A steely defensive display, packed with experience for Clarence Zebras inflicted Olympia with its first loss of the season. The replay of the Summer Cup final didn’t disappoint. On arrival the Warriors rode high on confidence, without having conceded a goal, while CZ were out to stake its claim and climb to the top of the ladder. Caitlin Stalker’s ‘free at the back post’ finish from a Georgia Burt corner was all that split the two.
Watching from the comfort of my lounge room, with the warmth of my heater, I am once again grateful for my friend, the Live Stream.
Here’s a breakdown of how the match panned out.
Olympia fielded its best starting XI, not pulling any tricks from the start, on paper or on the field. Bonnie Davies again partnered Mia Cane up top. Innocent Michael and Caitlin Roberts started in a defensive midfield pivot and shifted to a more attacking mindset once the pursuit of an equaliser was properly on. Olivia Bomford took her post as ten, with Gubb shifting around the right-side of midfield.
The defence was the interesting side. All season long Olympia have favoured Sophie Leszczynski, Maddie Black and Charlotte Chambers as the secure back three. The left flank has been anchored by a sweeping Leszcznynski, or a backtracking Madison Chambers. Inevitably, with M Chambers being caught up high in attack, space on the line out wide was exposed to create the goal opportunity. Clarence’s Isabella Ferrier found the pocket on the counter, received the ball in space and earned the corner that led to the goal.
Speculation on which Zebra would handle M Chambers on the flank was resolved, with Louise Marmion tasked as right back and performing a tag-team with her fellow right sided player in Ferrier. CZ tasked Selina Steventon with left back, as Mady O’Brien and Zara Dixon produced a formidable pairing in the centre. The reliable Burt sat in the middle of the park, alongside the buzzing Bronte Gadon.
Zoe Nichols was cut off for lengthy stints, taking up the number nine role, but persisted in pressing Black whenever her opposing centre back was on the ball. Meanwhile Allie Berry and Caitlin Stalker were often in support of the counters, particularly as Ferrier sat deeper on many occasions, particularly when there was a lead to protect. Stalker came in from the left, with Allie playing though the middle.
The box to box affair saw Olympia dictate the tempo for stretches but CZ implemented its game plan. Rarely were the Warriors pressed on the ball when they played in their own half. Clarence was uninterested in a tit-for-tat high press, instead sat deep and forced Olympia to come up with ways to dismantle the organised block.
Congestion and flying tackles prevented much happening through the middle. The favoured ball in behind the defence by the Warriors was denied by a sweeping Cook from goal. While Zebras on the counter didn’t find success in that area, just unable to find the right combination.
Instead hope was from the flanks for both sides. Once it was apparent M Chambers was marked out of the game, the right hand side became favoured for the away team. The ball shifted from the backline to Gubb with consistency. While the only time Davies had room to manoeuvre, she drew the foul and yellow card from Steventon. Opportunities forward were rarer for the home team, but the threats were from the flanks when they arrived.
The half finished with gusto. Michael’s decision to rove forward opened up the match. Chances began to pile and whiffed of breaking into the area, it was Davies who produced the edge of the seat moment. Turning on the inside, baffling Gadon, who was tight on her back, Davies shot a rocket from 30 yards out, smashing the upright. CZ countered with soon after. Barely a minute later pulling creativity out of the bag, Nichols chipped the ball over a defender to Stalker, who played through a rushing Berry. The Zebras attacker was unable to find the direction on her shot.
If Clarence were sitting deep in the first half, they bunkered in and battened down the hatches for the second. With the wind picking up gust, the team searching for the equaliser gained the benefit and quickly looked to pin their opposition in. Olympia’s high press off the mark left Zebras defenders feeling hot under the collar at times.
Olympia’s patience to break down Clarence quickly paved the way for fire at will. The quality of CZ’s defence was on show, as O’Brien and Dixon produced a display worthy of all the chiko rolls from the canteen post-match in keeping play out of the area. More space opened up for the Warriors, despite Clarence sitting deep. Chambers was cut a little slack, but couldn’t find a connection to link up with another player as she was often guided to the byline.
The potential game changer was Davies. Given more space and on the side against a yellow-card carrying fullback, there was the opportunity to find the breakthrough. However, predictability in cutting on the inside and taking the shot on herself from range dampened hopes of finding the equaliser. Had the Warrior mixed up her game, gone to the byline a few times, the wind was wild enough to cause havoc had the cross been sent into the box. For a team who struggled to breach the penalty area, utilising the flanks and sending in crosses could’ve assisted the efforts. At the very least provided something different for the Zebras defence to handle.
Ultimately the second half was marred by free kicks, corners and the wind. The Warriors were unable to muster the magic CZ did in the first half to capitalise on the dead ball situation. Too often shooting from a distance, with Cook left relatively untroubled for large spells, despite the onslaught of shots… off target.
Personally, the most entertaining part of the second half, bar a Tekkers skills lesson by M Chambers from a short corner, was whenever Leszczynski mixed up how she played out from the back. The driving runs and forward passing balls produced sparking moments, that while she hit heavy congestion while moving forward, did provide an element often missing from the second half.
Six months was the wait between the Summer Cup Final and the regular season meet up. The next is going to be a two week turn over, only separated by a Statewide Cup weekend. Olympia may have mixed things up from their 433 last season, however went into this one with the same system they’ve employed most of the season. Clarence Zebras adjusted to meet the challenge, and came out the victors tactically despite a backs to the wall performance.
A massive thank you to Solstice Photography/Linda Higginson for the photos to snaz this article up!