Wanderers down Nix for the first time

Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 Wellington Phoenix

Report by Denise Duffy, with EXCLUSIVE pitchside photos from Kris Goman at Wanderers Football Park (12/2/23).

Above: Sophie Harding heads home Western Sydney Wanderers’ winning goal. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.

Western Sydney Wanderers’ Finals hopes are alive after they defeated Wellington Phoenix for the first time, thanks to Sophie Harding’s header.

With 29-degree weather and 41 km/hour of wind, it was a formidable setting for the Western Sydney Wanderers’ mid-afternoon match against Wellington Phoenix. Whether it was conditions or mentality, the Phoenix, coming off a bye week, lost some of their edge after recent good form.

In their Nix’s short history, Wanderers were the only team to have never beaten them. But the home side proved hungrier and better poised at the start of the game. The match was physical and decided by a one-goal margin off a corner kick.

Above: Clare Hunt fires in a free-kick for Western Sydney Wanderers. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.

In the first half, the surging Western Sydney were met by a defensively compact, well organised visitors. Phoenix attackers dropped back and helped defend. Amy Harrison had an on-target shot from outside the box that was deflected out by Brianna Edwards in goal.

After earning the corner, the Wanderers took full advantage of their height and physicality and the fact that Kate Taylor was on suspension. Amy Harrison connected with an unmarked Sophie Harding for a glancing header to the far corner, beating Claudia Cicco, in the 39th minute and that would prove to be the difference in the final score.

Above: Sophie Harding shows her joy after scoring for Western Sydney Wanderers. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.

This was a match for the stats freaks as the Wanderers hadn’t scored from a corner this season and also had no headed goals while, conversely, Wellington leads the league in goals from corners. Seems ironic to be finally defeated this way.

There was hope for the second half for Wellington, they used their press to start to pin the Wanderers fullbacks in and create turnovers and opportunities. It was their execution in the final third that had the visitor’s fans scratching their heads.

Although there were quality crosses from Michaela Foster and Betsy Hassett and a great chance from Milly Clegg in a last-ditch effort, saved in the bottom corner by Jordyn Bloomer, there wasn’t enough focus by Phoenix players in the box to execute a final ball in the back of the net.

Above: Paige Satchell drives forward for Wellington Phoenix. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.

Decision-making by Phoenix coupled with top-quality goalkeeping by Bloomer proved a hill too steep to climb for the Nix. The Wanderers, in the hunt for a playoff spot, showed they can be hungry and focused on the day.

Speaking after the game, Wellington Phoenix head coach Natalie Lawrence said:

“It should have and could have been more. We could have got something out of that game. Right at the death we could have drawn or won that game so there’s frustration amongst the players for sure.

“Losing one-nil to a corner, which we’ve worked really hard on our set pieces so that that doesn’t happen, that’s a bit heart-breaking for the players.”

Lawrence also pointed to the weather conditions, which were distinctly un-New Zealand like. “It was pretty hot, especially that first half. I thought the girls managed themselves well through that first half. We couldn’t really press as much in this heat. Very, very different to the weather New Zealand is currently experiencing, but no excuses.

“We’ll keep working and you can see from that second-half performance that we’re heading in the right direction, and we’ll keep heading that way.”

Kris Goman’s photo gallery from Wanderers Football Park:

Teams: WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS (4-1-4-1): Bloomer, Ferris, Harrison Price, Harding, Matos, Hunt, Steinmetz, Gallagher, Apostolakis, Gordon. Substitutes: Khamis (GK), Chessari. Saveska, Caspers, Abdul Massih

Scorer: Harding 39’.

WELLINGTON PHOENIX (4-2-3-1): Edwards, Barry, Van Der Meer, Knott, Wisnewski, Pritchard, Hassett, Satchell, Cicco, Clegg, Foster. Substitutes: Candy (GK), Robertson, Rolston, Gomez, Vosper

Referee: Bec Mackie.

Attendance: 313.

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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