydney were dominant throughout the first period, something that was emphasized in the final 17 minutes of the half. Vosper allowed Siemsen to get free from a throw-in on the right which allowed the Matilda to square a pass across the box for an unmarked Hawkesby to tap home at the far post.
Just on the half-hour mark, Kelli Brown conceded a free-kick on the right after making contact with Siemsen after the ball had gone across. Hawkesby’s pass found its way to Ray who lobbed the ball back in for Siemsen to dispatch into the net, but at least one Sky Blue shirt was adjudged to be in an offside position, which saw the ‘goal’ chalked off.
The pattern of Sydney having time and space to drive down the right continued unabated with Ibini and Siemsen taking advantage in addition to Vine’s freedom along that side of the pitch.
The Harbour City side came desperately close once more with 34 minutes on the clock when a corner from the right found Ibini in acres of space, but Alfeld pushed over a vicious shot.
Wellington responded with Taylor pulling away with possession eventually finding its way to Alyssa Whinham who created a lovely exchange of passing which ended with Brown’s shot going wide. Yet Sydney responded with more Vine magic.
Ibini picked up possession on the left and the ball found its way to Vine on the opposite flank via Siemsen. The in-form striker’s footwork got her past Vosper. The after-burners were then switched on allowing her to drive into space and hit a powerful shot across Alfeld into the right-hand corner for 4-0. It was another nudge for Tony Gustavsson of what the 23-year-old can offer the national side.
Two minutes before the break, Wisnewski brought Hawkesby down to the right of centre, around 25 yards out. Green’s lofted free-kick was met by Nat Tobin who got up in the six-yard box to flick a header against the bar which rebounded to Vine whose effort was pushed back against the bar by Alfeld before Phoenix cleared momentarily.
A cross-field flick from Ibini found Siemsen in acres of space on the right. The striker pulled it back to the onrushing Hawkesby who got in between Vosper and Wisnewski to sidefoot home as the hometown hero completed her hat-trick with Sydney 5-0 up at the break.
Paige Satchell, on as a substitute at half-time, fashioned the first opportunity of the second half when she cut inside, looked up, saw Alfeld off her line, and hooked a long-distance shot against the bar.
Also on for the second half was Angelique Hristodoulou who got a shot away from the right-hand edge of the box which was deflected out for a corner just on the hour mark. As the flag-kick came in, Tobin directed the ball goalwards for Satchell to hit a shot high into the net only for referee Lara Lee ruling it out after the ball came off of the Kiwi’s upper arm.
Phoenix showed greater organization throughout the second half and were hard done by in terms of refereeing decisions on more than one occasion. Taylor was yellow-carded after what looked to be a superb challenge on the hour mark, and then play was later waved on after Chloe Knott was on the receiving end of a high boot.
Jordan Jasnos showed great skill with 15 minutes to go after turning beautifully and getting a shot away which was wide of the right-hand post.
The spirit and effort were certainly there from Wellington in the second 45. In order to compete more consistently in the competition, the next step for them is to react quicker when they are struggling in certain parts of the pitch – the right-hand side in the first half being a case in point.
Speaking after the game, the Sky Blues’ hat-trick hero Mackenzie Hawkesby spoke of her delight: “I can’t believe it. It was a really special day for me being in my home town and in front of my family. It’s such a beautiful stadium. It was a really good performance and I’m stoked for the five goals for the team as well as me to get three goals. We knew we had to show more this week and we did. We just want to build and build and build and we’ve got lots to improve on.”
Princess Ibini spoke about her pleasure in putting the game plan into action on the pitch: “I’m very happy with scoreline, we probably should have got more in the second half and we pushed for it but they defended very well. Our game plan was to just keep pushing forward and we tried but it was a very good performance from all of the girls.”
Sydney FC boss Ante Juric was happy with the win and clean sheet, but still sees plenty of room for improvement: “It was nice to get three points. We were really good in the first half and remain top of the table, so we are happy.
“We’ve worked hard defensively too, so another clean sheet, that’s four, and I’m very happy not to concede again. We aren’t close to our best, we are about 60% and we haven’t been outstanding yet, so we’ve got room for improvement.”
Wellington Phoenix head coach Gemma Lewis was clearly frustrated with her team’s performance: “It wasn’t nice to watch. It wasn’t nice to be a part of for anyone, the girls who were playing in it and us. It just felt like we were pretty soft, pretty passive, pretty lethargic.
“They’re better than that, that’s not who they are so it was a bit disappointing that was the display they put on in the first half. We tend to have a good performance and then the next game is normally night and day.
“I don’t know whether we go in and we’re complacent or whether we’re riding the high of having a really good game and think we’re just going to naturally back it up. At least we kind of came out in the second half a little bit better.”
Addressing the penalty that led to Mackenzie Hawkesby’s first goal, Lewis was hugely disappointed about it being awarded: “That penalty seemed really harsh and…we just couldn’t even decipher where it came from. Safe to say I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of the ref in this game because I feel like she made some awful decisions throughout.”
Teams: WELLINGTON PHOENIX: Alfeld, McMeeken, Barry, Taylor, Vosper, Whinham, Gomez, Wisnewski, Pritchard, Knott, Brown. Substitutes: Edwards, Jasnos, Jones, Kramer, Walker.
SYDNEY FC: Whyman, Nash, Mclean, Tobin, Green, Lowe, Hawkesby, Ray, Vine, Siemsen, Ibini. Substitutes: Hristodoulou, Hunter, Offer (GK), Rojas, Satchell.
Scorers: Lowe 5′. Hawkesby (pen) 14′, 28′, 44′. Vine 38′.
Referee: Lara Lee.