Northern lead charge after second round

Auckland's Britney Cunningham-Lee is congratulated on scoring her team's second goal against Capital. Photo: David Joseph / www.photosport.nz

Northern have shown just how intent they are on regaining the National Women’s League crown with the champions of two years ago putting five goals past an opponent for the second week running, this time to hold off a spirited challenge from WaiBOP. Elsewhere in the second round, Southern were not able to earn maiden back-to-back wins after falling 3-1 to Central while Auckland recovered from their surprise defeat to Southern on the opening weekend with a 2-1 win over Capital.

In the early kick-off in Palmerston North, Southern were out to prove that success over Auckland – their first victory in the competition for over four years – was no fluke as they aim to finally rid themselves of the wooden spoon in this campaign. But Central were equally determined to pocket three points after a disappointing 5-1 loss to Northern first up and set about bringing Southern back down to earth.

Capital celebrate opening the scoring against Auckland. Photo: David Joseph / www.photosport.nz

Meisha Boone had been on target during an improved second-half showing last week and picked up where she left off by giving the hosts a 1-0 lead at the break. Central gained a stronger foothold in the contest when Boone notched her second but Southern gave themselves hope of at least snatching a point when Eleanor Isaac found the net.

That set up a grandstand finish at Memorial Park but the tension among the home fans was eased somewhat when Boone pounced to complete her hat-trick and earn Central their first points of the season.

Audio

Central coach Simon Lees

“I’m really pleased with how the girls played today,” coach Simon Lees said. “Last week was a tough lesson for us and I think we bounced back really well. Obviously, the goal was to get three points but I thought our performance was absolutely exceptional. You have to show a lot of character to bounce back and they’ve done exactly that.”

Lees felt it was a real team effort but reserved special praise for the showing of the Morton siblings, Sarah and Rose, as well as hat-trick heroine Boone.

“There were a number of players that really stood up but Sarah and Rose were exceptional. They’re just outstanding players and they’ll go a long way in the game,” he said. “And Meisha works unbelievably hard for us. She told me before the season that she hadn’t scored too many goals and that’s four in two games now so it’s a good start.”

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Southern coach Terry Parle

Southern counterpart Terry Parle was disappointed at the level of his side’s performance, particularly after offering so much in the opening round.

“We didn’t really show up this week,” he said. “But credit to Central, they set out with a game plan and the physicality in their game worked really well against our girls. We didn’t raise our game to match it so I’m disappointed with that.”

Up in the City of Sails, the pressure was on Auckland to get a win under their belts or risk falling off the playoff pace already but that was clearly going to be difficult against a Capital side that finished runners-up last year. The visitors also had a fresh set of legs and the benefit of an extra week’s preparation after sitting out round one with the bye and that seemed to be working in their favour early on, Auckland putting the ball in their own net in the 13th minute at a soggy Keith Hay Park.

Auckland goalscorer Jacqui Hand gets away from Capital’s Kennedy Bryant. Photo: David Joseph / www.photosport.nz

But Gemma Lewis’s side is stacked full of young talent and, after misfiring last weekend, the Aucklanders weren’t likely to be kept quiet for long. Just six minutes later, New Zealand youth international Jacqui Hand had them back on level terms, getting on the end of a ball over the top before calmly finishing.

The scorers weren’t troubled for the remainder of the half but Auckland produced what proved to be the winner in the 53rd minute as Britney Cunningham-Lee made amends for an earlier miss by driving home a Tayla O’Brien cross to make it 2-1. With so much riding on the result for Auckland, the closing stages of the game were tense but they hung on to earn a vital three points and keep their title hopes alive.

Audio

Auckland coach Gemma Lewis

“We had to come out and prove ourselves because last week’s performance wasn’t good enough,” Lewis said. “We knew we had to come back from that and it’s such a short league that we couldn’t afford to drop points today. I thought it was like night and day compared to last week, the girls were better in possession and we controlled the game for the majority of it. The work rate and commitment from all the players were definitely shown today and I’m really happy with that.”

Capital coach Emma Evans felt the tactical battle between herself and Lewis had a significant impact on the outcome.

“We were well prepared going into this week and we knew a couple of areas where we wanted to be dominant and thought we could really expose Auckland,” she said. “I think there were glimpses of that and at times we were starting to get the play out that we wanted to but Auckland tightened a few things up and made a couple of adjustments in their midfield. That did affect the way we were playing and I don’t think we coped well enough with it.”

Audio

Capital coach Emma Evans

With defending champions Canterbury United Pride unable to build on their points tally with the bye, 2015 champions Northern had the opportunity to steal a march on their rivals for the title and did exactly that with another clinical display in front of goal.

Auckland captain Stephanie Skilton on the ball. Photo: David Joseph / www.photosport.nz

The draw hasn’t been kind to WaiBOP with Canterbury and Northern their first two opponents and, after being outclassed 4-1 in Christchurch last week, they were in real need of getting off the mark. They looked like having every chance of doing so after racing into an early two-goal lead at John Kerkhof Park in Cambridge through Leanna Ryan and Kim Maguire.

But Waikato-raised Kate Loye returned to haunt her former side with a brace and further goals to Dayna Stevens and Cara Lonergan put Northern in control at 4-2 up early in the second half. Stevens then added her second and Northern’s fifth with just over 20 minutes remaining before Maguire also completed her double late on to make the final score 5-3.

Audio

Northern coach Hayley Stirling

“To be 2-0 down after 20 minutes is always a bit of a shock to the system,” Northern coach Hayley Stirling said. “To be fair, WaiBOP were deserving of that – we weren’t very organised and didn’t look after the ball very well. But it was really pleasing to see the girls come back after that and to finish the first half pretty strongly. That got us back on a level playing field and we knew if we could tweak a few things we’d give ourselves a chance.”

Defeated coach Barry Gardiner now has a real task on his hands to get WaiBOP back into the mix and felt a lack of focus cost his side.

“We started off really well and showed signs of controlling the game,” he said. “We were in a good position but then lost a bit of concentration. But we have to give credit to Northern because they stepped up their performance and started putting us under more pressure. And that last ten minutes of the first half put us at 2-2 going into half-time, which was disappointing after that start. So it was really about a ten-minute spell for us.”

Audio

WaiBOP coach Barry Gardiner

National Women’s League Round Two Results

Central 3 (Meisha Boone 3)
Southern United 1 (Eleanor Isaac)
HT: 1-0

WaiBOP 3 (Leanna Ryan 5’, Kim Maguire 11’, 82’)
Northern 5 (Kate Loye 44’, 53’, Dayna Stevens 45’ + 1’, 68’, Cara Lonergan 55’)
HT: 2-2

Auckland 2 (Jacqui Hand 19’, Britney Cunningham-Lee 53’)
Capital 1 (Own goal 13’)
HT: 1-1

BYE – Canterbury United Pride

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