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Opinion

'The season is a sprint, not a marathon': A-League Women Round 9 talking points

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Expert
1st February, 2022
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Whether it’s the W-League or the A-League Women, one thing is certain: this competition knows how to be chaotic. In fact, it is at its best and most entertaining when it is chaotic.

The short season length is undoubtedly frustrating and needs to be lengthened, however it is a key contributor in the chaos.

Because the season is a sprint, and not a marathon, a 3-3 draw between the winless Canberra United and a Newcastle Jets side fighting for finals can’t be written off.

It will have very real consequences for the teams’ seasons.

Jets vs Canberra was the game of the weekend. The one where you sat, mouth agape, laughing with incredulity.

That the insanity was ultimately condensed into a five-minute period adds to the overall allure.

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Six minutes into the second half, Newcastle were 2-1 up thanks to a stunning Marie Dolvik finish and Sophie Harding’s speed and neat finishing. Ash Sykes’ stuck-out leg meant the team in green were still in this game.

From the 60th minute, it began. Dolvik – a key player not only in this game but in the Jets’ season – was subbed off. In that same minute, a Canberra free kick fell perfectly to the shins of Michelle Heyman, bouncing off into the path of Sykes to secure her double.

Two minutes later, Margot Robinne’s centimetre-perfect cross only needed the slightest coaxing from Allira Toby to hit the back of the net. It was her first goal in two years and an important one at that after a horror move to Portugal and time spent on the pine at Sydney FC.

Canberra had gone from 2-1 down to 3-2 up in the blink of an eye.

But just as quickly, that would all change. From the restart, the Jets retained possession before Ashlee Brodigan played through Sunny Franco. Her shot across the face of goal into the far corner was too hot for Keely Richards to handle and so we had equilibrium once again.

And so, the spoils were shared, and it can be argued that nothing was really gleaned about either side in the context of the season. But it was incredibly fun to watch.

The Suitcase Derby
Dubbed ‘The Distance Derby’ in the men’s game – for the obvious, large distance between Wellington and Perth – the name felt out of place for a game between two sides currently hubbing in NSW.

As coined by Neil Bennett, ‘The Suitcase Derby’ felt much more appropriate.

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We must continue to acknowledge the great personal sacrifices these teams are making to keep the season moving. That they are continuing to produce great contests and entertaining football is a credit to both set ups.

For the Nix, it was a feeling of déjà vu – two goals on the board and a deserved lead followed by mountains of pressure and opposition chances which would ultimately find the back of the net.

Alyssa Whinham was once again joyous in her celebrations, this time after playing a perfect pass for Grace Jale to finish. Chloe Knott’s tenacity and pressure created Wellington’s second where she pickpocketed Morgan Aquino.

Sofia Sakalis’ first-half goal opened the scoring for the match and Perth pushed for both the equaliser and winner in the second half. Their persistence paid off with Cyera Hintzen and Mie Leth Jans ensuring they banked the three points.

Perth’s form and finals credentials have been difficult to judge due to their covid postponements but if this is what they can offer up, the race for the final four is set to be fascinating.

As for Wellington, a win is coming, and with Canberra scheduled in next week, the Nix could be primed to pounce. For Perth, this victory was important for their finals aspirations, putting them in the top four for the first time in a couple of seasons.

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It’s final-ly time for Adelaide
While Sydney FC and Melbourne City still appear to be the two best sides in the competition, Adelaide United’s 3-0 win over the Wanderers has cemented them as the third. If they continue as they are, they will remain in the top four and finally, finally, breakthrough for their maiden finals campaign.

Without discrediting the Phoenix, their defensive efforts and ever-growing confidence, the Reds would have been disappointed to only put one past them last week in stifling conditions.

However, the most important thing there was that the Reds got the win. In cooler conditions and against a stingy defence, Adelaide flexed their muscles and made a compelling case for a finals berth.

Chelsie Dawber continued her breakout season scoring a double, with both goals classy, low-strikes into the opposite corner which is now a Dawber trademark. Kayla Sharples was credited with the opener after some chaos from a corner.

The Reds appear to be the whole package. A strengthened defence, fluid midfield, and firing forward line.

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Keeper credit
I have previously covered off the goalkeeping errors that seemed to pop during the opening rounds of the comp, writing that keeper errors, by nature, are bigger and look more catastrophic than most other errors on the pitch.

While pointing them out was important, recognising the good work those between the sticks have done is just as crucial.

This round seemed to force the best out of those who don the gloves.

Melissa Barbieri doesn’t give away her age when she plays and she has lost none of the talent or bravery which made her a stalwart Matilda.

Her positioning and reflexes were excellent when she denied Larissa Crummer with her foot, and you couldn’t help but wince and be awed at the same when she dove in to deny Shea Connors, snatching the ball into her stomach, her head ending up where the ball had been.

Down the other end of the pitch, although Mia Bailey was unable to stop Rhianna Pollicina’s free kick or Hannah Wilkinson’s header, she kept Brisbane in this game for much of it getting hands to shots from Leah Davidson and Rebekah Stott.

Western Sydney Wanderers’ Sarah Langman has been in magnificent form and pulled some more stunning saves in her side’s 3-0 loss to Adelaide. A point blank, double-save off a corner was chaotic and breathtaking, while her acrobatics denied Dylan Holmes what would have been a spectacular goal.

Annalee Grove ensured Adelaide’s win came with a side of clean sheet when she came up big to deny Alex Huynh a first-ever league goal.

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Then there was Lily Alfeld’s efforts off the corner to repel Perth Glory, Keely Richards’ save on Sunny Franco’s shot, and Claire Coelho’s phenomenal stop which earned a wry smile and pat on the back from Michelle Heyman.

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