A-League Women Saturday Previews

Impetus’ Ben Gilby heard from the head coaches from three of the four teams in action on Saturday: Perth Glory’s Alex Epakis, Melbourne Victory’s Jeff Hopkins, and Newcastle Jets’ Ash Wilson. He also hears from Perth Glory midfielder Sarah Cain (18/2/22).

Above: Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis speaking at his media conference this week. Photo: Perth Glory.

Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis revealed that there were no hesitations whatsoever when it came to extending his tenure to a third season.

“The club didn’t need to convince me to stay. I’m really invested in the players and what we are trying to achieve. It was an easy decision and one I’m delighted about.”

“In my mind, we have an unlimited amount of potential, both individually and collectively. As a group, we have a great balance of players who are all contributing towards success. It’s exciting to be part of and I’m proud of it. I get to work with these players and staff every day and I’m proud of that.”

With Perth’s A-League Women season coming down to their final three matches against Melbourne Victory, Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix, they face a tough battle to make Finals, but one that remains realistic.

“I don’t want to put a limit on what we can achieve or what that may look like. We want to finish with three strong performances. If we pick up enough points to make the top four, great. Next year we want to have even more success and build towards that. A lot can happen in the next few weeks and I’m not writing off our chances.”

Perth’s head coach reiterated his observation that he knew early in pre-season that his team had huge potential going into the campaign.

“For me, having a six-week pre-season with the players was always going to be a huge starting point which was so much better than last year (when Perth had minimal preparation time and were still putting a squad together a month before the season started due to border restrictions).

“The players who were coming in and those we retained meant that I could have a specific pre-season. Every player came to the club knowing what to expect and I knew what to expect from them. I knew we had a strong foundation and we’d have stronger performances and it was exciting to see what we could achieve as a group.”

Whilst some saw last weekend’s 4-0 loss to Melbourne City as a decisive blow in the Western Australian side’s Finals hopes, Epakis has other thoughts.

“Our performances have been really good. The 4-0 loss to City needs to be put in context. It was 2-0 after 88 minutes and we kept trying to get something and as a result, it blew out. Those last goals were not huge lapses either.

“We’ve also showed in other games – Adelaide for example. They won 8-2 the game after we played them, and we beat them 1-0 with ten players. That was a huge result. If we focus towards what we did there against Melbourne Victory, we’ll be OK.

“I would describe our top four chances as optimistic. I am more interested in our performances over the final three weeks. That’s what we’re striving for. If we can try and do that regardless of opposition, then we have a chance of top four.

Above: Perth Glory’s Lisa De Vanna battles against Melbourne City’s Winonah Heatley last weekend. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.

“The remaining fixtures for the teams, there are lots of equations and it can muddle your head. That is why I’m focusing on our performances. A lot of football is still to be played and lots can happen.”

For Perth Glory to be even being talked about as Finals contenders when they have only played one game at home all season (back in Round One), is an incredible achievement. That was something that the club’s head coach underlined.

“We want to be playing in Perth. We’ve lacked a competitive edge from not being able to play in WA. There’s the playing in front of our own support and the impact on the opposition with the travel and the time difference.

“You can’t dismiss that. It’s a really huge factor. We are trialling a bit of everything at the moment, but it is not home. Home advantage for Perth Glory is worth several points a season. Without that, the players have had to go above and beyond. It is us against the rest.

“I think if we’d had been able to play in Perth we’d be in an even stronger position. What this situation has caused though is a really big bond between the group and that has helped in difficult situations. Yet, it comes without the outside support network. You don’t want to just be suffocated by football, you need family and friends too.”

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s clash with Melbourne Victory, Epakis said: “It was a good opportunity to watch Victory play Sydney on Wednesday as we saw some real strengths of theirs. They have a fantastic front three who can create and take chances with very little space. We also saw a few little things in their structure which hopefully we can take advantage of and attack.

“They are an experienced team. Jeff (Hopkins, head coach) and the players have been together for a number of years now. It’s a match where both teams go into it knowing they need the three points. It will come down to which team can manage the critical moments better.

In terms of availability for tomorrow’s game, Perth’s head coach revealed: “Some players have had to go back to WA for school or other commitments. We’ve sent Poppie Hooks and Tijan McKenna back with our best wishes as they are about to enter their HSC year at school. Gemma Craine has gone back as well after her injury and she needs to be getting back to Perth. We have no new injuries though.”

Meanwhile, the club has revealed that their final regular-season A-League Women “home” match against Wellington Phoenix will be played in Tasmania at Launceston’s UTAS Stadium as a doubleheader with Glory’s men’s team playing Western United.

