Wellington Phoenix 1-3 Perth Glory
Above: Perth Glory’s New Zealand international Liz Anton (left) competes in the air. Photo: Perth Glory.
By Ben Gilby (5/3/22)
Perth Glory’s superb season ended with a mixture of disappointment and pride as they missed out on Finals football on just goal difference from Melbourne Victory.
Virtually no one unconnected to the Western Australian club expected Alex Epakis’ side to perform so well this season. Add in the fact that this is a team that only played one home game and have been forced to spend the last two and a half months based in New South Wales, it just adds to their outstanding achievement.
Glory made several changes in their matchday squad with key player Mie Leth Jans missing due to a fractured left wrist with Sadie Lawrence coming in. Liz Anton returned from international duty from New Zealand, and Aideen Keane, who scored off of the bench against Sydney FC in Launceston last week, made her first start of the season. Morgan Aquino replaced Courtney Newbon in goal.
A lively opening saw both Susan Phonsongkham and Hana Lowry prominent for Glory. The latter was popping up in central midfield and on both flanks and driving the game from all areas for her side.
Phoenix’s 18-year-old Alyssa Whinham has had a meteoric rise this season, and she came the closest for her side in the opening quarter of an hour with a low effort going narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
With 22 minutes gone, Perth were awarded a free-kick after Sarah Cain was fouled by Hannah Jones centrally, around 40 yards from goal. Glory set-piece specialist Deborah-Ann de la Harpe lifted a ball in towards Hintzen on the left of the box. The American used her strength and guile to win a corner from Te Reremoana Walker.
The flag-kick was a vicious inswinger from de la Harpe and was met with a back flick header from captain Tash Rigby which was turned into her own net by Isabel Gomez who couldn’t get her feet sorted to clear properly.
Wellington responded well with Grace Jale, who had been in good goalscoring form, trying to create via the left-hand side.
Perth continued to be dangerous from set-pieces with Lowry bending a succession of corners from the right under the Phoenix crossbar. Her former team-mate Lily Alfeld, though under heavy pressure from the corners, managed to deal with them without the concession of any further goals.
It was the Western Australians who had the best of the second period as they looked to add further goals to boost their chances of making Finals.
Just after the hour mark, another set piece led to their second. de la Harpe curled in a free kick on the left just outside the box. Rigby got up for the header, Phoenix cleared, but only as far as a Glory shirt. Anton got away down the right and fired a ball across for Hintzen at the near post to volley first time into the top of the net. It was her fifth goal in nine games.
Less than two minutes later, Phoenix gifted Perth another goal. Gomez conceded a free kick in her own half for pushing Lowry in the back. Phonsongkham took the set-piece quickly looking to release Keane, but Kate Taylor looked to have everything under control. However, the Phoenix vice captain got her body in completely the wrong position which allowed the Glory striker to race through unmarked and she fire home past Alfeld.
Two minutes later, Lowry almost made it four when she escaped through the middle and let fly from outside the box which went narrowly over the bar.
Perth continued to push, but could not add to their tally. On the other side of the ledger, as they have done significantly in recent weeks, Phoenix kept fighting. Whinham continued to pose problems.
With seven minutes remaining, Lisa De Vanna came on for what could be her final A-League appearance – although there will be many in Perth hoping that they will actually be able to watch their home town hero play in front of them next season – something that only happened once this campaign.
Wellington threatened in the closing six minutes and got a reward. Initially, a shot from just outside the left hand edge of the box cannoned back off the bar. As it bounced down, Abbey Green was adjudged to have fouled Cushla Rue. Referee Rachael Mitchenson pointed to the spot. Grace Jale stepped up to dispatch the spot kick for her sixth goal of the season despite Morgan Aquino getting a hand to the effort as it squeezed into the bottom left hand corner.
That was as close as Phoenix got – but they have so much to be proud of this season. If the season was just a week or two longer they would have been likely to avoid the wooden spoon. They have come a long way, and the league is a better place for their presence.
After the game, Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis reflected on a superb season for his team.
“First and foremost, we need to take a step back and look at the broader picture. Look where we were twelve months ago, look at all the challenges we’ve had this season and the hurdles we’ve had to clear. We’ve achieved so much by overcoming those hurdles and that is even before we think about what we achieved on the field.
“Those challenges have been immense. To be able to overcome them as well as have the success we had on the field, despite not making Finals, we have won something.
“The performance today, we wanted to go out with a bang and we certainly achieved that. I was aware of the scenario in the other fixture (Melbourne Victory v Canberra United), we were trying to block it out. It’s unfortunate, but we have to take stock of what we’ve done. We’re definitely disappointed.
“There is a huge sentiment of being proud but there was a disappointment knowing we wanted to compete with the best all year, and to do that in the Finals would have been magnificent.”
Epakis spoke of the mixed emotions in the group after the final whistle when he addressed the huddle.
“There was a level of emptiness, but I made sure that we were clear. I said from the start I didn’t want to put a cap on what success would look like for this season, and I think it has been a success this season.”
With Glory being forced on the road for so long this season, their head coach reflected on the close bond that has been formed and how hard it will now be to part for seven or eight months.
“When you live together for close to two and a half months every day, you do form that family bond. When any family separates, it’s always hard. I will certainly feel empty when we all go our separate ways. We’ve all put so much into this season. For it all to just stop is a bit of a shock to the system.”
Epakis knows that this season’s results and performances are just the start in a bright future for his side longer-term. A big part of that is keeping the squad together.
“We did a big recruit last season and signed a lot of players to a longer-term commitment. We want to maintain and retain the core of this group. We all know the trajectory that we are going in. I believe that a lot of the players are invested in this. I would love to work with these players again next year and beyond”.
Conversely, Phoenix head coach Gemma Lewis told media post-game that it “wasn’t our greatest performance” and the scoreline “was probably a fair reflection of the game”.
“We knew the two-day turnaround was going to be hard and to get an own goal in the first half wasn’t really something that set us on the greatest path,” Lewis said.
“As soon as it went two-nil the girls went quite flat. I think it’s hard when you have a two-day turnaround to find that second gear when you’re two-nil down to drive and get three goals.
“I was hoping they could do it with the adrenaline and the emotional charge of it being the last game, but they’ve given so much for us throughout the season that it didn’t really surprise me that they didn’t have much left in the tank at that point.”
Teams: WELLINGTON PHOENIX (4-3-3): Alfeld, Barry, Walker, Taylor, Vosper, Gomez, Jones, Whinham, Pritchard, Jale, Knott. Substitutes: Jasnos, Brown, Rue, Lancaster, Edwards (GK).
Scorer: Jale (pen) 86′.
PERTH GLORY (4-3-3): Aquino, Rigby, Anton, K.Carroll, de la Harpe, Lawrence, Cain, Lowry, Keane, Hintzen, Phonsongkham. Substitutes: Koulizakis, De Vanna, Green, Khamis, Newbon (GK).
Scorers: Gomez (OG) 23′, Hintzen 61′, Keane 63′.
Referee: Rachael Mitchenson
Attendance: 100 (est).