Big names back in town but Okino still dominates in NPLW Victoria classic

by Kieran Yap (17/5/23)

Above: Alana Jancevski back on the field for Bulleen Lions. Photo: Bulleen Lions Instagram.

Bulleen and Preston brought back some big guns and FV Emerging’s latest rising star delivered again, but it was Heidelberg United and the Boroondara-Carey Eagles that produced the most incredible match and the only win of the round.

FV Emerging 1-1 Southern United

Knox Regional Football Centre hosted the encounter between two sides in need of a win. FV Emerging have been impressive this season. Importantly, they have been difficult to beat despite facing much older and more experienced teams each week. But they entered this game with only one win so far this season.

Still, they were in a better position than the visitors. Southern United came into the round winless, they have difficulty scoring and have conceded 26 times. It made for a good opportunity for both sides to improve their record.

Southern United’s defensive woes continued early in this game, but the reason was not surprising. Alana Cortellino has been one of the breakout talents for FV Emerging this season, and she scored the opening goal in the 12th minute.

The winger has been a constant menace this season. Her acceleration with the ball and willingness to attack space without it, have seen her score three times this season, but create many other chances through crosses, or corners won.

On this occasion, she finished off the move. Candice Kilderry drove along the left flank and created space for herself to put in a dangerous low cross. Cortellino arrived at the back post to smash home the opening goal of the game.

Kilderry has been another of FV Emerging’s standout players this season. She has the ability to choose both the correct option with her passing and time the ball to perfection. As it was the previous week, Kilderry was the key to unlocking a defence.

The lead would not last. Southern United pushed for an equalizer in an entertaining first half. When Isobel Coppel intercepted a pass at halfway, she immediately put Rhiannon Kelleher into space on the right.

The cross was dangerous but did not find its target, but did find the back of the net. Ehva Gutszmit was the unlucky recipient of an own goal to her name. She was well positioned and had to stick a foot out, sometimes the ball just spins the wrong way and full credit should go to Kelleher for the quality and speed of the ball in.

The draw does not help either side too much, but there are more concerns right now for Southern United than FV Emerging. To state the obvious, they need to find a way to score more goals. They face South Melbourne next week, in another tough test.

South Melbourne 1-1 Calder United

Calder United welcomed back Raquel Derales and Natasha Dakic from Western United for their trip to South Melbourne. The home side included Francesca Iermano following her stint at the same A-League Women club.

Before the round, South Melbourne were in fourth place, and starting to steadily improve. Calder have struggled for results, but performances have been positive. Young midfielder Bella Sewards has been very consistent while Fiorina Iaria has often shown flashes of match-winning potential.

For all of Calder’s inclusions this week, South Melbourne has Danielle Wise. The Golden Boot winner of 2022, is a threat from every half chance, long ball forward or in this case defensive error.

It was Elle Talevski’s under-hit back pass that gave Wise the opening she needed. The striker raced onto the ball and although she was pushed wide by the defence. Wise was able to square it to Janna Lawson to give South Melbourne the lead in the ninth minute.

Wise had the chance to double the lead close to halftime. She got in behind the Calder defence and controlled well before hitting a half volley at goal. The opportunity was denied with a good close-range save by Natalie Picak.

It would be a costly miss, as Calder equalised before the break. Sewards and Iaria linked up to win a corner for the visitors. Sewards’ delivery caused chaos in the box and the ball was eventually thrashed home with a well-placed Keiwa Hieda strike.

The draw was enough to see South Melbourne move up a spot on the ladder with a game in hand over second-place Alamein. Calder stay in the bottom half in eighth position but will add Alana Cerne back into the squad soon. The Western United star scored in both cup finals for Calder United last season and is currently with the Australian Under 23 side. She will greatly improve their chances for the rest of the season.

Bulleen Lions 1-1 Preston Lions

Caitlin Friend’s Bulleen side boasted some big-name recruits for their match against Preston Lions on Monday night.

Alana Jancevski, Paige Zois, and Tiffany Eliadis returned to the club following their seasons with Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory. The newly recruited Grace Taranto was also named in the squad. The Canberra United midfielder starred for South Melbourne last season and is an impressive addition to the team.

Tyla Jay Vlajnic was announced mid-week but was not on the team sheet, and there is a strong possibility more A-League Women’s players will join the club as they seek to climb the ladder.

Headlining the new signings and starting up front is former Melbourne Victory fan favourite Maja Markovski. The possibility of her and Jancevski linking up is a thrilling prospect for fans and neutrals.

Bulleen have been organized this season, and youngster Rosie Rodger has been creative in attack, but until now the side has lacked a strong finisher up front. They have scored many of their goals through forward pressure or well-worked set pieces.

Preston have begun the season stronger than Bulleen and named Emma Checker in the side for her first appearance of the season. The Matildas’ defender was in excellent form as the home side dominated the attack for much of the game.

The new signings did not gel immediately but still looked dangerous. When Zois was introduced off the bench, the attacking passes looked more fluid and dynamic.

Despite the game being largely played on their terms, Bulleen could not break the Checker led defence, and Preston took a surprise lead late in the second half.

Paula Mitchell was the architect and the scorer. She first fed the ball outside to Delaney Lindahl who’s quick footwork created space for the cross.

It was headed clear, but Mitchell was on hand to follow spectacularly up on the volley and give Preston the lead in the 87th minute.

Bulleen’s intensity increased, but remarkably their composure did not wane. They continued to attack until they forced a dramatic late equaliser. The injury time equaliser may have broken Preston hearts, but it was well deserved and all four new names were involved.

