A moment of individual skill was enough to separate the sides in the long-delayed Kate Sheppard Cup final and see the trophy go to the capital for the first time.
Sarah Alder’s goal in the 55th minute gave her Wellington United side a 1-0 win against Hamilton Wanderers at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium.
At that stage of the final, Wanderers were generating most of the game’s chances and Wellington’s Diamonds were looking to hit them on the break.
On one such counterattack, United’s Danielle Ohlsson attacked the right flank and crossed into the penalty area.
Alder, best known for her foot skills as a futsal Fern, timed her near-post run to perfection. She rose to the cross, heading it down and beneath the despairing dive of Wanderers’ goalkeeper Rylee Godbold.
The 24-year-old’s goal turned the game.
Only two minutes before, Wanderers had their best chance when striker Helen Arjomandi bustled through three defenders but shot at ‘keeper Molly Simons.
Instead, Wanderers were behind with half an hour to go.
Wanderers poured on the pressure, made changes off their bench and their sense of urgency increased as the game played out.
Midfielder Main was outstanding and won the Maia Jackman Trophy
The Waikato side looked to Arjomandi, sending long balls upfield, or to centre back Michaela Foster whose confident runs carried the ball forward.
Wellington continued to punish Wanderers with fast breaks.
Midfielder Emma Main was outstanding, always available in the centre of the pitch and quick to use the ball for effect. Her performance earned her the Maia Jackman Trophy for Player of the Match.
Pepi Oliver-Bell always looked dangerous on the left wing; the backline coped well with Arjomandi and, later, Chelsea Elliott when the defender was pushed forward by coach Scott Bult.
United ‘keeper Simons confidently dealt with Wanderers set pieces, which they used to good effect with curling crosses to their tallest players.
Seven minutes of added time
As legs tired and lungs burned, the officials flagged there would be seven minutes of added time.
When the clock was at 90+2′, Wanderers’ Elliot got her head to a cross, looping the ball above Simons and seemingly towards the goal. But Simons flung herself backwards and claimed the ball.
Two minutes later, Wanderers fired a shot that Simons took cleanly.
And then, with 97 minutes played, Wellington almost wrapped up the game when Main broke clear and tried to lob ‘keeper Godbold.
She launched herself high, tipping the ball wide and for a corner.
From there, Wellington’s players ran down the clock and showed their collective relief when referee Lindsey Robinson — who controlled the game well — blew for full-time.
After the game, Wanderers captain Maddi Ollington said her team had created chances “but we just couldn’t get one over the line.”
A relieved United skipper, Hope Gilchrist, said she had been surprised when the length of added time was announced but she was pleased with the way her team had applied themselves.
The team’s preparation for the final had been disrupted by COVID-19 and torrential rain during the week had robbed them of a training session.
For Hamilton Wanderers, who were gallant in defeat, the game signalled the break-up of a successful team with several players moving to Auckland and others to Christchurch and Australia.
For a competition that began last June and was dogged by COVID-related delays, the final brought closure to a difficult 2021 season.
The good news?
Entries for the 2022 Kate Sheppard Cup close on Thursday (March 31).
Visit the following link to Sky Sport NEXT to watch the match replay:
1994 Nomads United (Christchurch)
1995 Waikato Unicol (Hamilton)
1996 Lynn-Avon United (Auckland)
1997 Three Kings United (Auckland)
1998 Three Kings United (Auckland)
1999 Three Kings United (Auckland)
2000 Lynn-Avon United (Auckland)
2001 Ellerslie (Auckland)
2002 Lynn-Avon United (Auckland)
2003 Lynn-Avon United (Auckland)
2004 Lynn-Avon United (Auckland)
2005 Lynn-Avon United (Auckland)
2006 Lynn-Avon United (Auckland)
2007 Western Springs (Auckland)
2008 Lynn-Avon United (Auckland)
2009 Lynn-Avon United (Auckland)
2010 Claudelands Rovers (Hamilton)
2011 Glenfield Rovers (Auckland)
2012 Three Kings United (Auckland)
2013 Coastal Spirit (Christchurch)
2014 Glenfield Rovers (Auckland)
2015 Glenfield Rovers (Auckland)
2016 Forrest Hill Milford United (Auckland)
2017 Glenfield Rovers (Auckland)
2018 Dunedin Technical (Dunedin)
2019 Eastern Suburbs (Auckland)
2020 No competition
2021 Wellington United (Wellington)
The Kate Sheppard Cup is supported by the NZ Football Foundation.