A torrential downpour which caused a 45 minute delay in the start of the NWS Koalas/Sutherland Sharks clash failed to dampen the spirit in both sides for this big clash.
The Koalas got off to a brisk start Natalie Spirovski and Meegan Shepherd combining before Shepherd?s shot from the right of the box sailed over the bar.
The Koalas were using the full expanse of the pitch right from kick off with both Meegan Shepherd and Anna McLean making dangerous runs down the flanks. The Koalas obviously meant business and The Sharks battling under the pressure to cope with the manner in which their defence was being stretched.
It was no surprise when, after only four minutes, a beautiful cross by Spirovski found McLean deep in the Sharks box for McLean to head in the opening goal.
This was obviously a big setback for Sutherland who were struggling to keep pace with the speed of the game The Koalas were forcing on them. Koalas Rachel Jones came forward in some nice build up before Meegan Shepherd was once again off target with her shot.
Soon after a quick Koalas free kick saw Rachel Jones break clear. Her ball to the edge of the box was contested by Sanaa Hawkins but she was brought down in a hard but legitimate tackle that left her requiring attention.
The Sharks were struggling to build any attacking momentum but, at the 8 minute mark, a good sequence of passing saw Shellee Gibson break free only to be called back for offside.
Shortly after a free kick ten metres outside the Sharks penalty box saw Natalie Spirovski?s shot cleared by the desperate Sharks defence. Sutherland started to get their passing game together but still with not enough effect to test The Koalas defence. The best scoring opportunities, however, continued to fall to the Koalas with good lead up work by Alicia Cavanagh seeing Hawkins pirouetting on the edge of the box but being called back for a foul as she was about to pull the trigger.
Soon after Spirovski, who was dominant in the middle of the park, again released Shepherd whose shot was fumbled but ultimately held by Sharks keeper Carlee Dreaves. More chances soon followed with Cavanagh causing havoc in the gritty Shark?s defence before great work from defender Adrijana Cirjak saw Hawkins involved before Danni Calvi shot over the bar.
The Sharks? Maggie El Husseini was trying hard to create something from the very few options she was being given.
At the 21 minute mark she broke into the Koalas penalty box but was dispossessed before being able to shoot. Koalas then broke out with lead up from a number of players leading to Meegan Shepherd shooting to The Sharks keeper. Cavanagh and McLean then combined before a great cross evaded both Hawkins and Shepherd. A return cross by Shepherd was then headed clear by The Sharks defence.
The Sharks got their first shot on goal at the 28 minute mark of the half when Jodie Todd, Maggie El Husseini and Jenai Shearer worked some magic with Shearer?s shot going wide and high. Sutherland were finally starting to mount a little pressure of their own.
That pressure paid off in the 32nd minute of the half. A long ball from The Shark?s Amy Hand found Nadia Hamson. Hamson?s seemingly harmless ball through was misjudged by the Koalas keeper. El Husseini burst through to intercept then sprinted around the keeper to slot away the equaliser.
After all The Koalas domination it was now 1-1! NWS were stunned by this turn of events but burst onto the attack again with shots by Cavanagh, Spirovski and Rachel Doyle coming in quick succession prior to half time. In the 43rd minute The Sharks lost Amy Hand to a jewellery malfunction and she was replaced by Cara Blake.
The Sharks Coach Michael Michael would have been very happy to see his girls head for the dressing sheds on an even keel with a Koalas side who?d looked so dangerous during the first stanza.
The second half hadn?t even commenced when Sharks player Jenna Flight was given a yellow card by referee Dee Johnson for another jewellery malfunction. What is it with these Sharks girls and their earrings?
The Koalas had replaced Shepherd with Jackie Frier. NWS went straight onto the attack with Calvi shooting wide from distance in the opening moments of the half. The 5th minute saw a yellow card issued to Koalas Rachel Jones after a rough tackle on El Housseini.
The ensuing free kick from the edge of the penalty box flew harmlessly to The Koalas keeper. A distance shot from Koalas Rachel Doyle followed but flew wide. Doyle was becoming much more involved in the second half and was causing the Sutherland defence plenty of headaches.
Koalas were not afraid to build from the back with Cirjak quite involved. However, space in the attacking quarter was now hard to come by as The Sharks marshalled their defence well. The Koalas were finding it tough to break their opponents down with meaningful opportunities being harder to come by.
At the 20 minute mark Leonore Carr replaced Danni Calvi for Koalas.
Play was centred in the Sutherland half. Whilst NWS were building momentum the last pass wouldn?t quite find its mark. The Sharks, however, were turning over possession therefore leaving themselves under pressure.
A Rachel Jones speculator from distance showed how frustrated The Koalas were becoming. A nice ball by Carr released the busy Jackie Frier but she was dispossessed by Adriana Michael on the edge of The Sharks penalty box.
More opportunities followed for The Koalas with Spirovski working with Cavanagh before the latter?s pass across goal was headed away by the defence.
Similar work by Cavanagh and Frier caused more worrying moments for The Sharks but the girls from the shire were impressing everyone with their gritty display. At the 36 minute mark of the second half Sutherland subbed Hamson with Elyse McNally.
However, despite the gallant effort from Sutherland?s girls the 38th minute of the half saw Spirovski work her bag of tricks on the edge of the area before releasing Cavanagh who made no mistake with a solid shot for goal. Despair for Sutherland, elation for Koalas!
McNally and El Husseini worked hard to create an escape for Sutherland but the final touch went astray. The best chances in the final minutes fell to The Koalas with a Rachel Doyle header hitting the cross bar in the closing seconds.
Final score NWS Koalas 2, Sutherland Sharks 1.
Sharks Coach Michael Michael felt that his team played ?very, very well?. Michael said that his side was competitive for most of the game and had given a 100% effort. A few injuries had made the task a little tougher for Sharks but Michael said that Koalas deserved their win. He was pleased with the efforts of Shellee Gibson, Jodie Todd and Adriana Michael.
NWS Koalas Coach Claude De Francesco saw this as a very difficult match. He gave Sutherland plenty of credit for their well organised defence. De Francesco felt Sutherland had played well but that a quality strike had made the difference. He stated that The Koalas have a lot of quality in their side. It?s always a good sign, De Francesco said, when your team doesn?t play well but still gets the pints. The winning Coach though that his side was best served by Lara Nielsen at right back and Rachel Doyle who played with plenty of energy.
This was tough struggle. Not always a pretty game but entertaining nonetheless as both sides battled to get the edge. The Koalas looked formidable at both ends of the park. They are surely major title contenders on their three wins so far. The Sutherland girls should not be too disheartened. They showed themselves quite capable of finals football with an honest display.
In other Arrive Alive NSW Womens Premier League results;
Macarthur Rams 12 beat Central Coast Lightning 0
A shattering result for the Lightning girls with Renee Cartwright and Kylie Ledbrook both scoring four goals for The Rams. Central Coast Coach Scott Howison will be wondering just where he can turn from here with his young squad. The defending Premiers, Macarthur, showed that they won?t be surrendering their title without a fight.
The remaining games, Marconi v Sydney University and Manly United FC v Penrith Nepean FC were washed out. They are likely to be replayed mid week. Details will be advised.
-By Ross Anderson