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Smith’s Dream

Tasman United 1
Coastal Spirit 4

Mainland Women’s Premier League
Sunday 07 May 2017
Saxton Field, Stoke

I made another dash across Cook Strait from my home in Wellington. This time to have a look at a Mainland Women’s Premier League (MWPL) match. I’d given up my chance at seeing my first Oceania Champions League Final, but that was an easy decision for this Coastal Spirit supporter!

Tasman are coached by Ryan “Skippy” Stewart, who played Stirling Sports Premiership (National League) for their men’s team during summer; but missed the end of the season due to illness. It was good to see him actively coaching the team today, and everyone wishes him the best as he continues with treatment and recovery. Skippy is a former club-captain of Coastal Spirit and is much loved by the football communities in Nelson and Christchurch.

This is Tasman’s second season in the MWPL, and the players are a year older, a year more experienced, and have developed physically as well as forming more of a team bond.

The Nelson-based side have added Geena Gross (who has National Women’s League winning experience with the Mainland Pride) to play at the back alongside Chelsea Stewart (who had a few years playing MWPL in Christchurch, when she had the surname Bignall).

For an hour, Tasman made life tough for the visitors, turning the match into a midfield tussle. Even after going a goal down, Tasman were still very competitive.

With the game still scoreless, after quarter-of-an-hour, Tasman pressure resulted in an intercept from the Coastal Spirit midfield. Amelia Abbott took the shot, but it was saved by Una Foyle in goal for Coastal Spirit.

The Coastal Spirit side, coached again by Alana Gunn, is similar to last year’s team, plus the return of Chloe Webster (who wasn’t in last season’s squad). A tight-knit bunch with a desire to play for, and achieve with, the club. They had under-performed this year, not often managing to string together a performance for 90 minutes (although a 9-0 win over Universities in the Reta Fitzpatrick Cup was an exception).

The squad has a mixture of the young and talented, those who have been in the squad for years and have played in National Finals, and those who have developed from the fringes of the squad into important team members. Olivia Smith, who was to play an important role in the story of this game, is one of those who has worked her way into the one of the first names to consider when picking the starting line-up (over 50 first-team appearances) after beginning several years ago as a handy player to have come off the bench.

Coastal Spirit took the lead in the 21st minute. A free-kick was cleared by Tasman, who tried to break towards the other end, but were caught out when Coastal Spirit regained possession. Lily Bray quickly sent the ball through to Arna Roberts, who calmly placed her shot into the net.

Tasman equalised on the half hour. A long clearance from Tasman goalkeeper Lydia Langbein, was misjudged by the usually reliable Coastal Spirit captain Chloe Jones. Her header went backwards with Tasman’s Tiana Williams running on to it. Foyle made a great initial save in the one-on-one, but the ball rebounded to Matilda Dawson who shot past the defender on the line: 1-1.

Coastal Spirit should have regained the lead not long after the half-hour. A cross from the right was met by Mel Cameron, who scored her 100th Premier League goal for Coastal Spirit earlier this season. She did what any striker with that sort of record excels at, by attacking the ball at the near post, despite a teammate being in a potentially better position. Her shot was scuffed, but Cameron recovered it on the goal line. As the Coastal Spirit striker tried to create another shooting angle, she appeared to be clipped by a defender. The ball went loose to Whitney Hepburn, whose shot went narrowly wide. The better chance seemed it would have been at the initial cross, where Roberts was free on the far-post and could have had a tap-in.

Emma Clarke was doing a lot of work down the right-hand side as a wing-back for Coastal Spirit. Just when it looked like she might be tiring, she’d pull out a lung-bursting run down the wing or a recovery challenge. She made one such great challenge, on Charlotte Gordon, that the crowd on the clubrooms side were noisy about–but the angle from the other side of the field showed it was a brilliantly-timed tackle. Early in the second half, Clarke was on the receiving end. Having beaten Gross twice within the same move, the Tasman captain made a desperate but fair lunge in the penalty area to prevent Clarke from continuing her run.

One minute later, Clarke was involved again. Cameron played the ball back to the wingback who put in a low, hard cross. Roberts reached it, but volleyed wide.
Just before the hour mark, Coastal Spirit took the lead again. A move involving Jones, Smith, then saw Bray beat a player but she was forced wide right. Bray’s cross was met with a flicked volley by Smith. It had perfect placement to beat the Tasman goalkeeper over her head and drop down inside the far post. Smith was surely in dreamland with a goal like that.

Tasman almost his straight back. Dawson shooting low across the goal but hitting the far post.

Smith then had to depart the field temporarily in pain with an injured arm.

While Smith was being attended to, Bray put the ball one side of Gordon and ran around the other. Bray then beat the goalkeeper and placed her shot on target, but it was cleared off the line by a Tasman defender (under pressure from a Coastal Spirit player).

Dawson had another chance to score for Tasman. Knocking Rebecca Wilson off the ball (with Coastal Spirit players appealing for the foul), Dawson shot across the face of goal with the ball taking a deflection as it went narrowly wide for a corner.

Smith returned in time to play another vital part in the game. In the 83rd minute, Bray sent the ball through to sub Cody Taylor, who had timed her run well enough to be onside. Taylor drew the goalkeeper and cut it back to Smith who fired the ball into the net. 1-3.

Smith’s dream of a hat-trick was cruelly denied as still in pain from the earlier injury she was subbed off.

Roberts had a chance to add to her own goalscoring tally in the final minutes, as she lobbed the goalkeeper, but the ball bounced upwards—just over the crossbar.

In stoppage time, Bray reminded us how good she is by scoring Coastal Spirit’s fourth goal. Bray beat a defender rounded the goalkeeper and tapped it into the empty net. The Coastal Spirit and Canterbury United star is a joy to watch when she plays with such smooth movement as in this game.

1-4. Job done. Pleased Coastal Spirit coach and players. Disappointed Tasman side, who look like they’re making progress, despite the scoreline blowing out.

The cutest part of the day came during the after-match function where the toddler daughter of the Coastal Spirit coach was high-fiving the almost-toddler son of the Tasman coach. A sign of the mutual respect the teams have for each other.

Have a look on the shuttersport website at photographs of Tasman United v Coastal Spirit.

Categories: NZ Mainland Women's Premier

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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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