By Joan Grey
Close marking of Southern United’s star striker Amy Hislop was one of the keys to Auckland United’s national women’s title victory, says winning coach Ben Bate.
After his side’s 2-0 win in the Grand Final at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart, Auckland United head coach Bate said his side’s gameplan included closing down Hislop who had scored seven goals in 10 Women’s National League games.
“We made sure that we got players in the front and back of Amy Hislop especially,” Bate said.
“She’s a very, very good player, so dealing with her was key. She’s a fantastic performer and has scored a lot of goals and assists this year.”
Hislop had the game’s first chance when she headed Kendrah Smith’s cross onto the crossbar and came close a second time when her 52nd-minute long-range shot forced a diving save from Auckland United goalkeeper Aimee Hall.
Main photo: Auckland United’s Alexis Cook and Rene Wasi celebrate their side’s first goal. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.
One of Auckland United’s strengths this year has been their squad depth and young players coming through.
Three of their Grand Final starting eleven are current New Zealand age-group representatives.
Auckland United’s Kate McConnell said: “We have loads of young girls that have been able to come on and show what they have to give to us, which is super exciting for the future.”
Auckland United centre-back Chelsea Elliot said: “We’re a close bunch, and I think we all bring each other together, and we just showed that on the field.”
Despite losing the final, Southern United coach Kris Ridley was upbeat about what his squad had achieved.
“We’re really proud. We take a lot from this. Getting to the grand final for us is a massive achievement for our region,” he said in his post-match interview.
“Auckland United are a class young side. They’ve won the double, the NRF league, and now the National League final. They play good football, but taking nothing away from us, we do too. We did it all season.”
Southern United is a Dunedin-based regional side that combines the best talent from 21 feeder clubs across Otago and Southland.
The regional team strategy appears to have been validated through Southern United’s impressive performance in the National League, reaching the Grand Final ahead of powerhouse Auckland clubs such as Eastern Suburbs and Western Springs.
Auckland United and Southern United, both in their first Grand Final, were evenly matched and the sides shared possession for most of the game.
“We turned up for a grand final, and we started well,” Ridley said.
“We had a hard adjustment to a really good side. We made a couple of mistakes, and they executed really well, and we went 2-nil down.”
Southern United employed an attacking game plan that made for an exciting final, but Ridley knew it wasn’t without risk.
“We played a 3-5-2, we pushed even higher towards the end to try and try to get something, but it just wasn’t to be today.“
Women’s National League
Game played on Sunday November 26, 2023
Women’s National League Grand Final
Auckland United 2 (Alexis Cook 24′, Maisy Dewell 57′)
Southern United 0
Friends of Football writer Joan Grey loves playing and writing about football. She plays football for Franklin United.