A third National Women’s League title in four years has been earned by Canterbury United Pride after a well-deserved 2-0 win over Capital Football in the final at English Park in Christchurch this afternoon.
In what turned out to be a hugely-successful day for Canterbury football, the Pride had plenty to live up to after their male counterparts carved out a 2-0 victory over top-of-the-table Eastern Suburbs at the same venue in the Stirling Sports Premiership earlier in the afternoon, while the region’s futsal team also became national champions up in Auckland.
That just added to the pressure on the shoulders of the Pride players, as did the expectations of the healthy crowd that had packed the Steve Sumner Stand – recently named after the All Whites legend – on a pleasant afternoon.
The weight of that expectation did not seem to bother the hosts though and they began as if they didn’t have a care in the world, playing with freedom and enjoying plenty of the ball to dominate the opening exchanges. They first threatened through Aimee Phillips in the sixth minute while a dipping long-range effort from Ashleigh Ward also landed on the roof of the net but, for the most part, Capital proved hard to break down and made it to the half-hour mark without their defence being breached.
They could even have taken a surprise lead against the run of play when Emma Main had the best chance of the half on 34 minutes, going one-on-one with Canterbury’s Football Ferns goalkeeper Victoria Esson but hitting the post and failing to convert the rebound. The visitors were made to regret passing up such a golden opportunity when the Pride opened the scoring just before the break, Holly Pascoe coming in off the left flank to get on the end of a move and smash a well-struck shot past Natasha Ingram in the Capital goal.
On enemy territory against such a talented side, it was always going to be difficult for Capital to come back and that task was made even tougher shortly after the interval when Pascoe added her second with a smart finish from close range on 52 minutes.
Capital showed real resolve to stay in the game from that point on and managed to create several opportunities but these were mainly of the half-chance variety, aside from when Esson denied Main at point-blank range late on.
At the other end, Pascoe could have made herself into even more of a heroine when she nearly completed a hat-trick in stoppage time but was unable to bundle home a low cross from substitute Gabrielle Rennie.
It made little difference to the overall outcome though as the Pride went on to claim their third National Women’s League title in four years, much to the delight of coach Mike De Bono.
“It’s been a fantastic season, the girls have equipped themselves really well all year – they’ve done an awesome job and this is just the icing on the cake,” he said.
“We said coming into the game that Capital deserved to be here and they’ve done a fantastic job. But I think our girls were really committed today and did the simple things well. I think they had the fear of what happened last year driving them. Four finals in a row is a pretty bold achievement and it shows the depth of players we’ve got in the women’s game.”
Capital captain Briar Palmer was disappointed with the result but had nothing but praise for the efforts of her team across the season.
“I’m stoked with the girls, I couldn’t be prouder of them,” she said.
“We were fighting until the 90th minute today, I think attacking-wise we could’ve penetrated a bit more and taken our opportunities. Those are obviously things to work on for next season.”
Canterbury United Pride coach Mike De Bono
Canterbury United Pride captain Annalie Longo
Capital co-coach Sam Morrissey
Capital captain Briar Palmer
National Women’s League Grand Final
Canterbury United Pride 2 (Holly Pascoe 44’, 52’)
Capital Football 0