Being away from Tassie and finding myself unexpectedly in South West Sydney for the week, meant on a rainy Sunday afternoon I found myself in Wollongong watching a NSW women’s NPL game. Apparently I can’t escape the rain and cold simply by heading North, but hey, I sit on the sidelines, so I just grabbed my new warm jumper and the brolly in the car so was set.
The team in pink, Illawarra Stingrays, hosted a team in blue, the Emerging Jets. The beauty about this game was that I got to enjoy some quality football, watching some players I already knew the names of through the W-League, plus a couple others I’ve never seen who caught my eye, it was a pleasure to watch. I mean legit a front line with Michelle Carney and Erica Halloway with Caitlin Cooper supplying them from the midfield is fire and some serious, grab your popcorn, entertainment.
In the first half it became apparent as the game settled down, the Stingrays were the dominant side, whilst the Jets were looking to get a goal off the break. The Jets put up a resilient effort for the half, with Hannah Brewer leading the back line and Molly Arens killing it in the midfield before a heavy knock hindered her involvement as game wore on. Boy how the Jets held on to go in at halftime without conceding a goal is something else. Throwing everything bar the kitchen sink, there were opportunities for the Stingrays to score on numerous occasions, one instance saw the ball do everything but go in with fingertip saves, cross bars, defender blocks, you name it, the ball just couldn’t go across that little white line.
For the second half, the game plan seemed to be the same for the Stingrays. Attack, attack, attack. I’m unconvinced the ball spent more than five minutes all up in the Jet’s attacking half, it was that type of performance in the end. Unfortunately for the Jet’s, they simply ran out of legs. Where they were switched on the entire first half to force the game to remain level, there were defensive mistakes in the second half that meant they couldn’t keep it that way. The four goals in the second half by the Stingrays were all class finished, the only way they could get the ball past the Jet’s keeper, who had a stellar game. Cooper got two of them, both her goals hitting the bottom far corners, absolutely delightful, then with Carney bagging a double too.
Stingrays are a flipping good outfit. Yeah they’ve got a current Matilda in Cooper and a host of W-League players, but the tempo they maintained the whole game was something else to watch for a game at this level. Their play showed little hesitation on the ball, and whilst they maybe could have played more direct at times, their intensity for the whole match was just too much for the Newcastle side. The combination of Cooper in the middle, Carney upfront and Halloway on the flank, is flipping killer.
Jets keeper, Annalee Grove, put in a stellar display. She had a lot to do, but showed confidence, always keeping a hold of the ball and was just really solid. This forced the Stingrays to hit the corners for most of their goals in the second half.
It’s tough being a team that defends for most of the game. Especially when your opponent clearly has the upper hand on fitness. If this game was only an hour long, the Jets would have half a chance, but the back end of the second half they just looked wiped out, whilst the Stingrays had just started to click into gear and finally figured out how to score. (Note for future games guys, hit the bottom corners earlier for more goals).
Back passes to goalkeepers. Is blocking the ball, then letting the keeper pick it up a back pass? Yeah it was, a tough decision, but the ref did well there.
Lacking directness towards goal for the Stingrays. Reminiscent of the Matildas against some of the sides in Asia. Whilst seeing lots of possession, especially in the second half, and spreading play enough to find the gaps, they just lacked that direct play so often needed to create a clear chance on goal. So often they crossed the ball, or just played with it too much, instead of taking the shot. If they were to add a bit more direct play, the score line could have been even more heavily one sided.
Illawarra Stingrays 4 – 0 Emerging Jets