Defending champions Canterbury United Pride and 2015 winners Northern have both taken big strides towards the National Women’s League playoffs while Auckland’s hopes are hanging by a thread after the penultimate round this weekend.
Prior to the latest batch of action, as many as five sides were still in the running to extend their respective seasons past the round robin but that total has now dropped to four after Northern’s 5-1 win over Capital, who will not get the chance to repeat their runners-up placing of last year.
Auckland also fell to a loss in an equally-significant match against Canterbury but can still go through as they are only one point behind the leading trio of Northern, Canterbury and Southern United – now remarkably all locked on 10 points. The round’s other clash had no impact on the playoff picture but was just as important for those taking part as WaiBOP gave themselves a good chance of avoiding the wooden spoon with a 3-0 win over Central.
The weekend kicked off at English Park in Christchurch and there was plenty of tension in the air as Canterbury and Auckland were both fully aware of the need to pocket three points. It proved an end-to-end encounter but goalscoring chances were hard to come by and it took until the 89th minute for the deadlock to be broken, Britney-Lee Nicholson meeting a Tahlia Herman-Watt cross to finish brilliantly.
There was still time for Auckland to force an equaliser and they very nearly did just that when Nicole Mettam smashed a free kick against the cross bar but Canterbury were able to hold on for a vital result.
“The games against Auckland are always a big battle and it was no different today,” Canterbury coach Mike De Bono said. “They could’ve gone in at half-time a couple of goals up and we could’ve snuck a couple more in that second half so it really was a game of two halves.The girls are ecstatic to come away with a win and finish it the way they did.”
Auckland now face a must-win match against Northern next weekend and coach Gemma Lewis is looking for a more complete showing.
“I was pleased with our performance but we just didn’t last for the 90 minutes,” she said. “In the first half it looked like we wanted it more but, in the second, you could see that Canterbury had adjusted and we didn’t respond very well.”
There was just as much riding on the outcome up at QBE Stadium on Auckland’s North Shore, where Northern and Capital met in a do-or-die encounter. A home win was likewise the result but it was far more comfortable for Northern, who put five goals past the visitors.
Kate Loye, Arabella Maynard, Jane Barnett, Dayna Stevens and Cara Lonergan all found the net while Capital could only reply with a solitary strike from Libby Boobyer. The spectacle was soured somewhat though by serious injuries to several players, which resulted in lengthy delays and took some of the gloss off what was Northern’s best result of the season.
“No one really expects things like that to happen but when they do you have to try to manage them as best you can,” Northern coach Hayley Stirling said. “I want to credit Capital for the way they were able to get through that and finish the match but it’s a pretty bizarre feeling. We now have a big derby match next week and we need to win so both teams should be up for it.”
Capital captain Sarah Gregorius agreed the result was put into perspective by the more concerning moments of the afternoon.
“I was so proud of the character and grit the girls showed to carry on after seeing a couple of their team mates go down in those circumstances,” the former Football Fern said. “So, putting the score to one side, I was super proud of them and the same to Northern. They’re a quality side and they showed that.”
WaiBOP were thankfully able to celebrate their first win of the season in a more cheerful atmosphere as they signed off for the year with an outclassing of Central in Cambridge. With WaiBOP having the bye in the final round, this was their last chance to finally get three points on the board and they had Kim Maguire largely to thank for doing so.
The midfielder gave her side the lead on the stroke of half-time with a slick finish and then hit a screamer from 25 metres out just past the hour to put WaiBOP well on track for a maiden victory. Central were not able to find a way back into the contest and it was instead WaiBOP who scored again through Ella Golding with ten minutes remaining.
To avoid finishing bottom, Central will now need to upset Canterbury in the final round next weekend while the four playoff contenders jostle for positions in the top three.
For the National Women’s League table please click here
National Women’s League Round Six Results
Canterbury United Pride 1 (Britney-Lee Nicholson 89’)
WaiBOP 3 (Kim Maguire 45’ + 1’, 62’, Ella Golding 80’)
Northern 5 (Kate Loye, Arabella Maynard, Jane Barnett, Dayna Stevens, Cara Lonergan)
Capital 1 (Libby Boobyer)
BYE – Southern United