Western United 2-1 Western Sydney Wanderers
By Kieran Yap (1/4/23)
Above: Hannah Keane is mobbed by her teammates after scoring the opening goal. Photo: @aleaguewomen Twitter
Western United have won their final game of the season, and Hannah Keane shot her way into Golden Boot favouritism. However, even after a 2-1 defeat of Western Sydney Wanderers, they needed a favour from Newcastle Jets in order to win a premiership in their first season.
The equation coming into this game for Western United was simple but frustrating. They had to beat the Western Sydney Wanderers, which on their home turf was expected. They also needed Sydney FC to lose to Newcastle Jets, which felt unlikely given the form of those two sides.
The task was made slightly easier by the absence of Clare Hunt from the Wanderers side. The captain and new Matilda was not named in the line-up, and no injury information has been made available. It is possible that she was not risked with the coming international window in mind.
Western United started the game in top gear. They attacked down both flanks and moved the ball through midfield with ease. The Wanderers are normally a strong team without the ball and able to maintain possession in deeper midfield areas, but Angie Beard and Stacy Papadopoulos seemed to have acres of space to attack the visitors from fullback.
The opening goal came from a corner kick. Tyla-Jay Vlajnić whipped in an inswinger from the right-hand side. Hannah Keane timed her jump to perfection and nodded it into the net from the six-yard box. It was her 12th goal of the season, bringing her level with Michelle Heyman.
Western United continued to attack. Beard was in tremendous form and almost scored from long range. Her dipping shot was on target but Sham Khamis leapt well and got a strong hand to tip it over the bar.
Sydney Cummings almost replicated Keane’s goal, from another corner, but the ball skimmed off the top of her head despite the strong positioning. There was little pressure coming from the visitors, and Jaclyn Sawicki was able to dictate play for Western almost at her leisure.
When The Wanderers did attack, it was usually through Sophie Harding. The in-form striker is blessed with the pace and touch to take on multiple players, but Western United did well to usher her wide on most occasions. There was not much support coming from midfield in the first hour of play.
The second half began just as brightly for Western United. Unsurprisingly, it was Keane once again. This time, a long ball from the back, almost a clearance really, bounced on the wing. Keane pressured the defender and stole away. Once goal side, there was nothing between her and the goal except the angle.
Keane charged inward, opening the space in front of her, and slotted the ball beyond Khamis to make it 2-0, and bring up her 13th of the season. She now sits in outright first place in the Golden Boot race and will be in the odd position of barracking for Melbourne City’s defenders against Canberra United.
Western United looked to be in control of the game, but Kat Smith looked to her bench to try and shift momentum.
Sienna Saveska came into play, replacing Bethany Gordon. The Young Matildas attacker had an immediate impact. Her control, turn and pass almost put Harding into a threatening position.
Saveksa is a tricky, creative player with vision and skill beyond her 16 years. Before the game was over, those watching were to witness what this young star can produce.
She received the ball at the edge of the penalty area, with an organized Western United defence ahead of her. With a quick shift of feet, Saveska created space for herself and fired a shot off her left foot. The shot beat Hillary Beall, with the help of a slight deflection, but the craft in making the opportunity was impressive. This was the first of what will likely be many goals in the A-League Women.
The Wanderers looked livelier as the half continued, and Western United had trouble maintaining possession. Chances for the home side became rarer, and more frequent for the visitors.
Western United held on as they have so many times this season. This performance was a combination of both their styles of play. They can absorb pressure when needed, and dominate play when possible.
Alana Cerne was nearly flawless at centre-back, and the Taranto twins were excellent in midfield. Out wide, Angie Beard continued to show why Western United were so determined to sign her.
This win may not be enough to win a premiership in their first season, but they will have the double chance in Finals, and should be immensely proud of their achievements so far.
Teams: WESTERN UNITED (4-3-3): Beall, Papadopoulos, Cummings, Cerne, Beard, Sawicki, M. Taranto, A. Taranto, Vlajnić, Keane, Johnson. Substitutes: Dall Oste, Iermano, Steer, Dakic, Sardo.
Scorers: Keane 23’, 55’.
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS (4-3-1-2): Khamis, Apostolakis, Ferrid, Steinmetz, Matos, Gordon, Harrison, Chessari, Price, Bolden, Harding. Substitutes: Saveska, Rue, Hall, Abdul Massih, Caceres.
Scorers: Saveska 80’.
Referee: Rebecca Durcau