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A world away from Uruguay

Southern United 5
WaiBOP 2
Halftime: 3-2
Forrester Park, 25 November 2018
National Women’s League Match Week Eleven


It was a world away from Colonia del Sacramento, that’s for sure. At the exact time that our U17 national team were creating World Cup history in the Uruguayan sunshine with their epic quarterfinal penalty shootout victory over Japan, Southern United and WaiBOP were kicking off (admittedly with a little less at stake) in hostile conditions at Forrester Park in Dunedin.

Earlier in the week, the city had been pummelled by an unprecedented amount of rain (including a deluge which saw more than a month’s average rainfall in a 24 hour period) leaving much of the city under water. Nestled on the edge of the rugged Pacific Ocean, regular NWL venue Tahuna Park copped the brunt of the wet weather, meaning an alternative had to be found at short notice.

That led to the second match of the season being played at what could politely be described as one of the country’s unlikeliest national league venues. Back in September, Forrester Park was a last-minute saviour as the franchise had to scramble to find a playable ground. As I described at the time, somehow everything came together perfectly on that day, and the venue just about went viral as the remote location provided a stunning backdrop on a beautiful day.

Any local knew that hadn’t been the “real” Forrester Park experience (as touched on here). Instead, today’s conditions were much more akin to what we’re used to throughout the winter season. The combination of bone-chilling wind and constant rain ensured it was a small band of the hardiest supporters that ventured up to the exposed top field at Forrester.

With both teams out of finals contention, Southern United and WaiBOP only had pride to play for. But the two teams played out an entertaining match earlier in the season in Auckland, and today would end up a similarly high scoring and enjoyable affair. Both teams deserve a lot of credit for putting on such a good display of football that made braving the elements more than worth it!

The match began in outrageous fashion; Playing into the strong breeze, Southern kicked off, and 9.5 seconds later (faster than Usain Bolt!) were leading. The ball had fallen to Emily Morison, and from 30 metres out she chipped WaiBOP goalkeeper Amy Harrison as the ball almost stopped in the wind and dipped under the crossbar.

Incredibly, things would quickly get even better for the home team. Only a minute later, Southern launched an attack down the left flank, and a low cross found its way to winger Mikayla Gray at the far post – she buried the shot with a powerful left-foot effort. The home team was seemingly cruising, two goals up within 89 seconds of the match kicking off! (I’m not exaggerating either – I just re-checked from the live stream and timed it to the second!).

Southern midfielder Shontelle Smith – photo by Adam Binns Photography

It seemed like the home team were going to romp it, and you couldn’t blame WaiBOP for wanting to be anywhere on the planet but Forrester Park. There could have been more goals; just a couple of minutes later, Morison was sent through on goal but was tugged back by WaiBOP’s Jayden Watts right on the edge of the box.

Watts picked up a deserved early yellow card for the indiscretion, but her attitude immediately afterwards summed up her teammates’ efforts throughout the rest of the match. She had their first good chance of the match soon after, meeting a corner with a mighty header that flew just over the bar.

Although WaiBOP were getting back into the match, Southern hurt them with a third goal on the half-hour mark. Shontelle Smith swung in an inch-perfect free-kick, and Georgia Brown did what Watts couldn’t quite do earlier, getting her bullet header on target to find the net.

Once again, it would have been easy for WaiBOP to drop their heads, but instead they quickly struck back with a vengeance. After forcing a couple of tidy saves from Southern goalkeeper Jordan Woodward, the visitors were awarded a free kick outside the left edge of the penalty box. Chelsea Elliott struck the free kick with venom and it swerved past everyone and into the net. 3-1, and a deserved goal for WaiBOP.

It soon got even better for the visiting team. After forcing another couple of good saves from Woodward, the keeper fell victim to the terrible conditions. An aimless long ball rolled fairly tamely through to the Southern goalkeeper, but as she grabbed for the ball it cruelly slid out of her grip, and Ella Goulding pounced to tap-in and make it 3-2 with a few minutes to play before the halftime break.

After completely dominating the opening stanza, somehow Southern were only clinging onto a one-goal lead at the break. With the wind howling and the rain pelting down, both teams had to make the long trek down the hill to the tiny changing rooms below.

The long trek from the playing field to the changing rooms

Just as in the opening period, it was the home team who came out firing after the break. A crazy defensive clearance from WaiBOP flew straight across the face of their own goal and fell to Brown, but her shot cannoned off the post. Smith then fired in a low shot that skimmed across the wet surface but was well held by Harrison in goals for WaiBOP.

I have to mention just how impressive Harrison was, especially in the second half. In conditions which keepers probably have nightmares about, she pulled off a string of fine saves to frustrate a Southern team that was trying to kill off the stubborn WaiBOP side.

She denied Smith, substitute Ruby Anderson, and then – perhaps the best of all – Southern captain Mikaela Hunt whose powerful header from close range was somehow parried away by the WaiBOP custodian.

Unfortunately for Harrison, she couldn’t do a thing to stop Southern’s fourth goal that came in the 75th minute. Left wing-back Lara Wall suddenly started tearing the visitors to shreds with mazy runs down the flank, and on one such occasion she turned two defenders inside out before launching a swerving shot from outside the box into the corner of the net – a stunning strike!

Southern’s fifth and final goal in the 85th minute was equally spectacular – a low corner found its way to Brown, who simultaneously slid and struck the ball from the edge of the box and just about burst the net to bag her second.

In between, Woodward had pulled off another couple of excellent saves to keep some breathing space between the teams.

When the final whistle blew, the 5-2 scoreline almost flattered Southern a bit, after they had been given more than a scare for most of the second half. But it was a confident display from the home team; once again, they were happy to calmly stroke the ball around the field, not letting the difficult conditions dictate their style of play. They might not quite have hit the giddy heights of last season’s playoff appearance, but they’ve actually been a much more consistent side this season (they dropped a lot of points against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season).

The match was followed immediately by an ISPS Handa Premiership fixture across town at Sunnyvale, where Southern were impressive in defeating Tasman United 3-1, despite playing two thirds of the match with only 10 men. Along with a come from behind win for the National Youth League team yesterday, and a couple of good results for the Futsal side today, it’s been a pretty good weekend for the Southern federation.

WaiBOP still only have three points to show for their efforts this season, and it would be a surprise if they add to that tally with remaining matches against Auckland and Northern – but they’ve certainly gained another supporter in yours truly for their efforts in challenging circumstances today.

National Women’s League Match Week Eleven – Forrester Park, 25 November 2018
Southern United 5 (Morison, Gray, Brown x 2, Wall)
WaiBOP 2 (Elliott, Golding)
Halftime: 3-2

Southern celebrate – photo by Adam Binns Photography

Categories: NZ Women's National League

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