Friday A-League Women Preview

Tomorrow night sees three A-League Women matches as the season reaches its last regular round. Impetus’ Ben Gilby heard from four head coaches – Melbourne Victory’s Jeff Hopkins, Newcastle Jets’ Ash Wilson, Perth Glory’s Alex Epakis, and Wellington Phoenix’s Gemma Lewis. Additionally, there are the views of Perth captain Tash Rigby, Victory defender Brooke Hendrix, and Jets record-breaking midfielder Cass Davis (3/3/22).

Perth Glory captain Tash Rigby emphasized that despite the team needing to rely on Canberra United beating Melbourne Victory to make Finals, their sole focus tomorrow night is on their own performance against Wellington Phoenix.

“We really just want to focus on our own game. There are a lot of other things going on around the game, but we just want to focus on getting the three points and getting our best performance on the pitch.”

With the two sides’ previous encounter this season taking place as recently as 31st January in a hugely entertaining encounter that went one way then the other, Rigby is well aware of the threat posed by the Phoenix.

“We are definitely expecting a similar game against them this time. They have a high and intense press. We need to do a bit better than last time and keep the ball more efficiently. It has been good to prepare knowing these things and trying to counter them.

Perth’s captain revealed that despite the fact that the Glory have been on the road for three months now, there is a degree of sadness that such a powerful bonding period is almost at an end.

Above: Perth Glory captain Tash Rigby in this week’s media conference. Photo: Perth Glory.

“The energy in the group is really good. Everyone is sad that the season could be coming to an end, despite how challenging it has been on the road for so long. We have got really close and want to make the most of our time together.”

In terms of Rigby’s personal experiences this season, she has seen it as being overwhelmingly positive and one of real growth. “My body has held up really well this season, apart from the facial injuries! I have felt the best I have felt for a long time in terms of my physicality. I’m good and it has been an incredible season. I’ve done a lot of growing and it’s been a good experience in terms of leadership too.

“At the moment, we are looking at the game at the weekend. The group are so close and want to stay together and build on the foundation of the performances of this season. Experiences have been great.”

Perth’s captain outlined that after Friday’s match, the squad will be returning to Western Australia regardless of whether or not they have made Finals. “If we do (make Finals), it would just be a one-off away trip as it would be in a normal season.”

Above: Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis in this week’s media conference. Photo: Perth Glory.

Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis opened his media conference by emphasizing the quality that Friday’s opponents Wellington Phoenix will bring to the pitch in Wollongong.

“I went out and watched them the other night (when they beat Western Sydney Wanderers 3-2) and full credit to them. It underlines the fact that we have to be really good this Friday.”

With Glory needing a win to have any chance of taking the last Finals berth, Epakis just wants his team to focus on what they can control.

“The message of the last few weeks is that we just have to focus on ourselves. I know it is exciting because it’s been a few years since the club played Finals. But the reality is this could be our last game of the season and we want to end the campaign on a positive performance and result. Wellington are a really good team and we can’t take the result for granted.

“The potential of making Finals is not about what it means to me personally, it’s all about the group. I’m here to help them develop and help them achieve what they are capable of. Last year was so difficult, so for the players who were part of that to have the opportunity to play Finals is amazing. We want to test ourselves against the best.”

Perth go into the game with a strong squad to select from as the head coach highlighted: “We should have the same squad available as played Sydney on Sunday, apart from the fact that Leena Khamis is back after missing the game for a personal commitment and Liz Anton is back from international duty.

“That gives me a positive selection headache. Liz has done really well this year and the fact that she went away with her international team highlights the season she has had. It’s great to have her back in the group.”

With the season approaching its denouement, Epakis revealed that he is already planning for the 2022/23 campaign.

“Given the fact that there are new teams coming into the competition, existing teams are going to be moving fast to secure players and staff. We have to do that as well. Next year will be exciting. We got ahead of the pack last season with our recruitment, so hopefully, we can do the same this time.”

Perth’s coach concluded by highlighting the pride he has in his players and gave an insight into what he was likely to say to his team before they go out onto the pitch at WIN Stadium tomorrow.

“There has to be a level of sentiment in terms of what I say, but also an element of coaching focus as well. The relationship I have formed with the playing group has been quite strong. We’ve really come together as a strong unit since we came on the road. Whatever I say to them comes from the bottom of my heart. I would never say anything to the group that I didn’t think they were capable of.

“What I’ve said the last few weeks is that to have the belief in yourself that we can compete with the best and compete.

Above: Melbourne Victory’s Broke Hendrix talking ahead of tomorrow’s game with Canberra United. Artwork: Melbourne Victory.

Melbourne Victory defender Brooke Hendrix spoke to the media ahead of her team’s crucial clash with Canberra United tomorrow and reflected on the difficult schedule that has seen her side play five games in 14 days.

“It was a crazy schedule and we’re all pretty worn down. Plus having such a small squad due to injuries, it’s made it even worse. We’ve really come together through it though. Now we have a bit of a break (before Friday), we’re strong together and we have taken the schedule on the chin and we’re ready to move on.

