Above: Perth Glory players deep in discussion during their last visit to Wanderers Football Park when they took on Canberra United. Photo: Kris Goman.
Ahead of Monday’s Liberty A-League Women game between Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix, Ben Gilby heard from both head coaches, Perth’s Alex Epakis and Wellington’s Gemma Lewis plus the Glory’s in-form star Deborah-Ann de la Harpe (30/1/22).
Perth Glory’s head coach Alex Epakis has added constant changes to his team’s scheduling this week to the list of challenges his team are facing on the road.
The APL this week confirmed Perth’s next two fixtures as being against Wellington Phoenix in Blacktown, NSW on Monday and then Canberra United at Viking Park, ACT next weekend. It is yet another change to what was expected for Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis.
“We just add it to the list! There’s so many things. Changing the (Phoenix) fixture from a Sunday to a Monday, yeah, it is what it is.
There was a hint of frustration in the Perth head coach as he went on. “There are a lot of things that have made this trip (into a North Sydney hub) difficult, and this just adds to it. The (Phoenix) game was moved from a Saturday to Sunday and now to Monday. Maybe by tomorrow, it’ll be being played on Tuesday!”
Epakis also confirmed the club’s remaining fixtures to the best of his knowledge. “It should go on as scheduled but games due to be played in Perth will take place on the east coast (due to Western Australia’s extended border closure).”
This means that Perth is due to play away games in Canberra and Melbourne having been permanently based in New South Wales since the end of December. However, their head coach is solely focusing on the here and now.
“It’s too hard to look further ahead than the game coming up. I haven’t given it (the schedule) much attention if I am being honest. I’m just looking at the game I know we are playing.”
Looking back at Glory’s dominant performance in defeating Western Sydney Wanderers in Gosford last weekend, the head coach reflected with pride:
“The performance…was, in my opinion, the best in the two seasons that I’ve been here. It gives the group a lot of confidence as what we’re focusing on all came to life in that match.
“We’re one point outside of the (top) four and we’ve knocked over a pretty established club (Western Sydney Wanderers) on the weekend. I’m not sure that anyone gave us that respect coming into the season as being something we could achieve.”
Highlighting the form of Deborah-Ann de la Harpe, Perth’s head coach said: “Deb’s a great runner of the ball and a great athlete.
“Her delivery with right and left feet is really good. We played her at left-back for most of last season as a right-footed player.
“To have her skillset across four different positions (right-back, left-back, left-wing, and right-wing) is a huge bonus for us.
“I know the quality that she has and for it to be showcased now is great for her.”
Epakis then mentioned his pride in the recent performances of Abbey Green, a winger who has been playing at full-back.
“As a coach, I think that the most in-form 11 players need to find a way onto the field. Abbey has been doing a lot of good work at training.
“She has natural qualities, she is dynamic running forward. Abbey is robust physically and has the character to really want to go into challenges.
“All of those ingredients, when you put them together, you work out that she can play left-back. It’s something I’ve thought about after working with her closely these last few weeks.
“If you look around the competition, there is a lack of left-footed left-backs. For Abbey’s own development, it’s a good position for her going forward.
“Credit to her, she is embracing it. She marked Erica Halloway last weekend who is one of the most experienced wingers in the competition and did a phenomenal job.
“It could be a long-term option, but at the moment I’m just focusing on Abbey in the immediate games.”
Attention then turned to the specifics of Monday’s game against Wellington Phoenix who Glory’s women are facing for the first time.
Relations are very good between the two sides from their A-League Men’s Long Distance Derby matches. With both teams based in New South Wales this season, the upcoming match takes on almost a local derby angle.
Perth’s head coach revealed his huge respect for the Phoenix, whose experiences mirror a lot of his own team’s over the past two seasons.
“Ah, if I could give them all a hug, I would,” Epakis said. “I know the pain of last year and there are a lot of similarities.
“Credit to the coach (Gemma Lewis) and the group. Every game they put in a determined effort. They have my utmost respect for that as the challenges are there for everyone to see.
“We are expecting to come up against a resilient group who, despite some disappointments with heartbreak and goals conceded, fuels…them on.”
The Phoenix team contains one player that Perth Glory is very familiar with. Goalkeeper Lily Alfeld was with the Western Australian side last season and won huge plaudits amidst a difficult campaign.
“Lily’s just unbelievable,” enthused Epakis. “No words can justify the qualities that she has on and off the field.
He emphasized what a tough decision it was not to offer Alfeld a new contract at Perth for this season. “When you can only sign four international players it makes it really difficult to trim and select who those players are. That’s pretty much what it came down to in her circumstance.
