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Mission impossible?

Lynn Avon 0, Hamilton Wanderers 5
Crum Park, Auckland, April 3 2016

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Obviously it’s early days yet but this game already looks like it might have been a good old fashioned relegation six pointer in what might well be the most closely fought NRFL Women’s Premier season in recent memory. With last year’s champions Claudelands only just managing to overcome Papatoetoe, Norwest getting a stunning win over a strong Western Springs side, and Eastern Suburbs upsetting pre-season champions Glenfield, there don’t appear to be many, if any, weak links at all in this competition.

Hamilton Wanderers are the competition’s new kids on the block, having won promotion against all expectations in their playoff with Metro at the end of last season. I remarked after that game that they would need to strengthen considerably if they were to be competitive in 2016. And strengthen they have, with an injection of talent from around the WaiBOP region including a nice intake of last season’s Claudelands champion reserve side.

In a way it was a clash of two reserve sides from last season, with Lynn Avon also forced to call heavily on their club’s depth following a high number of departures during the offseason. New Zealand Under 20 goalkeeper Tessa Nicol has bolstered their line-up, and rumoured to be putting in a playing appearance is legend of New Zealand women’s football Maia Jackman! Jackman wasn’t on today’s team sheet as it transpired, with coach Dan Cope informing me that she was at home looking after a sick child, but she will be playing as of next week.

The first half looked pretty even to me. Both teams had their chances after a scrappy sorting out period early in the game. Things started heating up when Nicol was forced to make a sharp save, then down the other end a Lynn Avon attack drew the Wanderers keeper out off her line and the chip from Dakota Boyes struck the crossbar. Just a few seconds after that Nicol was called into action yet again. It felt a bit like either of the two sides were close to blowing the game wide open.

As it happened it was Wanderers who got the breakthrough in the 32nd minute with Shae Brady firing home from just to the right of the penalty spot to give her side a 1-0 lead.

Shortly after the goal, Leanna Ryan, last season’s Wanderers stand-out who had an outstanding game and looked for all the world like she would be very comfortable at this level, slid in a cross that just eluded two oncoming players, either of whom could have made it 2-0.

But it was only a temporary say of proceedings for Lynn Avon. Wanderers were able to double their lead in the last minute of the first half when Georgia Nixon jinked her way around Nicol and would have got her name on the score sheet at that point had Lynn Avon’s Victoria Murray not made a valiant effort to thwart her that unluckily resulted in an own goal. 2-0 was the half time score.

The second half was much more one way traffic than the first. Shae Brady doubled her individual tally in the 50th minute, and then a big old looping curler from Caitlyn Bloxham made it 4-0 just two minutes later.

From that point on, Tessa Nicol was basically target practice for the Wanderers attack, but she held pretty firm for over half an hour while shot after shot was either smothered or batted away by the international stopper. The one time she wasn’t called into action was when a penalty was awarded to Wanderers and Bloxham managed to blaze it over the top right corner… At one point Georgia Nixon almost threw herself into the goal trying to score but Nicol still managed to snuff it out!

But Nixon finally got just reward for all her hard work with a big hoof from a ways out in front to finish off the scoring in the 88th minute.

As Claudelands Rovers coach Joel Gifford said in the official NRFL season preview: “A season is not about how you start but how you finish.” That must have been just before he was ironically relieved of his duties and replaced by Sarah McLaughlin….. But the sentiment is still correct. It will be fascinating to see if Maia Jackman can improve her old club’s fortunes, or will it be mission impossible?

Categories: NZ Northern Women's Premier

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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