Taylor rises as the Phoenix defeat Sydney FC

Sydney FC 0-1 Wellington Phoenix

By Denise Duffy (11/3/23)

Above: Alyssa Whinham (10) victorious over Sydney FC. Photo: @WgtnPhoenixFC Twitter.

The bottom-of-the-table Wellington Phoenix put together the most impressive win of their history against top-of-the-table Sydney FC. Kate Taylor’s goal would lead the way to a monumental 1-0 win.

Sydney’s quest to stay on top of the A-League Women’s and create separation with chasing teams was unsuccessful. Although a number of key players were out for the home side, their overall effort was lacklustre. For the Phoenix, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The match conditions were typical of midday A-League matches. Sunny, windy, and hot, managing the heat and tactically using the hydration breaks would again be a factor.

In the early minutes, the two teams looked evenly matched with Sydney FC earning four corners. The most promising chance for Sydney came in the 14th minute with Mackenzie Hawkesby taking the corner and targeting Anna Green who was just outside the six-yard box and attempted to loop it over Wellington Keeper Bri Edwards.

A powerhouse of confidence, Edwards made a quality save jumping off high off her line preventing what looked like a certain goal. This type of instinct and decision-making is what we would see all afternoon from her in making multiple saves. 

From the first hydration break in the 27th minute, a more patient, creative, and highly motivated Wellington Phoenix would emerge. Paige Satchell played focused and bold against her former club. Her dribble down the center of the pitch led to a shot from just outside the penalty area. The resulting save would give the Phoenix the key corner kick of the match.

The single goal came in the 31st minute. Michaela Foster’s looping near post corner kick dropped onto Sydney FC’s keeper Kate Offer fist, she punched it up in the air to the edge of the six-yard box. Taylor took a couple steps back and solidly volleyed it in. A jubilated Nix team surrounded her and understood that the one-goal edge was theirs to keep.

The biggest difference maker in keeping the lead for the Nix was in the quality of the midfield.  Chloe Knott and Betsey Hassett looked commanding. They won their duels, intelligently held up the ball, and filled passing lanes.

Knott in particular found her calm confidence while Hassett was seemingly everywhere on the pitch. With a battle ready defensive four behind them, Knott pushed forward with the tactics and creativity of a midfielder and combined with Hassett through the middle and opened up the options on attack.

Adding to this was Mickey Roberston’s technical ability, using her vision and elusive touches to keep possession for the Nix. Her speedy runs on the flanks allowed her to dribble past Sydney and create multiple chances on goal for her and her teammates.

The ability to control the pace and tempo of the match had been missing from the Wellington Phoenix through many previous matches. They seemed to master it for this one. The Nix as a whole played a type of possession-style game that mentally and physically wore down their opponent. Sydney FC looked leaderless, chasing and not winning free balls.  

Sydney FC came out of the halftime break with a desire to win. They started quickly and were not afraid to engage in bumping bodies. Hassett was the first recipient of this and was granted a free kick in the 48th minute. Soon after Mackenzie Barry was bowled over by Princess Ibini deep in the Nix half.

All season the Nix have played out from the back. This strategy finally clicked with the necessary precision in this match. In the 52nd minute Taylor, van der Meer, and Barry all combined brilliantly to propel the ball from deep in their half, to an attacking Satchell.

The Football Fern star was wide open on the wing with lots of space in front of her. She was able to capitalize on the momentum created with a pinpoint pass directly to the feet of Rolston who narrowly missed scoring by only a matter of inches.

The Phoenix’s desire to win would not waiver. A free flowing up tempo match from them would only be interrupted by numerous Sydney FC fouls. Michaela Foster and Mackenzie Barry would again have outstanding matches understanding when to aggressively close down Sydney talents Ibini and Cortnee Vine.  

