This game saw the meeting of the competition leaders, Western NSW Panthers, against an Inter Lions side that is one of four teams in the keenly contested battle for fourth spot on the competition table.
The Panthers are undefeated through the first ten rounds of the competition. Inter Lions came into the game after a 7-0 loss to Illawarra Stingrays last weekend. By all accounts The Lions had played better than the scoreboard suggested but would that help them in a confrontation with the league?s hottest team?
Inter didn?t have long to wait to find out exactly what they were up against. In only the 2nd minute of play Vanessa Hart combined neatly with Gillian Rosconi, who then flicked a pass that sent the flying Ashleigh Sykes into the clear. Sykes speed took her around the defence before she stepped Inter keeper Trudy Bartlett and calmly slotted away the opening goal.
Hart, who had recently rejoined The Panthers after a stint in the USA on a football scholarship, was prominent in every attacking raid the Bathurst girls put together in this early period. Rosconi also was tormenting the Inter defence with her silken skills. Inter were having obvious problems in dealing with The Panthers pace, especially on the edges of the field.
Shannon Waine was heavily involved in Western?s attack as well with an opportunity coming her way in the 12th minute after her persistence won her possession on the edge of The Lions penalty are. Her shot, however, was wide of its target.
No such problem for Gillian Rosconi just two minutes later though when, after an inter defender had dithered on the ball, Rosconi stole possession to race away and clinically slam away The Panthers second goal. The Inter heads were drooping at this stage as the locals tried to figure out what had hit them.
The fans had little chance to resettle in their seats before The Panthers struck again. Sykes made a twisting run that cut across the face of the penalty box. Harassed by four Inter defenders Sykes turned, shifted onto her right foot and let go a sweet shot that skimmed under the cross bar. Suddenly, just like that, it was 3-0 to Western NSW Panthers! At this point any scoreline looked possible with a badly demoralised Inter Lions side faced with a dominant group of country visitors.
The Panthers showed no signs of letting up either with Waine, Rosconi and Sykes continuing to weave plenty of magic. However, fortunately for Inter, these opportunities weren?t taken with the same aplomb as Western?s earlier raids. Even Inter?s first corner, in the 25th minute, resulted in a lengthy break from Sykes that almost resulted in another Panthers goal.
Try as they might the Inter girls could not make a dent on The Panthers defence during this period. Most of The Lions attacks centred on individual dashes or long distance speculators. Niqui Caridad was trying hard to stem the tide for Inter but to no avail. The Panthers tested the Inter defence with a distance strike from Jade Braun which sailed wide and a free kick from Gillian Rosconi which went low, hard but wide of both the diving Inter keeper and her goal.
Inter?s best chance of the half came in the 43rd minute with various players stringing passes together before Jessica Abrahim broke clear. Her centre from the right flank, however, failed to find a target and the chance was lost.
The half time whistle blew with Western NSW Panthers holding a commanding 3-0 lead. It could have been a lot worse for Inter however.
Inter Lions Coach Joe Baldacci kept faith with his side by only making one change at half time; replacing Laurena Musico with Koo Barbi. His girls rewarded him by coming out of the blocks quickly for the second stanza. A fine run by Stephanie Haaring ended with a shot across the face of goal. Panthers keeper Sarah Hunt juggled the ball, almost dropping it back into her own goal.
Jade Braun continued to make her presence felt for The Panthers with a strong run resulting in a shot from distance by Rosconi. The ball fired just wide of the Inter goal. Inter started to dominate field position and possession. The locals weren?t necessarily playing a passing game but were more swarming like a pack of angry mosquitoes at their opponents.
The final passes weren?t really sticking; the shots were not of great quality, but Inter were at least making a game of it at last. Through this period Stephanie Haaring was prominent, chasing every through ball and causing various Panthers defenders to look over their shoulders. Did someone say that this young lady was only sixteen years of age?
The majority of the game was now being played in The Panthers half. Their own game appeared to have shut down somewhat with the earlier fluency disappearing. The Panthers didn?t necessarily look to be in trouble during this time but their play took on a look of frustration. In the 66th minute though, the Inter defence faltered. A poor clearance fell to Rosconi who passed to Braun. The Panthers number 11 shrugged her way past two defenders before releasing a solid shot that beat the keeper to extend The Panthers lead to 4-0.
Inter continued to press forward with some good passing between King, Semaan and Abrahim. This resulted in a corner but The Lions failed to take advantage. The Panthers snatched a chance of their own on the break with the ever dangerous Sykes breaking clear. However, her shot scorched over the cross bar.
A flurry of changes took place in a short period with Amberlea Ryan replacing Shannon Waine for Western NSW, Elisha Williams subbing for Nicole Ring whilst Inter replaced Kirsty Bridge with Souhier Yatim. The locals continued to hold a territorial advantage but couldn?t muster a meaningful strike.
