Brisbane Roar 1-1 Canberra United
By Jonathan Tay (27/11/22)
Above: Brisbane Roar’s Larissa Crummer celebrates her second-half equaliser. Photo: Brisbane Roar.
Brisbane Roar and Canberra United played out a seesawing 1-1 draw in the searing Perry Park heat on Saturday.
Having last week battled the windy conditions, this weekend the Roar had to overcome the scorching sun and an early deficit to earn a point. Temperatures reached 35 degrees celsius during the game, with regular fifteen-minute drinks breaks interspersed throughout play.
Grace Jale opened the scoring in the 23rd minute with her second goal in as many weeks for Canberra, before Larissa Crummer did likewise for Brisbane, equalising for the home side soon after the half-time break.
The Lesser of Two Defences
Brisbane and Canberra came off disappointing 2021/22 seasons, with both quite comfortably missing out on a spot in the top four.
Central to each’s downfall was an inability to prevent goals; Brisbane conceded 30, second-worst in the league, with Canberra not far behind, shipping 29 in total themselves.
In the offseason, both looked overseas for reinforcements in a bid to rectify defensive woes this time round. United brought in Canadian Kennedy Faulknor, most recently plying her trade in the US College system, whilst the Roar recruited Kajsa Lind, a teammate of Matildas Claire Polkinghorne, Charlotte Grant, and Brisbane-native Katrina Gorry at Vittsjö, in the Swedish Damallsvenskan.
Early on in this game, however, it was much of the same worrying form for Roar head coach Garrath McPherson and Canberra counterpart Njegosh Popovich; both sought to employ a possession-based style of football that their charges did not necessarily seem suited for. Each side was mistake-prone in playing out from the back, leading to plenty of chances in transition for their opponents.
In the 10th minute, United’s Grace Maher went just wide from a freekick, after Michelle Heyman was tripped on the edge of the 18-yard box by Brisbane centre-back Jamilla Rankin. Not long after down the other end, winger Sharn Freier was released far too easily beyond the Canberra defence, but had her shot cleared off the line by a last-ditch block from Faulknor.
After 23 minutes, Vesna Milivojevic found herself with oceans of time and space in midfield and floated a ball to the back post. The Roar were second to both Wu’s header back across goal and Jale’s tap-in, to concede the opener.
The goal settled Canberra, with Popovich able to calm his side over the course of two stoppages for drinks, playing out the rest of the half with better control. Just eight minutes after the restart though, they let themselves down, succumbing to their own errors at the back. A routine goal kick bypassed both Faulknor and right-back Sasha Grove, with Freier pouncing on the loose ball and playing Shea Connors through. Whilst her 1-on-1 effort was well-saved, Crummer beat the defence to the rebound to tuck home the equaliser.
The heat took its toll on the players and the quality of chances for the remainder of the game, precipitating the outcome of a draw. Both coaches though will have left feeling there is much to work on, not least continuing to attempt to shore up the back end.
Without improvement it is difficult to see either team challenging perennial favourites Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory, top four challengers Melbourne City and Adelaide, or Western United, who have made an impressive start to their maiden campaign.
On the Comeback Trail
Both sides did however show their offence is humming along nicely to begin the season, though the two clubs have taken slightly different approaches to building their attacks for this campaign.
The Roar doubled down on consistency, with most of their strikeforce back on board. Shae Connors was lively throughout, with fellow returnee Mariel Hecher having developed some chemistry with the homegrown Crummer. Katrina Gorry is still to be added into the mix in a few weeks’ time as well.
Canberra meanwhile sought to rejuvenate their forward areas externally. New signings Jale, Milivojevic, and Wu Chengshu bring drive and creativity to support the core of Heyman and Maher, aided by the return of Nicki Flannery from injury, who has already racked up 10 shots. Canberra have been able to muster a league-leading 4.5 expected goals across the first pair of games.
This match wasn’t at the same level as the chaotic 3-3 draw between the same two teams to end last season, but both Canberra and Brisbane look like they will again be relying on their fire power. If either side is to have any hope of bettering their standing this campaign, it will most likely come from their attackers out-scoring some of their defensive deficiencies.
On the World Cup Trail
Billed as the battle of Matildas hopefuls, Crummer-vs-Heyman, it was probably New Zealander Jale, also preparing for a home World Cup, who was most persistently impactful throughout the match.
For the two Australians though, they were solid enough, leading the lines for their respective teams. Heyman often dropped deeper to link with her three supporting attacking midfielders, and was a part of the play leading to Canberra’s goal. Crummer was more tangibly involved, rattling a shot off the woodwork in the first half, before her tally in the second.
However, perhaps the most telling display of the afternoon came from national team head coach, Tony Gustavsson. Rather than travel north to Queensland, he chose instead to make an appearance at Cromer Park where Sydney FC hosted Melbourne Victory. There, a number of Matildas candidates participated, including rival forwards Remy Siemsen and Cortnee Vine, midfielders Elise Kellond-Knight and Alex Chidiac.
Gustavsson though was quick to assure he’s still keeping an open mind, particularly for those who rise above the competition. “First of all, we’ve designed a scouting template through the A-League so we try to have live eyes on every single game,” the Swede said.
“Obviously, we look at clips afterwards because I can only be at one site at a time but we’ve said we’re going to keep an eye on every player.
“A-League is a very, very important pathway for players. But we also said it’s important players play at the highest level possible. So in that sense, I think it’s a bit early now to say what the standard is in A-League.”
Crummer and Heyman, most likely competing for the same backup striker position in the Australian squad, will need to set that standard across the length of the season, if they are wanting to have that chance to suit up in green-and-gold for the 2023 World Cup.
Teams: BRISBANE ROAR 4-2-3-1: Hancuff, Haffenden, Lind, Rankin, Levin, Hecher, Norrie, Connors, Palmer, Freier, Crummer. Substitutes: Shuttleworth, Rasschaert, Beaumont, Davern, Robinne.
Scorers: Crummer 53′.
CANBERRA UNITED 4-1-4-1: Lincoln, Grove, Faulknor, McComasky, Ilijoski, Milivojevic, Flannery, Jale, Maher, Wu, Heyman.
Scorers: Jale 23’.
Referee: Rachel Mitcheson.