Review: A League, The Story So Far…22 Dec, 2021
With the Liberty A-League Women season three games into the campaign, things are starting to take shape. Ben Gilby reviews how each team in the ‘Dub’ have started so far and tries hard not to be overly biased and excited about his beloved Perth Glory.
Adelaide United: After the heartbreak of last season when they missed the end of campaign Finals by just one goal, it was a tough close-season. Key players Dylan Holmes, Charli Grant and Cote Rojas all left and whilst the remainder of the squad was largely kept together, the early weeks were always going to be hard.
Whilst the table might show two losses and nine goals conceded in three games, the performances tell a different story. Adelaide have been pretty decent. Last weekend saw United travel to AAMI Park to face big guns Melbourne City and completely dominate the second half, it was a late goal against the run of play that condemned them to a 3-1 loss.
Pick of the crop for the Reds so far is Fiona Worts, who has followed up an outstanding season with Fulham United in the South Australia Women’s NPL with some hugely influential performances in the opening weeks.
The news that Dylan Holmes has returned to the club from BK Häcken now that the Swedish side’s UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign is over is a huge boost.
They are likely to be one of a pack of four sides chasing the last spot in the Finals.
Brisbane Roar: Frustration and déjà vu are the words that sum up the Queenslanders start to the campaign. They have conceded goals in the final five minutes of every game so far which has condemned them to three straight losses.
Despite this, the Roar are creating endless goal scoring opportunities. Shea Connors and Mariel Hecher have started the season in fine form, but the big difference is that last season they had Emily Gielnik to convert those opportunities into goals. With Gielnik at Aston Villa in the FAWSL now, Brisbane haven’t yet found a master goal poacher to replace her.
This was always going to be a transitional season for a team with a lot of young local talent in it. Crowds in Brisbane are loud and proud with gates of 1,200 and 2,700 at their two home games so far.
Finals are likely to be out of their reach this season, but if they can start converting the endless chances they create into goals soon, then one team is going to cop an absolute hiding before too long.
Canberra United: Another team whose performances do not reflect their league standing. Vicki Linton’s exciting lime green machine have lost both their opening games, but have enough about them to suggest that they remain a threat for Finals football.
When you have Australian football legend, Michelle Heyman, up front with Allira Toby, the consistently impressive and creative Grace Maher plus American midfielder Chelsee Washington, you are always going to be a contender in the competition.
A last gasp loss to a wonderful piece of skill by Adelaide United’s Nanako Sasaki last time out was hard to take, but Canberra have had a week off to regroup and if they can pick up a minimum of four points over the two Christmas games, they will be back where they belong.
Melbourne City: Everyone’s hot tip to finish in the top three, City’s start to the campaign has been greatly impacted by their inability to play at the top of their form for more than the opening hour in each of their three games to date.
It was enough to get a win at Canberra United on the opening day, but they came unstuck against deadly cross city rivals Melbourne Victory a fortnight ago and, arguably they should have done again against Adelaide United at the weekend when a Fiona Worts inspired South Australian side dominated the second half and were pushing for an equaliser before Perth-born Leticia McKenna broke away and squared for Hannah Wilkinson to make it 3-1 four minutes into second half stoppage time.
Boxing Day’s Melbourne derby with Victory is massive. If City can take a minimum of a point then they are back as being a serious threat. Defeat would put them back in mid-table.
Melbourne Victory: Jeff Hopkins’ star-studded defending champions are unbeaten and top of the table despite not quite playing to their full potential yet.
Strong at the back, with creativity galore in midfield, Victory are a team that when fully firing, will be nigh on impossible to stop. Lynn Williams, Alex Chidiac, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Courtney Nevin are four of the competitions’ top players and they are all wearing navy this season.
It is, effectively Victory’s competition to lose this season, but their Boxing Day derby with cross city rivals City and their showdown with another side packed full of class, Sydney FC on 25th January are going to be monumental and likely to attract big crowds.
Newcastle Jets: In a bid to improve on several seasons of promising performances but disappointing results, Jets’ talented head coach Ash Wilson has brought in some exciting players for this season. Home town hero Emily van Egmond is back on loan along with overseas signings Liz Eddy and Marie Markussen. Add in a core of talent who have been with the club for years such as Hannah Brewer, Tara Andrews, Cassidy Davis, and Gema Simon and there are the makings of a team who should be pushing for Finals.
Jets, always backed by a large and loyal vocal fan base, are a joy to watch – there is a spirit and togetherness about their squad which very few other sides can match. When so many of the players have stayed with the club for so long despite receiving numerous offers from “bigger” teams, you know things are good behind the scenes.
With the opening weeks of the season seeing teams largely playing against teams within their own state, Jets have been unlucky with the schedule as fellow New South Wales outfit Sydney FC are exceptionally strong. A comfortable win over Wellington Phoenix was followed up being denied a win against Western Sydney Wanderers by a goal at the death. If Newcastle can pick up points against the likes of Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane, then they can still be part of the pack of four pushing for the last finals spot.
Perth Glory: The Western Australian side entered this season without a win in 19 months. Then, like London buses, two came along in quick succession – both achieved in sensational style. Oh the scenes when those games were won. And that’s just in my own living room in Surrey.