“Having so many games close together takes a toll on your body, but also on you mentally as well. We needed this time to re-set our minds.”

Hendrix hasn’t been at the club for long, but is already hugely impressed by the talent in the Victory team.

“It has been awesome working with the youngsters here. They are so talented and have such big futures ahead of them. They have a great mindset and are among the leaders on the team. It’s impressive how they carry that weight on their shoulders and what they do with it.

The American is also full of praise for the standard of the A-League Women having come into the competition for the first time mid-season.

“It’s been really good. I really like it here. There is a lot of fight from every team. You can’t expect to win any game. The level of play is high and there are so many young players. There are growth areas needed and I hope that other international players can come in here and help. I’ve been impressed.”

Going into tomorrow’s match, Hendrix is confident that Victory are ready to step up the intensity to beat off the challenge of Perth Glory and make the top four.

“We know that we have to get a win (over Canberra on Friday) to confirm our place in the Finals. We know that we have the talent in our team. We’re confident that if we work together we can get the win.”

In order to gain the three points that Victory need, Hendrix knows that they have to tighten up defensively as Canberra are in good goalscoring form.

“We need to work on being defensively sound; we’ve given up way more goals than we would have liked.”

With an improved showing at the back, the Victory defender is confident that should her side finish in the Top Four they are capable of going all the way.

“I feel that we can do some damage in the Finals if we make it. Although I wasn’t here last year, I’ve heard all about what we did. I truly believe in all of the girls here. We have something special here and there is always a chance for us to do something here.”

Above: Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins speaking to the media today. Photo: Melbourne Victory.

Melbourne Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins opened his media conference today with news of player availability.

“Casey (Dumont) has a good chance. She trained today in a light session. I’m confident that she has done enough today to say she can play. ‘Bungey’ (Claudia Bunge) has come back (from international duty) in good spirits and she’ll be straight back into the team.

“Amy Jackson won’t be back. We could have pushed her back, but looking at the injury, we want to be more conservative with her and hope to have her back next week (if Victory make Finals). Melina Ayres has trained this week and it is great to have her back. She will be involved in the game in some way. It’s probably too early to put her into the starting team though, but she’ll be on the bench.”

With Victory having played five games in 14 days, Hopkins spoke of the huge advantage of having six days to prepare for their final game of the regular season.

“Mentally this six-day break has been good to get everyone ready and also physically too. Preparation-wise, we are also able to properly focus tactically on a team. With all the games in quick succession, it had been just a whiteboard session rather than training ground sessions.”

Asked what he felt could have been done differently to ease his team’s load during the quick turnaround in matches over the last fortnight, Victory’s head coach reflected: “We could have done with a few more players so we could have rotated the squad a bit more. The fact that we couldn’t left us lacking some energy and an inability to impact games when we needed to. At the end of the day, we won’t complain. Playing games is what we want, it’s what we do.

“If you look at our style of play, we play a very aggressive, high press style of play. We haven’t been able to do that so much with so many games. We’ll be a very different team tomorrow, a very different team. We don’t like people writing us off. We were lacking energy. People will see the real Melbourne Victory tomorrow night. I’m very confident about that.”

Melbourne Victory realistically need only a draw to claim the last spot in the Finals, but Hopkins has only got his team focusing on a win.

“We are all talking about winning the game. There are a few things that we need to do well against a decent Canberra side. We know we didn’t do ourselves justice on the ball when we played them down in Canberra.

“We’ve prepared well featuring on different scenarios in the final 20 minutes regardless of what we might need to do, but we won’t be letting the players know what is going on in the Perth game. We just need to go out focusing on beating Canberra.

“Canberra are a good team going forward, and we have done some work defensively on trying to lessen their impact. They are a team that we can cause problems to, and we’ve seen a number of teams do that to them earlier in the season. We don’t underestimate them, but know that if we play to our best, we can beat them.”

Above: Cassidy Davis pictured on her 108th consecutive appearance for Newcastle Jets on Tuesday night. Photo: Newcastle Jets.

Newcastle Jets midfielder Cassidy Davis spoke to the media ahead of tomorrow night’s game with Brisbane Roar, reflecting on her 108th consecutive appearance for the team against Melbourne City on Tuesday.

“It was a good moment, but I can’t wait to get back here to play in front of family and friends tomorrow. Three points would have been better from the game earlier in the week. Hopefully, we can get them on Friday.”

Davis looked back over what has been another frustrating campaign for Newcastle. One which has seen them face a number of challenges.

“It’s been a tough season for us. We started well and had a rough patch in the middle. We now need to finish strong. We have Brisbane twice (in four days) so we have every chance of getting three points.

“We had a lot of interruptions. We didn’t have the same starting line-up for two weeks in a row and we’ve got a lot of injuries, so we are low in numbers which makes it hard too.”