Grace Taranto won the ball in typical style. Markovski and Zois combined to get the ball wide to Jancevski. After a clever change of direction and a hard hit cross. Bulleen had a late corner kick.

Zois stepped up to take it and delivered it to the head of Alana Burn. The ball flew into the far bottom corner and Caitlin Friend could breathe a sigh of relief on the sidelines.

Alamein 2-2 Bayside United

Alamein’s draw with Bayside United means that they stay in second place on the ladder after nine games. Most impressively, the two goals scored takes the sides tally to 17 in that time, making them the third-highest-scoring side in the league behind Boroondara-Carey and Heidelberg United.

This was a match between two adventurous teams, and it was Bayside who struck first through Miwa Sasaki. The visitors moved the ball slickly through midfield before the star forward took aim from long range. The shot flew over the goalkeeper and into to net for one of the best strikes of the round.

Bayside extended their lead soon after. Olivia Bomford played it out to Kayla Deaver who did not hesitate to strike on sight despite the tough angle.

Alamein hit back in incredible style. Sasaki and Ashleigh Le Fevre got the ball to Elaina Vatcky in the penalty area. With her back to goal and while closely marked, Vatcky improvised by flicking the ball in the air and scoring with an incredible overhead kick to make it 2-1 before halftime.

Vatcky scored the equaliser in the 73rd minute under bizarre circumstances. An Alamein attack trickled to the feet of Bayside goalkeeper Coco Majstorovic who elected to time waste with the ball at her feet.

The incident can be charitably described as a brain fade. As she bent down to pick it up, Vatcky raced in and prodded it into the net. No amount of replays could make it clearer what the goalkeeper was thinking, and it was an unfortunate way to concede a goal. Not that Alamein FC will be complaining. They had pushed hard for a second goal, and deserved it, no matter how odd the circumstances.

With both sides scoring an incredible goal each, but also having a player sent off (Rebbca Saber for Alamein and Elsa Sousa for Bayside), a draw felt like the right result.

Heidelberg United 4-5 Boroondara-Carey Eagles

The newly promoted Boroondara-Carey Eagles have been one of the surprise packages so far this season, they travelled to the Olympic Village to test themselves against the resurgent Heidelberg United and named Brisbane Roar and former Melbourne City attacker Margot Robbine in the team to partner to irrepressible Kurea Okino.

Heidelberg were coming off a 6-1 win in round eight, and a win against the top side would be a big moment in their climb up the ladder. Even if the three points were expected by the home crowd, they knew it would not be easy.

The Eagles started stronger and took the lead in the 19th minute. Okino charged forward from a wide area and forced Melissa Maizels into a strong save. There was nothing the Heidelberg goalkeeper could do to prevent the follow-up and after Robbine’s effort fell to the feet of Mawa Sumaoro it was 1-0 to the visitors.

Boroondara’s second goal came after a long ball in midfield. A surge of pace saw Rebecca Lim beat Maizels to the ball before outrunning both Heidelberg defenders to tap it over the line. Both goals were finished in scrappy style, but Boroondara have been dangerous from relatively innocuous situations all season. They have done this too often for it to be fluke.

Heidelberg would not go down easily though, and unlikely as it seemed at the time they went into the break two goals up. That is what they offer their fans, they are always in the contest.

Last round Nicole Blackett scored a hat trick against Southern United. With Heidelberg two goals down at home, it was Georgia Beaumont’s time to shine with three of her own.

Straight from the kick-off, a long ball found Steph Galea. Her shot was saved but bobbled loose and when the Eagles’ defence hesitated, Beaumont did not. She bundled the ball home to give Heidelberg a lifeline.

A surging run and shot down the left minutes later provided Beaumont with her second. The striker pounced on the ball after it bounced off the goalkeeper. Beaumont reacted first and remained composed to make it 2-2.

A Tijan Mckenna through ball set up Beaumont for her third. The pass split the defence and Beaumont unleashed as she reached it for the best of the goals so far that night. 3-2 to Heidelberg.

Melbourne Victory winger Ava Breidis set up the final goal of the half. A strong run down the right resulted in a perfectly hit cross for Galea to nod home at the back post. After going down by two goals. Heidelberg went into halftime with a 4-2 lead against the league leaders.

Boroondara were not finished though. In the 58th minute, Margot Robbine raced through on goal and rounded Maizels only to be taken out by the goalkeeper. Okino dispatched the penalty kick with no issue.

Robbine scored her first for the season when she forced home a corner kick in the 65th minute. The ball fell amid a mess of players, and after an attempted clearance, she poked it into the net from close range.

At 4-4, it looked like the game might end in stalemate, despite several good chances crafted by Heidelberg and a long-range shot that narrowly missed.

In the end, Okino scored an 89th-minute winner. Heildelberg’s attempt to play short from a goal-kick fell prey to Boroondara’s press. When the ball fell to the league’s leading scorer it felt inevitable that she would score her 14th in seven games.

It was an unlucky way for Heidelberg to lose, but Boroondara forced the chance to happen with three players pressing two defenders and a goalkeeper. In any other game, the Bergers’ four goals would be enough to win. Their comeback to lead after conceding the first two is remarkable and only a minor change or a lucky bounce of the ball would have meant a win for the home side.

But Boroondara won a classic game in the end. They responded to an amazing comeback by staging an even better one of their own. Okino is the league’s in-form player at this moment. She is fast, strong, direct, and works hard defensively. The Japanese striker occupies multiple defenders and is a decisive finisher.

This was a statement win by The Eagles, they are in this NPLW season to win it. The Robbine and Okino partnership has already provided three goals directly, with both having a hand in another.

This win will give them infinite belief.

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