Everything to play for in WPL
Heidelberg's Demi Mihaloudis (l) and Preston's Ruadh Houston (r) - Image: Zee Ko
With six rounds of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) behind us in Victoria, things are just starting to heat up at both ends of the table.
Box Hill United are sitting pretty at the top as the last remaining unbeaten team this season, but defending champions South Melbourne Women’s are breathing down their neck.
At the other end of the table, EAP Country and Cairnlea have struggled to get going so far, with a solitary point each the only rewards for their troubles.
But how is everyone else doing? Since we’re already a third of the way into the season, the time is right for an in-depth analysis of how each of the ten teams have fared and which players have been calling the shots for them so far.
Ashburton Womens SC have had a mixed bag of a season up to this point. Two wins, two draws and two losses pretty much confirms their status as mid-table battlers.
They did well to hold Sandringham and Heidelberg to draws, but were beaten comprehensively by both Box Hill and South Melbourne. Turkish international Seyma Erenli has been the standout player for them, having accounted for almost half of their eleven goal haul so far.
The team is pretty solid this season with battlers all around the ground, but they will need the likes of Emma Johnson and Christine Pfeiffer to start firing regularly to help bolster the forward line.
As their unbeaten record shows, everything’s going Box Hill’s way up to this point.
It has not been smooth sailing all the way though, as they came within five minutes of being beaten at Bundoora before two desperate late goals helped them snatch a draw at the death.
The loss of Deanna Niceski during the same game will have been a blow to their aspirations, but there should be enough quality in the rest of the team to make up for it.
The most interesting statistic so far though is that twelve different players have notched goals for Box Hill this campaign, by far the largest spread of goal scorers in any team.
Louisa Bisby has shown few signs of slowing down, pulling the strings from central midfield and also posing a threat from dead ball situations. The form of Cassandra Dimovski between the sticks will also be a factor, with the Melbourne Victory custodian only having let in seven goals so far.
Bundoora have been one of the more exciting teams to watch this season, with their array of exciting wingers bombing up both flanks every game.
Kariah White, Gulcan Koca and Stephanie Galea seem to have endless reserves of energy, running at defenders whenever the opportunity arises.
Up front, pint sized forward Enza Barilla has been in devastating form with five goals this season, while captain Lucrece Laverdure leads by example in the middle of the park.
The team has to watch out when they pour forward though, as this has sometimes led to gaps opening at the back.
Things are not as rosy at second-to-bottom Cairnlea. Having achieved promotion last season, the team are finding life hard in the top division.
Tijen Hussein scored twenty goals last season and is once again looking like their best player by far, but cannot do everything on her own. There is hope for the girls in red though, as Melanie Camilleri has made the shock move from Heidelberg.
Camilleri’s reputation as a deadly sharpshooter has not been for nothing, but it remains to be seen how she will fit into a new system, and whether the move will help her rediscover her love for the game that she claimed has been waning for some time.
It has been a season of ups and downs for Casey Comets this season, even though we’re only six games in.
Nicola Prins and Alexandra Gummer have been in excellent form with six and four goals respectively, but the big win over South Melbourne was sandwiched by close losses to Box Hill and Bundoora.
Maybe the writing was on the wall when they failed to notch a goal against EAP Country early on, but captain Melissa Atherton’s injury will not have helped matters.
EAP Country were expected to be the whipping boys (or girls if you will) of the competition, and so it has proved thus far.
FFV Technical Director Sean Douglas has had his young team playing from the back and on the ground, but it will take some time yet before this outfit becomes competitive enough.
The experience of former Melbourne Victory captain Tal Karp will be vital as the youngsters pick up vital football skills. The goalless draw against the Comets and their first goal against Box Hill will have done wonders for their belief.
Heidelberg initially struggled to grab their first win of the season with consecutive draws from their opening three rounds, but appearances can be deceiving.
Possessing one of the better midfield engines in the WPL, the Bergers were unbeaten until South Melbourne decided to simply bypass their midfield in a smash and grab win last weekend.
Belinda Pannella and Julia Nicolaci have formed a formidable partnership in central midfield, with both able to send in killer through balls or shoot from range.
Captain Rita Mankowska has also chipped in with a handy three goals to go with her defensive efforts at centre back. Melanie Camilleri’s departure will have been a blow, but the Heidelberg faithful will be hoping Caitlin Friend can fill the gap.
Preston Lions looked set to struggle after an opening round thrashing to Casey Comets, but have strengthened wisely since then.
While they are still far from a balanced outfit, the short term additions of Scottish imports Ruadh Houston and Karen Penglase have added much needed steel to the team.
Sarah Sumner continues to impress in an unfamiliar sweeper role, but Preston will have to find a way to deal with Angela Talevska’s unfortunate long-term injury.
Last season’s grand finalists Sandringham have looked out of sorts for much of this season.
Losing the exciting Ashley Brown to Matildas duty and illness every other week will not have helped, but surely much more was expected of the team this season.
Forward Stephanie Tanti is still a cut above the rest, but it is Emma Runnalls who has been impressing this season. Sandy fans will hope the team can pick up and embark on a winning run over the next few weeks.
Last but not least, defending champions South Melbourne Womens have looked uncharacteristically vulnerable at times, but are somehow still only two points off the pace.
Last year’s top scorer and WPL gold medal winner Laura Spiranovic has continued where she left off with an astonishing nine goals up to now, but she has been ably supported by strike partner Ellvana Curo who has added seven of her own.
While South can be expected to outscore their opponents on a weekly basis, the lack of a plan B is worrying at times. With not much quality in midfield, the game plan so far has been to absorb pressure and then knock the ball long for Spiranovic and Curo to score on the counter.
With the veteran Niki Cook in goal and nine girls scrambling forming a defensive screen in front of her, South have so far managed to keep up with runaway leaders Box Hill.
With twelve rounds of the WPL still to go, the battle lines have been drawn. Whether fighting for the title at the top or scrapping to avoid relegation down below, it’s all to play for here in Victoria.
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