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Lights out for Southern

National Women’s League Match Week Eight:
Southern United 1 (Britney-Lee Nicholson)
Northern Lights 2 (Emma Turnbull, Sam Tawharu)
Halftime 0-1
Sunnyvale Park, 4 November 2018

Northern Lights had plenty of obstacles to overcome on their way to defeating Southern United 2-1 at Sunnyvale on Sunday afternoon in the National Women’s League.

The long trip to the deep south is never an enviable proposition, especially up against an ever-improving Southern side. The Lights also had to contend with being without coach Gemma Lewis and seven squad members, all part of New Zealand’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup contingent.

The weather conditions on arrival weren’t exactly welcoming – heavy rain and maybe even a bit of hail were interspersed with some sunshine, but a freezing gale never abated throughout the match. It wasn’t exactly pleasant for Enzo’s first visit to the Edinburgh of the South, not that he complained about it!

There were also perhaps some lingering demons from a couple of months ago that have finally been overcome. Dunedin Technical stunned North Shore club Forrest Hill Milford in claiming the Kate Sheppard Cup, and with a number of players from both clubs featuring in the NWL for Southern and Northern respectively, it was another chance for the northerners to exact a bit of revenge (the teams battled out a goalless draw in round two).

One of the players on the losing side in the Kate Sheppard Cup final was Northern midfielder Malia Steinmetz. On that occasion, she was outshone by the outstanding Maia Jackman Trophy winner Shontelle Smith.

Malia Steinmetz looking for an opening

Today, however, it was Northern’s young Football Fern who stole the show. In a commanding performance, Steinmetz’s endeavour came to the fore in the 27th minute to create the opening goal. From the middle of the park, she dribbled past two Southern defenders and then sparked some smart interplay between Jane Barnett and Sam Tawharu, who found Emma Turnbull lurking at the far post. Her initial shot was well saved by goalkeeper Jordan Woodward, but the rebound fell back at the feet of Turnbull and she made no mistake on the second effort.

Northern were comfortably the better team in the first half, controlling much of the possession, however they struggled to create further clear-cut chances on goal. Woodward was largely untroubled, except for one occasion where a wild backpass was under-hit to the goalkeeper, who bravely cleared before being clattered by Northern striker Helena Kelderman.

Southern couldn’t get much going in their limited attacking forays. Perhaps their best chance fell to Britney-Lee Nicholson just before the break, but her first-time effort went inches wide of the post.

The home team tried to unleash their dangerous wingers, but the Lights were well prepared to handle the onslaught. The experienced Liz Savage kept the energetic Mikayla Gray pretty quiet; on the one instance that Gray managed to beat her opponent, Savage recovered with an expertly executed last-ditch slide tackle.

Northern’s Liz Savage duelling with Mikayla Gray

With the rain hurtling down sideways, both teams would have been glad to get into the changing rooms at halftime, Turnbull’s goal all that separated the two teams. It was a chance for the brave spectators to dry off too – fortunately the Village Green cafe upstairs does a pretty good flat white!

Northern came out firing in the second half, and soon doubled their lead. After Woodward had tipped a long-range effort wide, the Lights capitalised from the resulting corner, and again Steinmetz was the architect.

The midfield maestro launched a cross to captain Claudia Bunge at the far post, who unselfishly squared a header to Sam Tawharu to score from close range.

Conditions then started to improve, and so did the home team, who matched their opponents for the remainder of the contest.

A period of dominance was rewarded in the 59th minute when Gray found Nicholson, who smashed the ball past Lily Alfeld courtesy of the goalpost. Winger Ruby Anderson went close moments later.

Although Southern continued to create some chances and came close to snatching a point, Northern should have killed off the game towards the end. Jane Barnett drove a good chance over the bar, while substitute Ava Pritchard spurned two golden chances in stoppage time.

For Southern, it was another case of close but no cigar. The team continues to compete with the country’s best teams, but have now lost four games on the trot and have seen their finals chances all but extinguished.

The visitors’ successful weekend was capped off nicely when the travelling Prime Minister was fortunate enough to be snapped with the team –

Northern’s win keeps them within four points of leaders Canterbury United Pride. The Lights have stolen a march on Auckland, who had the bye this weekend. With Capital quietly going about their business and still in the hunt, there’s plenty to play for over the next few weeks.

You can check out NWL results, fixtures, and standings here.

– Match photos by Enzo Giordani

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Categories: NZ Women's National League

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