Southern United have long lived in the shadow of their illustrious neighbours to the north, three-time National Women’s League champions Canterbury United Pride. Last season, Southern upset the apple cart in their break-out season, defeating the 2016 title winners 2-1 in Christchurch in a monumental effort on their way to a first-ever playoff spot.
Expectations are suddenly different this year, and after a decent start to the 2018 season, hopes were high heading into the labour weekend double-header against the Pride. The class of the Cantabrians prevailed though, with identical 3-1 scorelines home and away meaning they’re sitting pretty at the top of the table.
The double-header nature of the long weekend was intriguing – remember, prior to this season the competition was only a single round. Now with this special weekend, teams had the novelty of coming up against the same opposition just days apart.
It was great to see both matches live-streamed through Facebook – the fact that so many teams are making the effort to get these games watchable online shows just how far the league has come. Interestingly, both of these matches appeared to have higher live viewing numbers than Sunday’s ISPS Handa Premiership match between the same two franchises.
I’m not really a massive fan of the Facebook platform for streaming – typically filmed on an iPhone and without commentary or any on-screen graphics, the quality is generally suitable only for watching on small devices, and only lends itself to fans who are familiar with the teams and can therefore determine which blocky blob of pixels is which. It simply doesn’t provide a quality of content that will get new fans tuning in to watch matches. But hey, beggars most definitely can’t be choosers.
Both matches were contested in sweltering heat and played out in almost pleonastic fashion.
Saturday: Canterbury United Pride 3-1 Southern United
English Park, Christchurch, 20 October 2018
Gabrielle Rennie stole the show on Saturday for the home team, setting up a first half goal before bagging two herself in the second half to keep the Pride’s perfect winning record intact.
The Pride took the lead in the 19th minute. A pinpoint through ball from Macey Fraser sent Rennie clear, beating the Southern offside trap, before calmly squaring a perfect pass for Monique Barker to score from point-blank range.
Britney-Lee Nicholson equalised just a few minutes later, with a similarly structured goal that saw the transposed Cantabrian slot it past Ferns keeper Victoria Esson.
The scores remained tied until the 66th minute, when Rennie latched onto a direct ball, rounded birthday girl Jordan Woodward in Southern’s goals, and hammered home.
With 10 minutes remaining, Rennie sealed the win with a cool finish from a tight angle.
Canterbury United went one better than just providing a live stream of the full match – they’ve also put together a cool highlights video of all the goals, which you can watch here – nice work!
Monday: Southern United 1-3 Canterbury United Pride
Sunnyvale Park, Dunedin, 22 October 2018
Southern had a chance for revenge just two days later in their first ever appearance at Sunnyvale Park, which was home for the men’s Premiership team last season. The venue pulled up extremely well on Labour Day, with the holiday and stunning weather combining to encourage a good crowd along.
I actually took advantage of the home team’s live stream, watching the first half online waiting for my 15-month-old daughter to wake up from an extended nap (if only she slept so well at night time!).
It took just five minutes for the home team to open the scoring. Young striker Ruby Anderson, the only change to Southern’s starting lineup from Saturday’s match, used her pace to latch onto a long pass before sliding the ball past Esson.
The lead lasted only three minutes; from an attacking set piece, the Pride looped the ball into Southern’s six-yard box, and the home team was punished for not clearing when Cody Taylor hammered home a first-time thunderbolt from close range. Taylor was one of three changes to the visitors’ lineup after impressing as a late substitute in Saturday’s win.
In a stretched and open first half, both teams traded chances and it looked like halftime would see the scores locked together. Ferns legend Annalie Longo had other ideas though. She pounced onto a Southern midfield mistake and weaved her way into the home team’s penalty area. Longo was actually forced out wide, but was clipped on the left-hand edge of the box and referee Lindsey Robinson was left with no choice but to award a penalty.
It was Macey Fraser who stepped up and she sent Woodward the wrong way to put Canterbury in front going into the break.
With my daughter waking up right on half time, we raced along to Sunnyvale to catch the second half action. Emmy was more interested in picking daisies than watching football, but the setting at Sunnyvale is perfect for kids of all ages to have a run around beside the action.
We had only just got there when Longo came to the fore again. A dazzling dribble saw her scything through some soft defence into Southern’s six yard box, before squaring to provide the easiest of chances for Taylor to score her second and extend the Pride’s lead.
Longo’s performance was sublime, often orchestrating play from deep before launching herself forward into attacking moves. She must be an absolute nightmare to come up against.
Southern threw plenty at the Pride with a number of chances on goal, but when the final whistle blew you couldn’t deny that the visitors deserved the three points – again.
The Pride have now won six from six and they look in ominous form. There will be plenty of interest in Tuesday night’s match between Northern Lights and Auckland with the winner perhaps the most likely to challenge the Cantabrians for top spot.
Southern will hope to bounce back on Saturday when they travel to face Capital. A loss for either team might see their hopes of a top-two spot this season evaporate.
Categories: NZ Women's National League