Dream run continues for Southern

Canterbury United's Aimee Phillips, left, celebrates her goal against Capital. Photo: Raghavan Venugopal / www.photosport.nz

The giant-killing exploits of Southern United in the National Women’s League show no sign of coming to an end while the Canterbury United Pride got back on track and Auckland also posted a win in the latest round of action.

Having already disposed of Auckland and Canterbury, Southern were looking to add another heavyweight to their ever-growing list of conquests and did just that with a 2-1 victory at home to 2015 champions Northern.

At a chilly Tahuna Park in Dunedin, the Southern fairytale continued in the opening stages as Renee Bacon gave the hosts an early lead in the 13th minute, Lara Wall teeing up her team mate to smash in a strike from the edge of the box. Southern were then put under a spell of sustained pressure but solid defending and an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Tessa Nicol kept Northern at bay until just over 30 minutes. Nicol nearly pulled off another fine save to deny Dayna Stevens but the ball made its way through and dribbled over the line.

But the combination of Bacon and Wall continued to threaten on attack for Southern and the former got on the scoresheet again just before the break, Ellie Isaac embarking on a mazy run to the byline before firing in a low cross for Bacon to finish.

There was no further scoring in the second half as Nicol kept up her fine form and Southern were able to close out yet another memorable win. This was a hugely significant one as they are now top of the table and have a good chance of booking their passage straight through to the final, although they do still have a bye to come.

“It’s a credit to the girls, they’ve put the performance in once again,” Southern coach Terry Parle said. “In the last ten minutes there, the girls really dug in and we’ve proven that we are a good football team and can match anybody. The most important thing about today is that we’ve actually backed up and have won two games in a row – it’s not a one-off and just raising for one game.”

Northern coach Hayley Stirling felt it was a game of two halves and was pleased with the way her side looked to strike back in the second spell.

“In the first half, Southern looked really dangerous on the counter attack and they scored a couple of goals from mistakes after putting good pressure on us. They went into the break deservedly 2-1 up but I do think we had the better of the game in the second half. We hit the cross bar and the keeper made a couple of good saves that may have gone in on another day.”

The play was not as closely-fought up north, where Auckland put on a scintillating first-half display to blow away the challenge of WaiBOP by the interval.

The game was all but over inside the first 30 minutes, with four different players getting on the score sheet for Auckland. The opening goal came at the end of a nice passing move between recently-selected Football Ferns Stephanie Skilton and Hannah Blake, who teed up Jacqui Hand to calmly finish with just five minutes gone.

Seven minutes later, Skilton got on the scoresheet herself before Tayla O’Brien found herself in on goal thanks to unselfish play by Hand and the recently-named Lotto NRFL Women’s Premier Player of the Year finished with ease. Not long after, Nicole Mettam made it 4-0 for the home side with a lobbed effort and it appeared as if it would stay that way as the half entered stoppage time but WaiBOP pulled a goal back from the penalty spot, young Kelli Brown converting past Nadia Olla.

The second half was a much quieter affair, with WaiBOP’s substitute goalkeeper Amanda Wilshire proving difficult to beat. It took until late on for that to happen through a screamer from O’Brien, who became the first Auckland player to score a double this season.

“The goals have been evenly spread out and that’s a good thing for us,” coach Gemma Lewis said. “It means we’ve got threats all over the field instead of just relying on one goal scorer.”

There was a repeat of last year’s final in the capital but the outcome didn’t change as Canterbury ran out winners, just as they had done 12 months ago to lift the trophy. Again, it was a fast start out of the blocks that essentially won the game as goals from Aimee Phillips, Melanie Cameron and Meikayla Moore – the latter coming from the penalty spot – had the visitors 3-0 up just after half-time.

Kennedy Bryant pulled one back during a good spell for Capital midway through the second half but it proved no more than a consolation as the hosts fell to their second loss of the campaign.

“In the first half, we were making silly mistakes and we went into half-time speaking about simple things – our passing accuracy, the ball speed and movement off the ball,” Capital coach Emma Evans said. “We went out in the second half and did it – it was like a different team was out there. It just took us too long to adjust to the speed and physicality of the game.”

Canterbury coach Mike De Bono was pleased at how the defending champions responded to being upset on their own patch by Southern in the previous round.

“There was a want to do well today which was probably lacking last week,” he said. “Last week was a good eye-opener but the girls have reflected, looked at a bit of video footage and what was missing was probably a bit of heart – they showed a lot of that today.”

For the National Women’s League table please click here

National Women’s League Round Five Results

Auckland 5 (Jacqui Hand 5’, Stephanie Skilton 12’, Tayla O’Brien 16’, 90’ + 5’, Nicole Mettam 23’)
WaiBOP 1 (Kelli Brown 45’ + 2’)
HT: 4-1

Capital 1 (Kennedy Bryant 65’)
Canterbury United Pride 3 (Aimee Phillips 20’, Melanie Cameron 44’, Meikayla Moore pen 48’)
HT: 0-2

Southern United 2 (Renee Bacon 13’, 41’)
Northern 1 (Dayna Stevens 31’)
HT: 2-1

BYE – Central

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