W-League League: Season 4 (2011 - 2012 Season)
By Zee Ko
'Smoke Bombs, Flares and Superwoman'
(Zee Ko was pitch side at the Veneto Club in Bulleen, Victoria)
Melbourne Victory Women's last home game of the season saw a record crowd in the stands as 610 attendees turned up to watch them take on the unbeaten league leaders Canberra United. It was a raucous occasion that bode well for the future of women's football - families turned up in droves and swarms of little girls with big dreams could be spotted sprinkled among the crowd. While the mercury topped out at 31°c on a sweltering summer day, the home side did not disappoint as they did battle with Canberra.
Victory in the navy blue strips showed little fear despite their early season loss to Canberra, taking the game to the girls in green. Brianna Davey was back in between the sticks despite only participating in light training this week, while Katrina Gorry missed out due to suspension.
It was a case of the usual suspects though, as Victory's Ashley Brown and Jodie Taylor wreaked havoc down the right flank. The pony-tailed Brown in particular showed off twinkle-toed pace and an improving ability to cross the ball early on as Melbourne sought to strike an early blow. League top scorer Michelle Heyman flashed an early shot wide after beating two Victory markers in only the third minute, but it was Melbourne that were making more inroads into the opposition half.
Indeed, it took but 19 minutes before the home team broke the deadlock. Midfielder Kendall Fletcher, playing in an advanced role in Gorry's absence, was brought down in the Canberra box by Nicole Sykes. An instant yellow was flashed for the Canberra defender, as Taylor stepped up to take the penalty for Victory. Nerves of steel were required, and that was exactly what was served up as Lydia Williams dived the wrong way and could only watch the ball ripple the net.
A fairytale start to the match against a foe who had vanquished them 2-1 in Week Two as the Victory girls celebrated in the middle of the pitch, with captain Taylor flashing a heart with her hands to someone in the stands. Determined to preserve their slender lead, the Victory girls defended resolutely, with Maika Ruyter-Hooley and Rebekah Stott standing tall in the middle of the defence. Top marks for bravery went to Stephanie Catley though, with the left back rolling her troublesome right ankle midway through the match, before getting up to carry on as though nothing had happened.
"Superwoman? I think so," an admiring coach Vicki Linton remarked post-match, "I really rate her courage and how much she puts in. She epitomises what we're all about."
A section of the Victory fans had formed into a small cheer squad near the corner flag and were urging the home team on with somewhat ribald chants that had parents hastily covering their young ones' ears. An enthusiastic supporter in their midst took the opportunity to set off the first ever smoke bomb in a W-League fixture late in the second half as Melbourne trudged off with their lead intact.
Canberra came out of the break eager to make amends, but it was Melbourne who once again came close to scoring. Captain Jodie Taylor was having yet another storming game as her free kick struck the crossbar before Brown smashed the rebound straight back onto the goalpost.
But alas, it was Brisbane at Geelong once again, as Canberra roared back to grab a late equaliser. There were no prizes for guessing who as the dangerous Heyman was afforded too much space on the edge of the box, taking a touch before curling her shot beyond Davey's dive and into the bottom left corner.
To give Victory credit though, the home team continued to attack, almost earning themselves a second penalty as Taylor was brought down just inside the box, only for the referee to wave play on as the crowd gasped in anticipation.
Davey was once again called upon to save the day late in injury time as Taryn Hemmings broke free to go one-on-one with the 'keeper. Victory's 16-year-old wünderkid proved equal to the occasion though, pulling off a marvellous point-blank save to ensure her team escaped with a share of the points.
As both fans and players filtered out of the ground, someone lit off a couple of red flares and threw them onto the pitch, yet again for the first time in W-League history. It was almost fitting in a way, in a season of many firsts, both for the club and the players on the team.
Linton: Pleased and proud at performance
Melbourne's coach Vicki Linton was happy to chat after the match, hailing her team's performance and revealing she was "really proud of the girls and the effort they put in." "I think Bri Davey and the defence did a fantastic job and we created some really really good chances. To be honest, a one-all draw with these guys is not a bad effort and means we're undefeated at home, our first time ever, so all in all I'm pleased."
Linton also talked about what effect Katrina Gorry's absence had on the team.
"She's had a fantastic season, I think she's probably had her best season for the W-League," she said. "Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, it made us really rethink the midfield and so put Kendall Fletcher up there and… she kept Sally Shipard quiet, it's the quietest game I've ever seen Sally play so maybe it worked in our favour a little bit.
"We can go back to normal in our next game against Adelaide and Katrina will be buzzing because she'll have missed so much time."
On WPL hotshot Laura Spiranovic's chances of winning a place in the first team before season end, Linton admitted that it was a hard decision each week to decide who got into the fifteen. "The eleven is pretty settled, so [with the subs] it just depends on what I think I might need. So yeah, [she's] certainly in there for a look-in."
Last but not least, Linton took the time to thank the fans for turning up for the game, claiming the girls were really pleased and excited to have such a big turnout.
"To go through undefeated at home is a real milestone for Melbourne Victory W-League, so it's great to share that with so many people."
Player of the Match: Stephanie Catley
While others wilted in the heat, livewire Steph Catley worked tirelessly up and down the flanks. Was instrumental in intercepting Canberra attacks that came her way and didn't shirk her duties.
Melbourne Victory Verdict:
As coach Vicki Linton mentioned, the unbeaten home run has indeed been a marvellous achievement. They will not have finish anywhere near the leaders, but there is plenty of spirit within this squad, and it will serve them well come Finals. With so much young talent coming through, it also bodes well for next season, provided they can keep the core of the team intact.
Canberra United Verdict:
They are league leaders for a reason and although Canberra's charge has stuttered in recent weeks with three successive draws, the league's only standalone team will be looking to stretch their unbeaten run to a whole season. With sharpshooter Michelle Heyman and the multi-talented Ellyse Perry among their ranks, it might just be their year.
The stands at The Veneto Club were filled and indeed there were more attendees than either of the trips to Geelong. The family feel to the occasion was spoilt by a somewhat unruly cheer squad on the sidelines, with the aforementioned smoke bombs and flares going off during and after the match.
Soaring temperatures meant play was halted in the middle of both halves for the players to take water breaks. As the match went on, several players were noticeably suffering under the heat. The crowd were sitting relatively cool in the stands but the media box opposite was getting plenty of direct sunlight, leading to an uncomfortable hour and a half.
Details: Westfield Womens League, Round 10:
Match report and photos by Zee Ko, at at Bulleen, Friday 30 December, 2011
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