Week 1 of the PlayStation® 4 National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Women’s 2016 finals series is out of the way, and after a couple of upsets we have our first grand finalist.
The Northern Tigers put in an excellent display to overcome a more than gallant Inter Lions on Sunday afternoon to book their place in the decider, while Inter will now face Sydney Olympic next week in the preliminary final after the side from Belmore proved to be too strong for Sutherland Shire.
Sutherland Shire FA vs Sydney Olympic FC, 5pm Saturday August 27th at Valentine Park
Sydney Olympic are through to the preliminary final after they defeated Sutherland Shire 2-0 on Saturday evening.
The first goal was always going to be crucial to the outcome of this contest, and it was Sydney Olympic who opened the scoring before the halftime break through in form striker Madelaine Costanzo. The forward has shown glimpses of what she is capable of this season, but in recent weeks has really stepped up with some important goals for her side.
Olympic extended their lead in the second half through none other than Danielle Calvi, with her 10th goal of the season proving to put the game beyond the reach of their slightly more fancied opponents.
Sutherland haven’t been at their best when needing to chase the game this season, so conceding that first goal was a huge blow for their ambitions here. Missing midfield pivot Toni Vukasin didn’t help matters for the side from the Shire as she’s usually one of the key components in the way they move the ball at pace. Sutherland have lacked a little cutting edge up front to really make the most of their possession in 2016, but they’ll be a force again next year of that there is no doubt.
Inter Lions SC vs Northern Tigers FC, 5pm Sunday August 28th at Valentine Park
Inter began the half by pressing the Tigers hard in midfield to try and stop them from getting the ball down on the ground and getting settled.
As a result, the opening 20 minutes didn’t see either team really get the ball under control for any extended periods, with chances coming mostly when a few quick passes could break through the lines and to finally find some breathing space.
Inter winger Rhonda Succar should have opened the scoring for Inter after 9 minutes though. The ball was lashed across the face of goal, and ghosting in from the left she reached the ball first, but the pressure from the Tigers defence saw her skew her first time finish high and wide of the crossbar.
The Tigers immediately countered with their first great chance of the match. Inter were pressing hard, but some smart short passing meant the Tigers broke free of the press, and Hannah McNulty was played into space on the left wing.
She blew past Erica Toscano, cut inside and almost lost the ball before regathering and taking a snapshot that clipped the outside of the near post and out for a goal kick.
Then a huge moment a few minutes later when Inter were awarded a penalty. Maria Kalogeropoulos and Elidih Mackay both had eyes for a high cross, but Kalogeropoulos got goalside and was clipped form behind. She didn’t go down, but the clip prevented her from reaching the ball and there were no real complaints from the Tigers.
Sarah Mandile stepped up to take the penalty, taking an age to set herself. She never looked confident, and off two steps she weakly prodded the ball towards the bottom corner. Kate Anthonisz guessed the right way she was never a chance of scoring with that effort, and the Tigers received a massive boost from their goalkeeper’s heroics.
The Tigers were now finding ways to play through, and were pressing Inter deeper and deeper in their own half. Tigers winger Josie Wilson had a couple of great chances cutting in from the right, being denied by Pentecost on the first occasion and on the second she blazed the ball miles over the bar from close range.
The Tigers had the momentum, and they got their reward after 41 minutes. A long range free kick was headed clear, and Hannah McNulty stormed in from the left wing to meet the ball. She took it on her chest, set herself up with her second touch and then at a full sprint unleashed an arcing rocket into the far corner from near 30 yards from goal. An unstoppable hit that even Pentecost couldn’t get near, and the Tigers took a lead into the halftime break.
The Tigers extended their lead in the early stages of the second half through some excellent pressing of their own. Inter looked to play the ball out from the back and overplayed their hand, allowing Mackay to read the intentions of Kirilee Cook before intercepting the ball 25 yards out and rushing towards goal. She took the shot early, showing outstanding composure to stroke the ball across Pentecost and into the far corner from the edge of the box. Two real quality finishes and the Tigers had put themselves in a great position with just under a half of the game left to play.
There was a scare shortly after for Inter, with captain Kalogeropoulos going down injured in the centre of the park. She remained prone on the turf for several minutes, before hobbling off the field and returning shortly after.
On 57 minutes the Tigers almost had their third screamer of the match after Emma Watkins ran onto a loose ball, before whipping it across her body first time and sending it crashing into the far post. McNulty could have buried the rebound but there was simply too much pace on the ball to control her attempted first time finish.
Inter were leaving space out wide, which the Tigers continued to exploit. They nearly had another through Balicki who hit the crossbar, and a Watkins cross drew a fumble from Pentecost that the Tigers weren’t able to punish.
Then on 75 minutes a goal out of nothing and Inter were back in the game. Succar stood up her defender on the corner of the 18 yard, and with no options forward rolled the ball back to Jasmine Diavatiotis, whose first time shot with her left foot curled up and over Anthonisz and into the far corner.
That gave Inter belief, and they kept pushing the Tigers back in the final minutes. It’s the Inter trademark that they never go away. The Tigers had dropped off and they should know by now that giving Inter even the smallest chance to get back into the game is a terrible idea.
Mandile should have levelled things up in the final 10 minutes with a header at the back post. Kalogeropoulos floated in a great ball, and totally unmarked Mandile could only glance her header wide from the edge of the 6-yard box.
A flashpoint in the 90th minute as the Tigers tried to snatch a goal on the break to seal it. Watkins burst through midfield, charging past the defence to get one v one with Pentecost. Her last touch was too heavy, and she dove in as the ‘keeper went down to smother the save, collecting Pentecost and injuring herself in the process. Both players were down, and Cook was none too pleased about the challenge, remonstrating with the prone Watkins and receiving a yellow card before being shooed away by her teammates lest she risk further sanction.
Both sides could have found the back of the net in injury time. Mandile again found herself in tonnes of space in the box, but her first touch was poor and the Tigers cleared their lines.
And with the last play of the game, the Tigers again broke in numbers to try and put an exclamation mark on the victory. McNulty slid the ball through for Mackay, who poked the ball around Pentecost for a certain third before Cook came flying back towards her own goal, brilliantly clearing the ball away and keeping things at 2-1.
And that was that. A superb game of football between to very good sides here at Valentine Park. The Tigers move onto the big dance in 2 weeks’ time, while Inter have a preliminary final next Sunday afternoon with the in-form Sydney Olympic.
Bankstown City FC vs Sydney Olympic FC, 2.15pm Saturday August 27th at Valentine Sports Park NO.2
Sydney Olympic defeated Bankstown City by 1 goal to nil.
Northern Tigers FC vs Nepean FC, 2.15pm Sunday August 28th at Valentine Sports Park NO.3
A headed goal from Katrina Jones in extra time has seen Nepean qualify for the grand final in a fortnight. Both sides should have had the game done and dusted by the end of regular time, but it took until the second half of extra time for the dead lock to be broken after an excellent Nepean corner. Jones snuck in on the near post to head the ball home and claim the win for Nepean.
-By Eamonn Warner, PS4 National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Women’s Reporter