Davis also has an eye to next season and she revealed that she is looking for another campaign at the Jets. “I think you always need to look at what you are doing next season. We’re all playing for a contract. You always want to look to next season and earn a spot. You are always trying to impress your coach to get a spot next year. I’m sure that’s in the back of everyone’s mind so we’re all going for it.”

Above: Newcastle Jets head coach Ash Wilson spoke of the huge positives in her team’s showing against Melbourne City despite only having a squad of 15 players available. Photo: Newcastle Jets.

Newcastle Jets head coach Ash Wilson is confident that her team is more than capable of ending their season on a high despite being ravaged by injuries.

Speaking about Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Melbourne City, Wilson saw many positives. “I thought that both with the ball and without it we were solid. It was a pretty even contest when you look at it. We had more entries into their box, but it all came down to a few moments. We didn’t deal with those moments well enough and we didn’t take our chances, (but) I was proud of the girls and how they performed.”

Jets are struggling for bodies ahead of tomorrow’s game with Brisbane Roar, and Wilson revealed that there is a strong possibility that only two outfield substitutes will be available. “No-ones coming back. We only had three on the bench on Tuesday and it is likely we will have one less tomorrow. We couldn’t predict having four games in 10 days, but it is the hand that we have been dealt.

“We’ve looked into potential avenues but it is not a recruitment window and we have been told no. We’ll just have to carry on.

“When you look at the starting team we had on Tuesday, we put in a solid performance and we are very capable of playing good football. The players need to finish the season strong and take motivation from the performance against Melbourne City. We had a fair chunk of play. Our players have that drive to take it into Brisbane. We are a team with a lot of character and won’t leave anything on the table. The goal is to finish as strongly as we can.”

Above: Gemma Lewis, Wellington Phoenix’s head coach spoke to the media today ahead of her club’s final game of their maiden season. Photo: Wellington Phoenix.

Wellington Phoenix head coach Gemma Lewis emphasized how motivated her team are to end the season with a win over Perth Glory to keep alive their chances of avoiding the wooden spoon.

The Nix start the final round level on points with Western Sydney Wanderers but sit last on goal difference.

The players are driven to avoid bottom spot and Lewis says it was a goal the team set before their historic 3-0 win over Canberra United three weeks ago.

“Other results that we can’t control haven’t necessarily been in our favour otherwise we could have potentially gotten off the bottom of the table already,” Lewis said. “But it’s back in our favour for this game.”

“If we get this result and we get off the bottom of the table we’d all walk away, players and staff, extremely happy.”

That’s because the Phoenix were expected to lose all 14 of their matches, having been thrown together at the last minute and having a limited pre-season.

“Nobody expected us to pick up any points so we’ve already gone above and beyond,” Lewis said.

“Not just the points as well. I get that that’s how most people and most people are judged, and I completely understand that, but I think our performances have exceeded expectations in terms of how we’ve been able to compete for the most part.

“Some games obviously we were quite far off it but a lot of games we’ve been really, really in it and played some good football.”

Lewis believes the Phoenix match-up well against Perth Glory and has declared her side will “throw everything we’ve got at them”.

“I think we’ve got a good chance. Pushing for a draw or a win would be good to give us that hope of getting off (the bottom of the table),”

“You don’t really want to really leave it down to goal difference or be more defensive minded. I think that’s setting yourself up to fail.”

Glory came from 2-1 down at halftime to beat the Phoenix 3-2 in round nine and they are fighting for a place in the top four.

“Obviously they’ve got a lot to play for but our girls are really hungry to get off the bottom of the table.

Above: Action from Wellington Phoenix’s clash with Perth Glory earlier this season. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.

“The girls are really, really positive in the fact that our last performance against them probably should have been our game, but we gave it to them at the end. So I think they want to rectify that as well.

“It’ll be a tough game but last game, girls know they’re going home…there’s that emotion behind it as well.

“We saw how we played in the first game when there was that big emotion of that history and now this is the last game, end of the season, end of the first season ever so hopefully that’ll spur them on and help them find that second wind.”

It’s a short turnaround for the Nix, who played and beat Western Sydney Wanderers on Tuesday night and the squad “pretty much self-selects itself”.

The fullbacks who started against Western Sydney, Zoe McMeeken and Talitha Kramer, are both unavailable for selection.

McMeeken sustained a knee injury against Wanderers, while Kramer is suspended after picking up her fourth yellow card of the season.

With midfielder Grace Wisnewski having returned to New Zealand for mental health reasons and defender Annabel Martin still side-lined with a knee injury Lewis has only 16 players to call on.

“It’s a tight turnaround so we are not going to be as fresh as we would like but it’s the last game so everyone knows they can kind of empty the tank.”

Saskia Vosper is likely to start in one of the two fullback spots, with Charlotte Lancaster and Kelli Brown options for the other starting berth. Lewis is also considering moving Mackenzie Barry to the left side of defence and bringing Te Reremoana Walker into a back three.

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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