On full time another hesitation by the Inter defence saw Ashleigh Sykes swoop on the ball and break away to score the third goal of a hat trick. Final score; 5-0 to Western NSW Panthers.
Panthers Coach Paul Waine is a man of few words. He felt that, under the conditions (very bloody cold and awfully damp!) this had been a hard fought win. Waine paid credit to Inter Lions in saying that, as in the first round game. Inter had given his girls a tough time. The game had been decided in the first 20 minutes said Waine. ?A win is a win?.
Inter Coach Joe Baldacci is always upbeat when it comes to his side. He was not disappointed with them but agreed with Waine in saying that the match was over after the first 20 minutes. Baldacci felt that the scoreline hadn?t done his team?s effort justice and that his girls had stood up well to The Panthers after that opening period. He mentioned Niqui Caridad, Jessica Abrahim, Jessica Hurst and Stephanie Haaring as stand outs for The Lions.
Joe still feels that his girls will make the semi finals, despite their inexperience.
The Panthers were a bit too classy today. After 20 minutes a cricket score looked on the cards. The Panthers seemed to take their foot off the accelerator at that point, though that shouldn?t deny the fact that Inter lifted their effort considerably after the first three goals were scored. The Panthers will be very hard to beat come finals time, especially now that Vanessa Hart is back. Inter? They are still in the finals hunt but the next few weeks will be crucial for them, starting with their clash with St George in the next round.
Inter Lions 0
Western NSW Panthers 5 (A.Sykes 3, G. Rosconi, J.Braun)
Elsewhere on the day, the other big match of the round resulted in Southern NSW FC beating Gladesville Ravens convincingly by 4-0 at Ison Park, Nowra. Southern had established a 3-0 lead by half time with goals to Cobb in the 5th and 33rd minutes followed by a 42nd minute strike to Katie French. Golden Boot French added a second individual goal on the 88th minute mark to complete the scoring.
Southern kept up their strong home record, proving just too strong for third placed Gladesville on the day. The win moved Southern into the top four for the first time this season. Their recent form will have the top sides looking nervously over their shoulders as one of last season?s powerhouse sides starts to fire.
Southern NSW FC 4 (E.Cobb 2, K.French 2)
Gladesville Ravens 0
Illawarra Stingrays maintained second spot on the competition table with a dominant 6-1 win over St George FC at Peakhurst. The usual suspects did all the damage for The Stingrays with the visitors having cemented a 2-0 lead by half time through goals by Tina Siskoska (19m) and Michelle Carney (23m).
Illawarra raced away in the second half, adding four more goals with Hannah Minogue(2), Christie Akid and Michelle Carney bringing tears to the eyes of the St George fans. Saints did grab one of their own through Gatt in the 73 minute but it was a consolation only. St George were outplayed on the day; not necessarily a disgrace against an Illawarra side that make a habit of dishing out such treatment to their hapless opponents. St George have dropped to fifth on the ladder with this loss but they are still prominent in the race for the finals.
St George FC 1 (R.Gatt)
Illawarra Stingrays 6 (M.Carney 2, H.Minogue 2, T.Siskoska, C.Akid)
UNSW have done it! Their first win of the season came today at the expense of Blacktown Spartans. The Spartans had grabbed an early lead after an own goal from UNSW in the 10th minute. Blacktown held this lead until the 55th minute when Beiglari equalised for Uni. Both sides then struggled for the winner before UNSW snatched twin strikes with in a minute of each other (85th, 86th minute) through Tims and Hayes. Bronwyn Jarvis then finished the scoring with a last minute goal for Blacktown to leave the final statistics as a 3-2 win to the locals.
Great to see the University girls open their account. Blacktown must be left wondering why they had to be the unlucky side to be on the end of UNSW?s first three pointer. The Spartans? chances of fighting back into the finals hunt certainly sunk with this loss.
UNSW 3 (L.Beiglari, C.Tims, S.Hayes)
Blacktown Spartans 2 (Own goal, B.Jarvis)
The final game of the round saw Northern Tigers keep their semi final hopes alive with a fighting 2-1 win over the Bankstown Wildcats. Georgie Eastoe snagged both goals for The Tigers, trumping the lone strike for Bankstown by Kalogeropoulos.
The Tigers are now just two points out of fourth place. They run into UNSW in the next round; game they may have thought was a guaranteed three pints before UNSW?s opening win of the season this weekend. The Tigers have a sniff nonetheless so we?ll be following their fortunes in the coming weeks.
Bankstown? A heart breaker for them; so near and yet so far. The top four is starting to disappear in the distance for The Wildcats.
Northern Tigers 2 (G.Eastoe)
Bankstown Wildcats 1 (M.Kalogeropoulos)
A good weekend of a football with an upset or two combined with the expected results at a number of games. The battle for fourth spot has only intensified. UNSW first win of 2008 means that every club has now had a taste of success in the league this season. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
-By Ross Anderson