Head coach Alex Epakis is extremely level headed and wants his team to play football the right way. He has put together a team packed full of some of the most exciting youngsters that Australian women’s football has to offer. Alana Jancevski (18-years-old) is a sensational prospect with a long range shot that any player would love to have in their locker. Hana Lowry (18) is a local talent who gets better each season, Tijan McKenna (17) – another local kid with pace and poise in the midfield, who recently spoke to me about how she combines full time school (Australia’s end of High School leaving age is 17 rather than 16 here in England) with playing professional football. Additionally, there is Susan Phonsongkham (20), with her twinkling feet and Poppie Hooks (16) a local star who already has physicality and great pace.
In defence, there is the experience of Kim Carroll, Tash Rigby and Sarah Carroll in front of the excellent Morgan Aquino in goal.
You then throw into the mix Perth’s striking partnership. Australian footballing legend Lisa De Vanna is back at her home town club at the age of 37. Whilst her off the pitch activities can be highly questionable, on the pitch she is still in possession of her magic wand and lightning pace. Paired with English striker Gemma Craine, who moved to Western Australia some years ago and played in the state’s Women’s NPL competition with Fremantle City and Perth SC with great success, and you have the makings of a great partnership.
Craine has pace to burn and great physicality. She is a classic centre-forward and a real handful for the best in the league.
Perth have won both their games this season at the death which shows never say die spirit and determination.
The only thing that might stop them playing Finals football this season is the Covid border restrictions in Western Australia which has meant that two games in a row have been called off and the Glory face six successive away games before the border re-opens in early February. Three of those are officially home games, which means that when teams can travel to Perth again, the purples will have significantly fewer home games to take advantage of.
Despite this, Alex Epakis told me last week that he sees positives in the enforced break his team are currently on as “we have picked up a few niggles in the last two matches and it just gives us time to overcome those and iron out any kinks in what we’re doing. So come our next match in early January, we’ll be in a better place.”
Sydney FC: A team jam packed full of attacking talent. Australian international Remy Siemsen, the outstanding Cortnee Vine, the creativity of Princess Ibini and the outrageous skill of Chilean superstar Cote Rojas.
If you’ve never watched Rojas, then check your BT Sport listings and check out Sydney FC’s A-League Women games this season. She is an absolute superstar.
The South American has previously lit up the competition with Adelaide United and was in ridiculous form for Salisbury Inter during the South Australia Women’s NPL. Rojas is full of trickery and pace. Her trademarks are the curled long through ball with the outside of her foot, quick feet, swivel turns, and immense upper body strength. She is an absolute sensation.
Sydney are also strong at the back with some of the competition’s best defenders in Nat Tobin, Charlotte Mclean and Ally Green.
The Sky Blues, with three wins from three are scoring some sensational goals and are well worth watching every week. What makes it scary is that I truly believe that they are still playing nowhere near their potential. They can take the title from Melbourne Victory.
Wellington Phoenix: The first pro women’s team from New Zealand face an uphill battle because they were finally allowed into the competition so late in pre-season that many players who they would have potentially targeted to sign were already taken by other clubs.
Also factor in that due to coronavirus border restrictions, they are unable to play home games in New Zealand until February at the earliest, and the ‘Nix’ were up against it from the start.
However, a fantastic head coach in Gemma Lewis has put together an exciting squad whose average age is just 19.
They have some outstanding players. Kate Taylor is just 18 and reads the game in defence like someone twice her age. She is also a fascinating player to speak to – a recent interview I did with her revealed a youngster with a deep knowledge of the game and one who played with and against boys until two years ago, such was her desire to challenge herself.
Up front, goals are hard to come by, but another teenager, Alyssa Whinham showed enough trickery against Sydney FC last time out to show that she can create against the best.
Phoenix opened with a sensational draw against Western Sydney Wanderers. Successive defeats conceding eight goals in total against Newcastle Jets and Sydney FC was no shame – both sides are very strong and the Kiwis produced enough in both games to suggest they won’t be pushovers.
It is quite possible that they can avoid bottom spot – and that would be huge.
Western Sydney Wanderers: It’s been a tough start to the campaign for Catherine Cannuli’s team and they are certainly not as strong as last year.
However, the positives have all come from the youngsters. The club have arguably Australia’s best set up for junior players and the Western Sydney area has a long history of producing excellent footballers in a city that is a Rugby League hotbed. Wanderers’ Bryleeh Henry earned her first Matildas cap this year and there is also the fairytale story of Ashlie Crofts.
Crofts, a locally raised 23-year-old midfielder was a season ticket holder with the club and spent match days with the club’s most passionate, vocal and colourful fan group, ‘The Red and Black Bloc’. She came on to make her debut for Wanderers the weekend just gone and scored a late equaliser to save a point for her team against Newcastle Jets.
Teenage midfielder Sheridan Gallagher has also stood out – she is a rumbustious presence who ensures that her opponents know she is around.
Goal-scoring is a big issue though as Crofts’ last gasp leveller against the Jets last weekend the only time they have hit the back of the net all season. At the moment, Wanderers do not have someone who looks like they are going to score regularly and that means that they are likely to be battling it out with Wellington Phoenix to avoid the wooden spoon.
BT Sport are broadcasting every single Liberty A-League Women’s match live this season. Check listings for details.