Above: Wellington Phoenix celebrate after their historic 3-0 win at Canberra United. Photo: Wellington Phoenix.
Canberra United 0-3 Wellington Phoenix
By Kieran Yap (11/2/22)
It finally happened. It looked likely for a few weeks as Wellington Phoenix rapidly developed from a team holding on to a team expecting to win. After narrow, heartbreaking losses against Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory, they have achieved their first win in the A-League Women’s with a 3-0 defeat of Canberra United.
Almost 1,000 spectators were on hand to see the historic occasion. Although most would not have been happy about it. Viking Park in Canberra holds a loyal group of supporters and they still have not seen their side win this season. They were not outplayed by Wellington over 90 minutes, but the young Phoenix side was more clinical and creative when it counted.
Canberra started with a twin strike force of Michelle Heyman and Ashleigh Sykes up against the much-lauded defensive pairing of Mackenzie Barry and Kate Taylor. Scoring goals has not been an issue for Canberra this season, but after Jess Nash and Kendall Fletcher departed, they have spent the season searching for a solution at centre-back.
The job of the Canberra defence for this game was to protect 17-year-old debutant goalkeeper Chloe Lincoln. It would be a long night for the back four.
Things started positively for the home side. Michelle Heyman had the first real chance of the game when she drove past Barry on the wing and straight towards goal. She outpaced the young defender but her shot could not find the back of the net. It was not an easy finish but it was a missed opportunity.
When Phoenix’s chance arrived, they did not waste it. Alyssa Whinham, fresh from her award as young player of the month twisted and turned on the edge of the box but could not find the shot. The ball was eventually played into the path of Chloe Knott who’s shot was at Lincoln but struck hard enough to slip through her grasp to open the scoring.
The young goalkeeper looked disappointed, but she was not helped by her defence. A lapse in concentration allowed Knott to get goal side effectively unopposed. She did not need a second invitation to take a shot.
Both sides were attacking. Canberra were understandably chasing the lead and Phoenix were only interested in extending theirs. As half time neared Kate Taylor launched herself at a free-kick to score a second and fell awkwardly onto her back. After a worrying amount of time on the ground, she was able to walk off the field. However, she only lasted a few seconds of the second half.
Wellington had been in leading positions before. The question for the second half was, could they maintain it, or extend it, or would Canberra United stage another comeback?
Canberra came into the second half with attack as the main objective. With Lily Alfeld in the best form of her career, they found it impossible to score. Wellington were living a charmed life and on the 50th minute they were clinical once again.
A quick, direct series of passes on the counterattack found Grace Jale on the left. She ran into the ball and slid it calmly into the net to double the lead.
Sykes almost pulled one back for Canberra United when she chased down a lost cause of a through ball and got a shot away. Unluckily it flashed across the Wellington goal.
Canberra United’s shots on goal were adding up and their corner count was increasing. Grace Maher was striking them as well as she ever had and it seemed improbable that Canberra would not score from at least one of those perfect deliveries.
Despite Canberra increasing the attacking pressure, it was the Phoenix who struck once again.
This time the ball fell to Ava Pritchard. Her shot was deflected past Lincoln and it was credited as an own goal but most fans would be happy for it to go to Pritchard.
Grace Maher almost scored a consolation for Canberra United. Her curling, dipping shot from 18 yards had Alfeld beaten, but no the crossbar.
She is so often the hero for her hometown team. A deadly set-piece specialist with a wand of a left boot. It looked like game over at 3-0 down. At 3-0 down and with Maher subbed off, it definitely was.
The final whistle eventually went. Wellington had their first win as a women’s team. They played with style and fought with spirit.
Canberra had the lion’s share of chances but the ball would just not fall for them. They are the only winless team remaining in this season’s competition.
But this game was all about Wellington. The core of this young side is made up of New Zealand Youth internationals. They are young, living away from home in a hotel for the season. They have steadily improved and for the last few rounds, it has been predicted that their first win would come soon. Tonight it finally did, it came in style with a 3-0 result that they were able to enjoy.
If Gemma Lewis can keep the majority of this side together, there is no telling how good they might one day become.
Impetus’ Ben Gilby heard from the proud Phoenix coach after the game. “I think you could see from the reaction from the girls at the final whistle it means a lot.
“There’s a couple of tears even and it seems silly, it’s just one game in a league (and) we’re still bottom of the table.
“But the sacrifices that these girls have made and they’re doing it tough and they’re struggling.”
Lewis went on: “Some of them are on countdown until when they’ll be able to get home and they’re still trying to put in a performance day in day out…so it really means a lot then when they get this reinforcement of why they’re doing it and feeling like they’re making progress.”
With Phoenix’s habit of letting winning positions slip in recent weeks along with Canberra twice coming back from the dead at the end of matches this season, Lewis was never quite sure the win was secure.
“We were like 85 minutes and I still thought we were going to lose it maybe…especially watching Canberra at 80 minutes they come alive and start putting away goals so I still wasn’t comfortable.
“The difference in this game was we took our chances, which we haven’t in previous games, and also we were disciplined at the back.”
Teams: CANBERRA UNITED (4-3-2-1): Lincoln, Ilijoski, Haran, Keir, Vidmar, Middleton, Maher, Grove, Washington, Sykes, Heyman. Substitutes: Caspers, Esposito (GK), Karrys-Stahl, Robinne, Toby.
WELLINGTON PHOENIX (4-4-2): Alfeld, Kramer, Taylor, Barry, McMeeken, Jale, Wisnewski, Pritchard, Gomez, Knott, Whinham. Substitutes: Edwards (GK), Jones, Lancaster, Vosper, Walker.
Scorers: Knott 41′, Jale 50′, Haran (OG) 62′.
Referee: Rebecca Mackie.