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‘Tis the season to be jolly

Canterbury United Pride 2
Capital Football 0

National Women’s League Final
Sunday 11 December 2016
English Park, Christchurch.

Rebecca Lake attacks a corner during Canterbury United Pride's 2-0 win over Capital in the 2016 National Women's League Final.

Rebecca Lake attacks a corner during Canterbury United Pride’s 2-0 win over Capital in the 2016 National Women’s League Final.

When I moved back to Wellington from Christchurch, some of my friends who played for the Pride asked me whether I’d be back down to see some of their matches. I said that I probably couldn’t make it that year, but if they reached the Final, I’d travel to it.

The Pride struggled (relatively) that year, getting thumped 6-1 in the semi-final by WaiBOP, and lost the next season’s semi-final as well. But, this year is the fourth successive year that I’ve travelled from Wellington to see the Pride play in the Final. An expensive promise that I made, but well worth it in terms of some of the football I’ve seen.

  • 2013 I saw Bel van Noorden score a screamer of a goal v Northern at North Harbour No. 2.
  • 2014 Monique Barker and Lauren Dabner helped the Pride to a win in Christchurch over the NZ Development side.
  • 2015 goalscorers included Aimee Phillips and Emma Rolston, who both playing for Northern, had in past seasons played for teams I’d followed (Phillips with Pride, Rolston at Waterside Karori). Despite a valiant last-gasp comeback, the Pride succumbed to Northern in Christchurch.
  • 2016 another home final for the Pride, thanks to finishing top of the league in a three-way points tie.

The other two teams that finished 2016 on equal points, played off the week prior. Capital beating WaiBOP on kicks from the penalty mark after extra time couldn’t separate them.

The Final at English Park, followed the men’s Stirling Sports Premiership regular season match, where Canterbury United prevailed 2-0 over Eastern Suburbs.

English Park on the day of the National Women's League Final.

English Park on the day of the National Women’s League Final.

Meikayla Moore started for the Pride for the first time this season. The Football Fern had been busy with U-20 World Cup commitments prior to this game, and broke into the starting eleven due to an injury to Emma Clarke. Moore started at right back and was using her experience and guile to try to contain capital star Briar Palmer. Macey Fraser appeared in midfield to replace the injured Lily Bray.

Capital also had a couple of players unavailable. Sam Marsden replacing the injured Kennedy Bryant in midfield, and Natasha Ingram replacing the suspended Anna Wittmann-Wenzel in goal, the latter having been sent-off in the playoff match.

The Pride put the pressure on in the first 20 minutes. Three corners in quick succession were followed by Phillips (now back at Canterbury), Holly Pascoe, and Ashleigh Ward each trying to send dipping or lobbed shots over the keeper. Phillips and Ward failed to hit the target, while Pascoe’s shot went into the keeper’s arms.

Aimee Phillips (Canterbury United Pride) turns the Capital defence.

Aimee Phillips (Canterbury United Pride) turns the Capital defence.

Capital had their major chance shortly after the half-hour. Jayme Lee-Hunter played in Emma Main whose shot hit the post. The ball rebounded back to Main, but, with the goal gaping, she somehow placed it wide.

Pascoe scored the first goal shortly before halftime. A ball in from the right deflected off Phillips into Pascoe’s path. She took a touch and smashed it into the net to give the Pride a deserved lead.

Five minutes into the second half and it was 2-0. Annalie Longo played the ball to Ward. Her cross was from the Pride left was dealt with by Pascoe smashing it into the net.

Soon after, the Pride subbed on Kayla Thomas to right back and moved Moore into central defence to replace the departing Chloe Jones.

One of Moore’s first pieces of action in the centre was to attempt a back-header to Pride goalkeeper Vic Esson, who wasn’t quite where Moore thought she would be. The ball went past Esson and with Capital player in pursuit, the goalkeeper recovered enough to prevent any further danger, and maintain her first clean-sheet of the season.

Rather than use the Palmer/Barrott combination to attack the new right back, Capital made a tactical switch of their own. Bringing on Emily Morison at the top of the attack, replacing right back Fran Grange. A back-three resulted, denting the relationship that Palmer and Barrott have and leaving some gaps for players such as Ward to explore in the wide areas behind the wing backs.

Pascoe almost completed her hat-trick in stoppage time. Longo played the ball to Gabbie Rennie who bounced off Capital’s Tess McPherson and crossed to the far post where Pascoe shot low, but it was cleared off the line by a Capital defender.

Briar Palmer eloquently addresses the English Park crowd.

Briar Palmer eloquently addresses the English Park crowd.

The Pride won a deserved third Final, with two goals from Holly Pascoe in front of home support. There was a classy acknowledgement from Capital captain Briar Palmer at the trophy presentation in front of the Steve Sumner stand when she thanked the home crowd, “you may not be Capital supporters, but you’re all supporters of women’s football”.

The season is over again, way too soon again. Let’s step up the pressure to have this league extended to include a two-round home-and-away series, with at least twelve matches per team. This league features current Football Ferns, some on the fringes of selection, and age-group internationals. For the depth of our top international side, we need to maintain and extend this League.

If you were a non-travelling Capital supporter, you would have not seen this season’s champions Canterbury United Pride playing this season, as the regular season and the Final were both in Christchurch. Even if you were to travel to the neighbouring federation, Central, you still wouldn’t have seen Canterbury, as the Central match was also in Christchurch.

But with one round (plus playoffs) in the league, if you want to see some of the top women’s footballers in the world playing in NZ, this time of the year has been the season to go on a celebratory trip—or a jolly!

Categories: NZ Women's National League

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Phil Clayton

Phil Clayton's feet are registered with Brooklyn Northern United but—despite having moved back to Wellington from Christchurch in 2011—his heart is still bonded with Coastal Spirit FC.

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