A man-of-the-match performance from Nepean striker Stephanie Lagudi was the difference in an otherwise close game between the two best sides of the Women’s Sate League competition.
The environment the girls from Bankstown and Nepean walked into at Jensen Park was one that boasted pressure and glory.
The first five minutes immediately demonstrated that the two teams on show were no doubt the best in the competition.
Nepean came off the blocks dominating the game using their physical prowess on the Bankstown midfielders. Nepean’s Paige Wilson was all over the park early on ensuring Samantha Muscat was tightly marked. Her reading of the play ensured their wingers the space to create some early chances to Steph Lagudi.
Lagudi who was wreaking absolute havoc in the box had some early shots on goal but was saved by Bankstown’s heroic keeper. As possession was dominated by the Reds, Bankstown consistently found some opportunities to counter, and counter they did through Tania Baban and Samantha Muscat.
All early opportunities for the Lionesses could have been potent if not for the flawless cover defending of Nepean Captain Desiree Vassallo. Vassallo’s positioning was second to none and her speed along the back to cover her defensive partners was vital to their ability to keep a clean sheet.
The league’s best player Samantha Muscat was kept quiet through the first half with some no nonsense defending by the Reds. There were no risks taken as they remained true to themselves with their mantra of defending first. Their intensity and pressure was immense as they often forced their statement with strong tackles and sometimes borderline fifty-fifty challenges, though their reward at the half was a clean sheet against team that put five past them just two weeks ago.
The second half began in completely different pace as Bankstown finally began to play their game. Their fluidity with the ball was simply amazing as they showed why they are the league’s premier team. Maniso Michael was the orchestrator in midfield as her vision provided some chances to Baban just outside the box.
As the game wore on the Lionesses began to make some breaks on the flank but just lacked the finishing touch in front of goal. Their inability to finish would eventually bite them as Nepean began to regain the control of the match halfway through the second half.
The game was physical; Nepean began to boss Bankstown around as the Lionesses ended up on the deck a lot of the time. With the Reds being so physical, Bankstown began to turn on the referees much more which deviated them from their task at hand and what they are great at which is scoring. This game would eventually give us an answer on what is more important, attack or defence but it would take more than 90 minutes to show that.
The first half of extra time expectedly began in much slower pace as both sides sized each other up. None of the teams wanted to take the risk early on but in the 98th minute Nepean striker Stephanie Lagudi produced what is contender for goal of the season. A thunderous right-foot shot from just inside the box resulted in the ball blasted past the keeper for a grand-final lead.
Not many have lost the lead to Nepean and come-back but if there was a team that was to do it, it would be Bankstown. The Lionesses refused to give up and continued to push forward to find the equaliser though unfortunately that left them exposed at the back.
Just minutes later, Lagudi who found an opening on the right-hand flank provided the perfect cross across the box which landed to teammate Kaitlin Harms who slotted it into the open goal. The jubilant Nepean players surrounded her with joy much to the dismay of their manager Allan Tasses who called for calm as they still faced an extra 15 minutes.
With the season on the line and two goals behind, Bankstown had no choice but to step up their game, and boy did they. A barrage of attacking displays by the Lionesses kept Nepean on their toes as the pressure began to build. With eight minutes of the grand-final left a goal mouth scramble erupted which resulted in a Bankstown goal.
With the crowd readying themselves for a Nepean victory, Samantha Muscat scored to provide them with a grandstand finish. As players fell to the floor with cramp, it looked like Bankstown finally had clicked into gear who with just a minute left almost scored the equaliser. Another scramble in front of goal had Muscat shoot the ball to an open goal but was heroically cleared on the line by the opposing skipper Desiree Vassallo.
An unbelievable end to an unbelievable game as the referee blowed the whistle to crown Nepean FC the 2014 Women’s State League Champions.
Great game fitting of a final which proved that defence indeed wins championships.
-By Chris Doroudgar