“The impact that she will have on that team (Wellington) and on the coaching staff, because she certainly helped me as a coach, will really help set that club up.
Perth Glory does still have one Kiwi in their ranks, defender Liz Anton, a player who has played every minute for the club since she arrived for the 2020/21 season. Epakis was full of praise for her.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for her. She’s really come a long way since she arrived. For someone so young, she has a fixed mind about helping the team, having the right intensity.
“Everything you want as a coach she has. She ticks the boxes well and truly. She has a calming influence on the group.
The Perth head coach highlighted what he wants to see from his own team on Monday. “For us, the key thing is to assert the dominance early and take the energy out of their momentum.
“We have to go in with absolute focus and ensure that our own performances are improving each week. That is the key barometer to our own success as a group.
“If we perform well and take our chances then we know that the results take care of themselves.”
In terms of squad selection for Monday’s game, Epakis revealed that the injury situation is starting to look more positive.
“We’re starting to get closer to having those players back in Susan (Phonsongkham), Cyera (Hintzen), and Demi (Kouliakis). If it’s not this week then I’m hoping next week we will have one or two of them available.
Perth Glory star Deborah-Ann de la Harpe, who has moved from full-back to the right-wing with aplomb in recent weeks also spoke at the media conference. She began by emphasizing the strength in adversity within the camp.
“The resilience we’ve build is impressive since it was confirmed that we won’t be returning to Perth this season. It doesn’t defer from our purpose or our goals from being here.
“The vibe in camp is excellent and our form is a response to that.”
The 21-year-old who scored her first ever A-League Women’s goal against the Wanderers last weekend in some style reflected on her incredible strike. “I felt I’ve been hitting the ball well lately. I usually take corners, so the angle was fine.
“Alex has given me the responsibility for the team which I love. I was really happy that I could contribute to the team.”
In terms of reactions to her goal, de-la Harpe revealed: “I just looked at Hana Lowry and she was full of so much passion! I’m really grateful that my family were there as well.”
“I’ve received a lot of advice from the team. Tash (Rigby) and Lisa (De Vanna). Lisa has been giving me a lot of constructive feedback in that position.
“Being able to learn from her, such an experienced player, I really value her opinion. She has helped me in things like decision making, my crossing, and the importance of recovery runs.
“I need to make sure I get back as well as come forward, and those little things are important. You can attack and put in a great ball, but if you are not getting back if you lose possession, they are the one-per-centers and bring the biggest impact.
“With Tash too, it’s really good because we can both play attacking and defensive manner, so we work well together there.”
Wellington Phoenix head coach Gemma Lewis used her media conference ahead of the game to emphasize the parallels that she sees between the two teams. She feels that the Phoenix can draw inspiration from Perth’s growth after a tough season last year.
Phoenix coach Gemma Lewis says the Glory are “doing it pretty hard as well”.
“Their season has been turned upside down halfway through and they’ve had to relocate. And now the WA borders are looking at closing and they don’t know if they’re going to get back,” Lewis told media on Saturday afternoon.
“We can understand and empathize what they’re going through.
“It’s almost like that match-up between two teams that have got a lot of adversity going on, that are trying to improve on performance and improve on results whilst dealing with these things that they’re facing.”
Wellington’s head coach believes her team are more than capable of getting something out of the match in Blacktown.
“It’s one of those games that I look at and I think if our consistency is good, if we execute in the moments that are important in the game, we can win.
“In the opposite scale if we turn up and we’re inconsistent, have one of our more passive games they’ll probably put a decent amount of goals on us.
“I believe we can win it, I believe they’re a good match-up for us and their weaknesses are things we can exploit, but in the same way it could go one way or the other.
“We could end up losing three-nil or we could end up getting our first win. That makes me excited for the game because I think there’s everything up for grabs. I think if they turn up and we turn up then you’ve got yourself a game.”
Looking at her selection issues for the game, Lewis revealed: “There are things we have to work through from a rotation perspective, but we’re also limited in the number of players we’ve got.
Kelli Brown will miss her third straight game with concussion, but the Phoenix head coach explained that she is in the first stages of her potential return.
“She’s been back running (and) she’s back doing passing drills again. She’s actually ticking off her return to play quicker than we thought she would.”
Centre-back Mackenzie Barry has been out for two games with an ankle injury and is likely to play some role on Monday.
“She got through today (Saturday) fine, so that’s positive. Touch-wood she gets through tomorrow fine as well and we’d be pretty comfortable to have Mack back in the squad.”
Fellow defender Cushla Rue was in line to her make her debut, but she suffered an ankle injury at training on Saturday.
“It’s been really poor timing for her, but there’ll be more opportunities I know.”