Only one side has managed to beat Capital in the National Women’s League so far but it’s that foe they must conquer in the grand final on Sunday if they are to lift the trophy.
The Wellingtonians will travel to Christchurch to take on the Canterbury United Pride in a match that acts as part of an eye-catching double header at English Park with the hosts’ male counterparts also set to take on top-of-the-table Eastern Suburbs in the Stirling Sports Premiership at the same venue earlier in the day.
With two such big clashes on the bill, the ground is likely to be teeming with vociferous Cantabrians but Capital co-coach Sam Morrissey is confident his charges will be able to cope with anything that is thrown at them.
“Obviously, having the home advantage helps and it definitely helped us in the preliminary final last weekend,” he says. “But our girls are up for it and they’re excited for the game. Finals are always up for grabs for anyone so I think it’s there for the taking.”
The sides will go into the winner-takes-all match after contrasting build-ups with Canterbury – who had already secured their place in the final – not in official action last week while Capital had to come through the most gruelling of challenges against a spirited WaiBOP in the preliminary final. Capital, who were reduced to 10 players when goalkeeper Anna Wittmann-Wenzel was dismissed early in the second half, needed a last-gasp equaliser from substitute Emily Morison to force extra-time at 2-2.
They safely navigated the additional period and replacement goalkeeper Natasha Ingram then became the heroine with a pair of saves in the resulting penalty shoot-out to book a shot at the title against the Pride.
“Last week was a bit of a roller coaster game, I don’t think anybody expected it to be the way it was. As the game wore on and we got closer to the dying stages, it felt like it was going to slip away from us but I still had a slight feeling when the fourth official said we had six minutes of injury time that potentially we might be able to sneak one. And credit to the girls, they just kept pushing on and we got that goal we needed,” Morrissey says.
“It was a really good effort from the girls, for a good chunk of time they were playing with only ten so they definitely put in a lot of work. In those final moments, a couple of them were struggling with cramp and things like that. Full credit to them for pushing on and having the desire to get that result.”
Capital co-coach Sam Morrissey
Morrissey also has special words of praise for Ingram, who is now in line for a start in the final with regular custodian Wittmann-Wenzel suspended.
“Tash came on and did superbly well. It’s not easy coming into a game where you have only ten players on the park but she definitely stepped up and I think she was full of adrenaline for a lot of it which probably helped. She was a star for that part of the game and then in the penalty shoot-out as well so we were really happy for her.”
Ingram is likely to need to be at her best to keep out a Canterbury attack that includes the likes of Football Ferns midfield maestro Annalie Longo and Aimee Phillips, while Ferns defender and New Zealand U-20 captain Meikayla Moore will feature for the Pride for the first time this season.
“We know Canterbury are a strong side and were the only team we lost to during this campaign. They’re a very well organised side so we expect it to be a challenging and difficult game. But there’s not a lot between the two teams so I think it will be very interesting and entertaining,” Morrissey says.
“We’ll have that momentum coming off the preliminary final while they’ve had a break. It’s very difficult to tell whether that will be a benefit or a negative. For both teams, it’s just going to come down to whoever wants it more on the day.”
Despite coming up against an opponent packed full of quality, Morrissey says Capital are looking to focus on their own strengths and feels they may have paid the Pride too much respect in the previous meeting between the pair.
“I think that was probably our downfall the last time we played Canterbury,” he says.
“We’ve had some good success this year and have exceeded our expectations so we’ll just carry on performing the way we have been and not focus so much on the opposition. We just want to make sure we’re all sorted in terms of our own preparation and, hopefully, that will get us over the line.”
Capital will be at near full-strength for the game with only the suspended Wittmann-Wenzel and injured Kennedy Bryant missing.
LIVE STREAMING of the National Women’s League final will be available via the New Zealand Football website.
National Women’s League Grand Final
Canterbury United Pride vs Capital Football
English Park, Christchurch
Sunday 11 December
Referee: N Browning
Assistant Referees: S Jones, C Bremner
Fourth Official: D Stevens
Canterbury United Pride: 1. Victoria Esson (GK), 2. Emma Clarke, 3. Rebecca Lake, 5. Meikayla Moore, 6. Chloe Jones, 7. Aimee Phillips, 8. Tahlia Herman-Watt, 10. Annalie Longo, 11. Britney Lee-Nicholson, 12. Gabrielle Rennie, 13. Whitney Hepburn, 16. Ashleigh Ward, 17. Holly Pascoe, 20. Macey Fraser, 22. Jordan Woodward (GK), 24. Sophie Williams
Coach: Mike De Bono
Capital Football: 1. Natasha Ingram (GK), 2. Francesca Grange, 3. Tessa McPherson, 4. Michaela Robertson, 5. Ella Wilson, 6. Nicole Baird, 7. Emily Morison, 8. Katie Barrott, 9. Jayme-Lee Hunter, 10. Emma Main, 11. Briar Palmer, 13. Lena De Ronde, 14. Sarah Marsden, 15. Maggie Jenkins, 16. Mikaela Hunt, 17. Asha Strom
Co-coaches: Emma Evans, Sam Morrissey