Many followers of the National Women’s League were not expecting WaiBOP to be taking part in tomorrow’s preliminary final but one person who was far from surprised is coach Barry Gardiner.
WaiBOP earned their place in the match-up with Capital in thrilling fashion after a dramatic last round-robin day brought an upset win over defending champions Northern, who had looked odds on for retaining their title for much of the season but now find themselves out of the running.
Northern had been beaten just once before going into the crucial clash and had a perfect record at home but were undone by a remarkable WaiBOP comeback, in which the visitors recovered from a two-goal deficit to triumph 3-2 with a pair of late strikes. It was an outcome that sent shockwaves throughout the league but Gardiner was not one of those left stunned.
“Obviously, we were delighted with getting a result up there and it wasn’t an easy game at all,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot of pressure on us because everyone was expecting Northern to win. But we weren’t completely shocked about it because we’ve done well for long patches of games this season. It’s an achievement for us but not a huge surprise either.”
WaiBOP coach Barry Gardiner
WaiBOP’s reward is a meeting with Capital, who had the luxury of looking on last weekend as the drama unfolded as they had the bye. In some ways, the season has gone full circle for both sides, who met each other way back on the opening day and fought out a 2-2 draw.
Gardiner feels little can be read into that result though and that his team will have more firepower this time around.
“We faced them earlier in the year but we were a couple of players short, we didn’t have our U-17 players that were over at the World Cup and Helen Arjomandi didn’t play either,” he says. “So we’ll go into this game with a stronger team. I’d imagine it will be a tight game again and that both teams will feel like they have the capabilities to win. It will be about whoever puts in the best performance on the day.”
The presence of Arjomandi – who has not been available for some games due to other commitments – in the ranks tomorrow will make a massive difference to WaiBOP’s chances as the former Football Ferns striker is one of the most dangerous players in the league, even from the deeper midfield role she has recently been employed in.
“We’ve played her in a different position this year to utilise her experience and strength in the middle of the park,” Gardiner says. “She’s an extremely good centre forward but we were probably lacking a bit of experience in the midfield and a little bit of drive. So we talked a bit with Helen and I think she’s been enjoying it because she can get more involved in the game.”
Arjomandi has scored four goals – three of which came in a hat-trick against Auckland – but there are many other players who have found the net on multiple occasions and Gardiner is pleased to have an attacking threat from all over the pitch.
There will therefore be plenty for Capital co-coaches Emma Evans and Sam Morrissey to think about as they look to nullify the threat of WaiBOP but Evans insists the Wellingtonians will continue their policy of focusing mainly on their own performance.
“WaiBOP will be on a high after their win over Northern, that’s inevitable really,” she says. “We know what’s at stake and the girls know what it’s going to take to get the win. We know what the likes of Helen Arjomandi are capable of but, for us, I think we’re a good team and we’re just going to focus on our own strengths – we’re not going to adapt our game too much to worry about one or two players that the opposition have.”
Capital co-coach Emma Evans
Without a game of her own to take charge of, Evans followed the action online last weekend and – although a place in the play-offs was already secured – admits waiting to hear of Capital’s final placing on the ladder and opposition in the preliminary final was nerve wracking.
“It was pretty exciting following all the Twitter feeds, although my phone actually died with about ten minutes left of the Northern game so that was a bit of an anxious moment. When I turned it back on I had a lot of missed phone calls,” she says.
Rather than organise a friendly or put their charges through their paces with an extra training session, Evans and Morrissey opted to give the Capital players the weekend off and feel it’s a decision that should stand them in good stead.
“We had two really high intensity sessions on the Tuesday and Thursday and I think the girls actually organised a bit of a team event on the weekend just to hang out. It was quite cool to see them take the initiative to do that. I think to get away from football for a while will have done them good and they came back to training raring to go,” Evans says.
The coaching staff of both sides have few injury concerns to worry about and are expecting to have full squads at their disposal for Sunday’s match, which takes place at Memorial Park in Petone from 1pm. The winner will earn a place in the grand final against Canterbury United Pride on Sunday 11 December.
National Women’s League Preliminary Final
Capital vs WaiBOP
Memorial Park, Wellington
Sunday 4 December, 1pm
Capital: 1. Anna Wittmann-Wenzel (GK), 2. Francesca Grange, 3. Tessa McPherson, 4. Michaela Robertson, 5. Ella Wilson, 7. Emily Morison, 8. Katie Barrott, 9. Jayme-Lee Hunter, 10. Emma Main, 11. Briar Palmer, 12. Kennedy Bryant, 13. Lena De Ronde, 15. Maggie Jenkins, 16. Mikaela Hunt, 17. Asha Strom, 18. Natasha Ingram (GK)
Co-coaches: Emma Evans, Sam Morrissey
WaiBOP: 1. Georgia Candy (GK), 2. Kate Williams, 3. Serena Murrihy, 4. Hannah Reid, 5. Michaela Foster, 6. Leanna Ryan, 7. Helen Talbot, 8. Sarah Krystman, 9. Leah Gubb, 10. Naomi Courtney-Tennent, 11. Katherine Robinson, 12. Ella Golding, 13. Helen Arjomandi, 15. Emma Cawte, 20. Chelsea Elliott, 21. Amanda Wilshier (GK)
Coach: Barry Gardiner