The Wellington Phoenix have come close to becoming the first side to take a point from Western United in the Liberty A-League.
The Phoenix conceded a late goal to lose 1-0 to the competition front-runners in an evenly contested match at City Vista Recreation Reserve in Melbourne.
Natalie Lawrence’s side delivered a vastly improved performance from just six weeks ago when they were beaten 4-1 by Western at Sky Stadium.
The Nix defence, marshalled by centre back Mackenzie Barry and Marisa van der Meer, limited the opportunities for Western’s dangerous American forwards Jess McDonald and Hannah Keane and goalkeeper Brianna Edwards produced a couple of tidy saves when she was required.
But the hosts were able to find a breakthrough 12 minutes from fulltime to deny the Phoenix back-to-back points for the first time in their history.
“There’s a lot of feelings,” Lawrence said post-match. “A feeling of pride in how much we’ve improved and how we really took it to them.
“I asked them to show strength and courage and they did that and they fought right until the end.
“There’s that coupled with just being gutted. Just gutted for them that they didn’t get the result that they deserved, again.
“If I look at this game and the Adelaide game we deserved points out of it.”
Lawrence is also proud of how her players performed in stifling conditions on a sub-standard pitch.
“I look at this field that we played on today and we’ve trained on better fields.
“I don’t know how this is A-League standard. There’s patches everywhere. You can see that the ball is bobbling.
“I thought the officials were the best we’ve had all season, but I thought this field was by far the worst. It doesn’t set a good standard for A-League football I think.”
Ferns forward Emma Rolston in starting line-up
Natalie Lawrence made one enforced change to the XI which started the 1-1 draw with Western Sydney on Monday, with fit-again forward Emma Rolston replacing fellow Football Fern Betsy Hassett in midfield.
Stand-in skipper Chloe Knott dropped back into the base of the midfield, with Rolston starting in behind the front three.
Michaela Robertson continued where she left off on Monday, with the winger a constant menace down the left flank in the first half.
Robertson almost created a goalscoring opportunity straight from the opening kick-off, but unfortunately her touch got away from her on the edge of the Western box.
Rolston came close to teeing up the diminutive winger moments later but Western ‘keeper Hillary Beall was quick off her line to beat Robertson to the through ball.
The Phoenix conceded a couple of early corners but defended them well.
The hosts had more of the possession in the first 45, but much of it was in their own half and the Nix defence, led by Barry and van der Meer, dealt with the threat of Western’s dangerous forwards.
Wellington had the first shots of the match, with Ava Pritchard and Grace Wisnewski both shooting wide of goal in the opening quarter of an hour.
Edwards was largely untroubled in the Phoenix goal, but was up to the task when required.
She produced a great double save to deny Keane in the 36th minute, either side of a fine block from van der Meer.
The goalkeeper’s efforts ensured the match remained scoreless at halftime.
Edwards had to keep her wits about her early in the second-half too. She came off her line quickly to get a hand to a shot from Emma Robers, who burst forward from midfield and in to the Nix box.
Wellington were the happier of the sides at the break with Western United coach Mark Torcaso the first to go to his bench, bringing on Serbia international Tyla Jay Vlajnic in place of Kahli Johnson.
Vlajnic found a bit of space in the box midway through the second-half, but her shot was well held by Edwards.
In the following 10 minutes Wisnewski had a couple of long-range efforts that were unable to test Beall in the hosts’ goal.
Western United eventually broke the Phoenix’s resistance 13 minutes from fulltime. Vlajnic was able to loop a header inside Brianna Edwards’ left-hand post after the Nix gave away a free-kick just inside their half.
Wellington pressed for an equaliser and were able to deliver a number of crosses into the hosts’ box, but were ultimately unable to score a levelling goal.
The Wellington Phoenix women return home on Sunday to start preparations for next Sunday’s match against the Glory in Perth.
Game played on Saturday January 7, 2023
Western United 1 (Tyla Vlajnic 78′)
Wellington Phoenix 0
21. Hillary BEALL (gk) (c), 2. Stacey PAPADOPOULOS, 5. Aimee MEDWIN (7. Francesca IERMANO 82nd), 8. Jessica MCDONALD, 9. Hannah KEANE (18. Aleksandra SINCLAIR 89th), 10. Kahli JOHNSON (19. Tyla Jay VLAJNIC 46th), 11. Emma ROBERS, 15. Adriana TARANTO, 16. Melissa TARANTO (14. Natasha DAKIC 86th), 20. Sydney CUMMINGS, 22. Alana CERNE.
Unused substitutes: 1. Alyssa DALLOSTE (gk).
12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 2. Saskia VOSPER, 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER, 7. Chloe KNOTT (c), 8. Grace WISNEWSKI, 9. Ava PRITCHARD, 14. Michaela ROBERTSON (19. Charlotte LANCASTER 71st), 16. Emma ROLSTON (18. Te Reremoana WALKER 61st), 20. Milly CLEGG (15. Zoe MCMEEKEN 85th), 21. Michaela FOSTER.
Unused substitutes: 22. Georgia CANDY (gk), 17. Claudia CICCO.
18. Te Reremoana WALKER (Wellington Phoenix) – yellow – 88th
18. Aleksandra SINCLAIR (Western United) – yellow – 90th