Fortunately for all the players the heat wasn’t the deciding factor on the day. Both teams made smart decisions on when to bring on substitutes with the reserves making a big impact. Substitutes Dos Santos (51’) and Milly Clegg (62’) both came on and had impressive runs with the latter having a breakaway in the 72nd minute. These two very young players are ones to watch as their talent is rapidly developing.

Grace Wisnewski was able to battle through a lower back injury sustained at the 61-minute mark. Her facial expressions told the story in that she was very sore however it didn’t stop her from putting in maximum effort for 13 more minutes.

In the 63rd minute, Foster made an incredible defensive play – swooping in from the opposite side of the pitch as she caught a fast-moving Haweksby who was looking to score. Foster pinched the ball off Hawkesby and safely sent it out over the sideline.

Above: All smiles for Wellington Phoenix after Kate Taylor (centre) scored their winning goal. Photo: Liberty A-League.

Any team in the A-League would love to have the talent that is Milly Clegg. After coming on as a substitute for Satchell, Clegg set the match alight in the 72nd minute as she unleashed a shot on target that was thwarted by Offer. Against a keeper of less ability, it would have been Nix 2-0, however, Offer made the quality save.

Alyssa Whinham came in with just over a quarter of an hour to go, and displayed all the top flight skills of a number 10. Her light touches on the ball and passing delivery literally turned the Sydney defenders inside out. It was what the Wellington Phoenix needed to keep control of a field that was being stretched out by both sides.

In the 75th minute, Vine dribbled her way confidently down the pitch with a layoff to Hawkesby. If Sydney were going to score it would have been this opportunity. The Nix stood firm in a four-on-two situation with Edwards’ right foot collecting enough of the ball to redirect it away from the goal. Kate Taylor backed up her goalkeeper and was in the right position to stop the ball if it had been on target.

In the closing stages, Sydney repeatedly made the wrong choices in passing and fouls. Yellow cards, fouls, and a super intense effort by the Nix squad resulted in the home side becoming flustered.

With referee Caitlin Williams adding on seven minutes of stoppage time, it was a nervous wait for Wellington boss Natalie Lawrence for the final whistle. Sydney FC had everything to play for as they attempted wave after wave of attack. The Nix stood strong and repelled the league leaders to hold them out. The defensive line had tough assignments against Vine, Hawkesby, Green and Ibini. The Nix defenders shut down this high-quality Sydney side.

In the dying minutes of the match, the Nix managed the clock well and were able to run down the minutes to finish the match as winners. Sydney worked so hard to turn the result in their favour but a resilient Wellington team would not cave in. This was not a match that Sydney lost. This was a match that the Phoenix won.

Wellington Phoenix head coach Natalie Lawrence was bursting with pride after the final whistle. “I feel so proud and happy for the girls. They’ve worked so hard and they’ve kept the belief.

“We’ve had the message the whole season that this team is going to do go things and I think this result was coming. We knew we were going to win more games and beating the top of the league (team) makes it that little bit more special and gives us even more belief.

“It wasn’t just the win, it was how we did it. We out-possessed them, we got more shots than them and we got into the box more than they did. There’s a brand of football we’ve been trying to play all season and we’re now starting to reap the rewards of it.

“We want more points. We’ve got the feeling and the feeling’s good, and we want to continue that, but we have to keep to our process and we have to do it better than anyone else.

“We’ve now got more points than we did last season, but we now want to get even more and we want to get off the bottom of the league and we want to do it in style.”

Teams: SYDNEY FC 4-3-3: Offer, Stancic-Floody, Green, Fenton, Hunter, Lowe, Vine, Hawkesby, Rule, Ibini. Substitutes: Black, Collister, Dos Santos, Badawiya. Chauvet

Teams: WELLINGTON PHOENIX 4-3-3: Edwards, Foster, Taylor, Van der Meer, Barry, Knott, Hassett, Wisnewski, Robertson, Rolston, Satchell. Substitutes: Candy, Pritchard, McMeeken, Whinham, Clegg.

Scorer: Taylor 31’

Referee: Caitlin Williams

Attendance: 518.

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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