Above: Sarah Cain at her media conference on Thursday. Photo: Perth Glory.

Perth Glory’s Sarah Cain also spoke to the media this week and began by reviewing last weekend’s loss to Melbourne City.

“It was disappointing to lose to Melbourne City. Performance-wise we could have done more in that game, but there were factors like fatigue from the short turnaround. This week we’ve worked and made small changes on what let us down. We’re ready to go again now. The gap between us and the top four isn’t a 4-0 scoreline. We want to aim this weekend to prove that on any given day we can beat the top teams.

“Making the Finals would be massive given the circumstances we’ve had to face this season. Everyone has sacrificed so much to be here and we’re going for the same goal. Having a chance to make Finals is huge.”

Cain emphasized her focusses this season in developing herself as a player. “Physicality is something I’m looking at adding to my game. It’s been a big focus in training for me. Size is never going to be my thing, so I’ve tried to work harder on tackles and it came to life in the City game.”

With Perth now approaching their third month on the road, Cain reflected that she has had it easier than other players in the squad.

“Life on the road has been OK for me. Obviously, I relocated from Melbourne to the club anyway, so in that respect, it’s an easier adjustment for me compared to the local girls. I was already prepared to leave my family for five or six months anyway. Day to day there are challenges, but on the whole, the group are doing well.”

Examples of how well the group are doing came with the 22-year-old midfielder revealing how Glory have been celebrating birthdays in a rather unique fashion recently.

“We’ve had four birthdays in the last month among the team. We’re sticking together and taking every opportunity to be together. We added up the collective age of the birthdays in February and it came to 115 so we all went out to op shops, got old person clothes, and had an old people’s dress party!”

In terms of Victory the game against Melbourne Victory on Saturday, Cain knows there is a major challenge ahead: “They have lots of players in great form. Chidiac, Zimmerman who scored to draw the game for them against Sydney. We need to make sure that those sorts of players don’t get time on the ball. We need to shut them down quickly and not give them a sniff in the final third.”

Above: Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins speaking to the media ahead of Saturday’s game with Perth Glory. Photo: Melbourne Victory.

Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins opened his media conference by speaking of his pride in the team’s comeback from 2-0 down against Sydney FC on Wednesday.

“The performance in the second half was great. We could take our intensity and play to another level, and that was really good. It’s given us a lot of confidence that come Finals time once we get there that we can really give it a shake with any of the teams in the league.

“We’ve played well over the last four games. We’ve won and kept clean sheets. To put a performance in against the top team is great. First half we were well up against it and they (Sydney) were on top. The quality in our response in the second half was very pleasing. We made some changes at half-time and the players who came on really sparked the turning around of the game. One or two of the players were disappointed that we didn’t go on to win the game.”

Whilst that point against Sydney puts Victory in a great place in the Finals race, Hopkins is not looking any further ahead then Saturday’s game with Perth Glory.

“Right now, we just have to deal with what is in front of us on a day-to-day basis, look at the opposition and get out there. We’re game to game and going out to win each one.

“Perth have been great this year. They have really built and recruited really well. They will be tough, but we’re at home. We’ve looked at them, but it’s about our strengths and imposing ourselves on the opposition. We want to play at our intensity and focus on us.

“There are two teams who are desperate for a win. If we win, we’ll put a big gap between us and then. There will be some desperation from them. Whether that means they will be attacking or trying to keep things tight, I don’t know. The last 15-20 minutes could be like a cup-tie/Finals type game as there is so much at stake for both teams.”

Melbourne Victory’s head coach revealed that availability-wise, the news is reasonably positive. “Amy Jackson has a calf strain so she won’t be involved. Everyone else is looking good. Kyra (Cooney-Cross) copped a knock on her knee against Sydney, but she’s OK. There is some fatigue, so we might have to shuffle the pack a bit, but no-one else is definitely out.”

Above: Ash Wilson pictured in training. She gave a wide-ranging fascinating media conference today. Photo: Newcastle Jets.

Newcastle Jets head coach Ash Wilson provided an insight into the realities of being an A-League Women coach and player whilst having to work full-time amidst the unclear remaining schedule of matches this season.

Asked about the departure of goalkeeper Georgia Boric due to work commitments, Wilson said: “Georgia works for a private school as a rowing co-ordinator. She has a massive role organizing their program and with the number of catch-up games ahead and a lack of information about when they are going to take place, it means employers don’t have knowledge about the situation. It makes things very difficult. Her role changed into a more full-time role at the school as well as having to come into training.

