Wellington Phoenix 5-0 Canberra United
By Kieran Yap
Above: Wellington Phoenix celebrate their fourth goal against Canberra United. Photo: Keep Up.
“It really has been coming for us,” said Chloe Knott after Wellington Phoenix’s 5-0 defeat of Canberra United. It is safe say that very few people outside of the club could have predicted it.
Coming into this match, Wellington’s form was concerning. Even for a new side featuring a young core, they were underperforming and showed little improvement from last season. There had been glimpses. They were organized but ultimately toothless against Western United, and up until Sunday morning, that had been their most encouraging display.
Against a dangerous Canberra United, Wellington were dominant. They were disciplined, creative, fast, and composed. This was a complete performance by the home side made especially impressive considering key players had featured against the USA in an ill-timed international just 20 hours before.
The back four were perfection against one of the league’s most versatile attacks. Mackenzie Barry and Kate Taylor look back to their best as a unit and as individuals.
Barry was faced with Michelle Heyman for much of the match. Although the Canberra captain looked capable of scoring, she was given no easy chances. Taylor sent a reminder of what she can provide when fully fit. Her ability to win possession and maintain it is remarkable for a player of her relative inexperience.
The match was likely won in midfield, where The Phoenix pressured as a team and moved the ball before Canberra could get in shape to defend. Millie Clegg was the dominant figure for much of the match. Her close control and passing was an outlet for Wellington and a concern for Canberra.
It was fitting that Clegg scored the opening goal. The Phoenix had dominated for the majority of the opening half, but their best chance was spurned by Ava Pritchard who shot over the bar with an open goal at her mercy.
A corner kick was whipped in and Clegg stayed composed to side-foot it home through a crowded goal line. Wellington had taken advantage of their momentum and deserved the lead in the 43rd minute.
The lead was doubled before halftime. Just moments later Betsy Hassett finished another move with Clegg at the centre of it all. Pritchard held up the ball well on the right and flicked a pass into the path of Clegg who’s shot stung the palms of Chloe Lincoln. Hassett was on hand to finish off the rebound.
Canberra would have come out in the second half with a plan to get back into the contest, but all of that was undone when Pritchard scored in the 46th minute.
A flowing move ended with Michaela Foster on the left flank. When she has time to cross it usually means a chance for Wellington, and she laid it on a plate for Pritchard who finished with one touch at full pace. 3-0.
Even when things went wrong for Wellington, it ended up on their highlights reel. Chloe Knott conceded a clumsy penalty through a handball and Canberra had a lifeline.
Brianne Edwards had other ideas, and she dove to her right to save Vesna Milivojevic’s strike in athletic style.
Wellington put the result beyond any remaining doubt in the 83rd minute. Izzy Gomez shaped to shoot on the edge of the penalty area but clipped a clever pass through to Hassett who finished excellently to make it four.
Mickey Robertson deflected a corner toward goal to make it five in the dying stages. Canberra appealed for a handball, but it appeared to bounce off the shoulder of Robertson at worst. The last touch came off Emma Ilijoski and it has gone down as an own goal to the Canberra defender.
This was a brilliant display by Wellington. Clegg was unstoppable at times, Paige Satchell gave them pace and mobility out wide, and Edwards was sensational in goal.
Their first win for the season came in style, and they have shown that they can score goals, and keep clean sheets in the same game. Pritchard played her best game for the club, and her form will be crucial to any more wins they enjoy.
For Canberra United, this was a shock result. They did lose to Wellington 3-0 last season, but this is a very different side. They were outmatched across the ground, and without Grace Maher in midfield, they lacked the ability to get the tempo on their terms. But this game was all about The Phoenix. It was simply a perfect performance.
Phoenix head coach Natalie Lawrence told media post-game that the “pressure was piling on” to get a result. “We knew that this win had to happen. We knew that we wanted to do it and how we wanted to do it. I’ve said to the players all along it’s been coming, that 90-minute performance where just everything clicked. I said the goals were coming and today it poured goals.
“For me personally this is a day that I’ll remember forever. To do it how we did it is exactly everything I wanted to promise at the start of the season and thanks for the players for believing in that and sticking to our processes because the outcome happened today.”
Lawrence was especially proud of how her players performed with a two-goal halftime lead. “Credit to them. That could have been the most excitable changing room where they’re losing their heads because they’re like ‘oh my god it’s two-nil’.
“But they’re like ‘no we’re professionals there’s 45 minutes left let’s get more goals. Betsy’s goal was our first goal from open play let’s build on that’.
“We knew there was going to be a game where everything came together, everything we’ve been working on came together and I’m just really, really happy for the players that it was today.
“They stepped up their professionalism today I think. We don’t want to get carried away and get ahead of ourselves. This is the start, and this should be the real turning point in our season.”
Teams: WELLINGTON PHOENIX (4-4-2): Edwards, van der Meer, Barry, Taylor, Foster, Clegg, Knott, Wisnewski, Satchell, Pritchard, Hassett. Substitutes: Vosper, Gomez, Robertson, Lancaster, Candy.
Scorers: Clegg 43’ Hassett 45’, 83’. Pritchard 56’, Ilijoski (og) 88’.
CANBERRA UNITED (4-4-2): Lincoln, Grove, Brush, Gett, Taylor-Young, Flannery, Wu, Hughes, Jale, Heyman, Milivojevic. Substitutes: Murray, Ilijoski, Christopherson, Faulknor, Segavcic.
Referee: Anna-Marie Keighley.