“It’s an unfortunate reality of the women’s game – players working and trying to balance that with being full-time athletes. In some cases, it becomes difficult for the employer to balance that out and make the best of it for everyone involved.

“Georgia is saddened by the fact that she has had to make such a difficult decision. We want to make sure she feels supported by us, but sometimes in the women’s game, work is what keeps a roof over your head and that is the reality of it.

“The door is 100% open for her to come back next season. She is a quality keeper. This year has been unprecedented at the curve balls that it has thrown at everyone. I still can’t give players clear-cut guidelines as to when we are playing all our matches this season. Employers have every right to have concerns.

“The majority of my players have jobs. Tara Andrews is an engineer, Hannah Brewer is a teacher. Lauren Allan is a radiographer. So much is going on in their lives. The league does need to look into solutions into more investment. I’m in a position where I work full-time as a PE teacher and I’ve come straight from it to do this conference. We do it because of the passion we have.”

Above: Georgia Boric, who was forced to leave Newcastle Jets this week due to work commitments. Photo: Newcastle Herald.

Jets come into this weekend’s game at home to Western Sydney Wanderers on the back of a positive performance against Sydney FC – a game that Newcastle almost got a draw out of.

“We’ve got a lot to take out of that game against Sydney. The way we played, the pressure we put on Sydney. We fought til the end. They had a lot more shots than us, but quite a few were from outside the box. We need to keep going now. That’s the standard we need. Also taking that frustration from the end (disallowed equalizer at the death) and channel that. Training has been great and we’re all buzzing.”

With Jets’ upcoming fixtures against teams who are all around them in the table, Wilson is confident of positive results if the level of performance against Sydney can be replicated.

“Yeah. That’s the message. We have to put distance between ourselves and the others. We need to maintain that regardless of where our opposition are on the ladder. We need to be playing our best. We have to maintain that.”

“For us, the last games are really important. We can’t think about what’s happened in previous seasons (where Jets have played well but not got the number of wins that they could have) as its a different team now. We’ve earned more points than in the last two seasons. Our goal was to make Finals. That’s looking unlikely now, but we need to keep building and making those improvements.

“Over the next couple of weeks, we have no excuses and need to put in performances that warrant points and finish as strongly as we can. Finishing fifth or sixth is better than where we were last season (nearer the bottom).”

Asked about the specific areas that she feels there is room for improvement, the Jets head coach said: “There are times when we could be a little bit more clinical and composed, but I can’t fault the energy and effort of the girls or defensive setup.

“A lot of teams have been in the same boat as us. We’ve lost players at unexpected times. COVID and isolation has hit in a way that no-one could predict. The league has been like that for everyone though.

“We’ve scored more goals than we did last year, we have more different goalscorers. It’s just composure now.”

“We’ve had a normal training week in the way we’ve loaded the players up towards peaking towards Sunday.”

With regard to availability for tomorrow’s match, Wilson revealed: “Gema Simon has a low grade in the calf and won’t be available, but the rest of the girls have pulled up well after last week. Hannah Brewer is coming back into the mix after her time in isolation.”

Artwork: Newcastle Jets.

Also ahead of the game with Western Sydney Wanderers tomorrow, Newcastle Jets have announced the signing of young goalkeeper Sophie Magus for the remainder of the season.

Magus will join the team as a replacement for Georgia Boric who has had to leave the club due to work commitments.

The 22-year-old joins after spending time with the Western Sydney Wanderers back in 2020, and recently with top NPLW sides APIA Leichardt and Sydney University.

Coach Ash Wilson said she was pleased to be able to bring in someone of Magus’ quality after the unfortunate loss of Boric.

“It’s obviously disappointing to lose Georgia at this stage of the season,” Wilson said.

“Due to unexpected changing work commitments, she had to make the difficult decision to discontinue the season and it’s an unfortunate reminder of some of the pressures and challenges the women’s game brings of balancing work and football.

“Sophie is a promising young goalkeeper. She is brave, confident with her feet, and has a fantastic attitude toward making the most from her opportunities.

“It is great to be able to bring in someone with such potential and drive and I look forward to working with her over the coming weeks.”

Magus admitted she’d be looking for a move to the Jets and to work with Wilson for some time.

“I’ve been following the Jets for the past year and am really impressed with the setup Ash has,” Magus said.

“I think working under her was one of the biggest motivators for me coming here.

“I’m really excited to be part of an extremely professional and high-quality club. The girls have been so welcoming and I’m looking forward to ending the season on a high and working towards a place in the finals.”

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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