We witnessed a classic end to the PlayStation® 4 National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Women’s 2016 season on Sunday evening, as the Northern Tigers held on to claim a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Inter Lions.
It was a fitting end to what has been a fantastic season of football throughout the division, and the Tigers are deserving Champions. At their best this season no side has been able to really hold them back, and despite Inter’s best efforts in the second half, an outstanding first half display put the Tigers in an unassailable position for the remainder of the match.
First Grade Grand Final Review:
Northern Tigers FC vs Inter Lions SC, 5pm Sunday September 11th at Valentine Sports Park NO.2
The first real chance of the match fell to the feet of Inter’s Rhonda Succar, who perhaps should have done better with her volley from 15 yards. She was in a great position, but couldn’t control the finish well enough to test Kate Anthonisz.
It would be the Tigers who would open the scoring after 15 minutes though. Hannah McNulty took the ball down well on the left wing, before cutting inside and sliding a super through ball for Eilidh Mackay to chase down. The Tigers number 10 controlled the ball, but her cut inside Kirilee Cook was too heavy and it appeared the chance was lost with Inter players coming across in cover. Tragically though for the premiers, the covering defender lost her footing and fell clean over the ball allowing Mackay an easy path towards goals and she made no mistake as she calmly placed the ball home.
Inter would hit back almost immediately though. Sarah Mandile had been giving Carly Ussher a tough time on the wing and she found space to whip the ball across the box. The ball was placed perfectly between Anthonisz and her defenders, but the goalkeeper committed to the claim. This gave Maria Kalogeropoulos the opportunity to sneak in first and she accepted the invitation, dinking her header over the ‘keeper and into the bottom corner.
Josie Wilson was playing very high up the park for the Tigers as they looked to exploit the space in behind the Lions defenders again and again. Several times she was almost clean away only for newly crowned player of the season Cook to rush across and remove the danger.
However, Wilson got her reward for terrorising the Inter defenders when she retook the lead for the Tigers. Emma Watkins slipped another through ball in behind the defence, and unfortunately this time Cook hesitated in her clearance which allowed Wilson to sneak in behind her, quickly round the goalkeeper and slot the ball home from a tight angle.
The Tigers were looking fantastic, and their passing game was looking crisp and sharp. Going into this they had to be clinical and play at their best, and they really turned up to play some excellent football in the first half.
They soon converted their third great chance of the half to give themselves a superb advantage leading into half time. Watkins again provided the assist, this time for McNulty. It was more of a hopeful ball than anything else but the Inter defence just watched as McNulty ran in from the right hand side to collect the ball and bear down upon goal. This was where the Lions dearly missed regular goalkeeper Natasha Pentecost as Danyelle Pringle really should have come off her line to sweep the ball away, but she made the decision early on to stay put, which gave McNulty all the time in the world to pick her spot. She steadied herself and slotted the ball into the bottom corner and the Tigers were in dreamland as they took a 3-1 lead into the break.
McNulty almost extended the Tigers lead in the opening moments of the second half. She cut in from the right hand side and lashed a left footed shot across Pringle that crashed into the post before Inter scrambled it away to safety.
Northern looked to ease up a little at this point, which is a problem they’ve had on several occasions this season. When the game looks rosy they have a tendency to overplay and give the opposition a foothold in the match.
The half quickly fell into a pattern of Inter forcing the Tigers deep into their own half, before the Tigers would then counter attack looking to exploit the spaces Inter left as they chased goals.
Inter were looking by far the better team as the half wore on. They were pressing hard and fighting for every ball as has been their trademark this season, and the Tigers were having a lot of trouble holding them back.
There were danger signs that Inter were close to finding the breakthrough, with some slack marking at a corner allowing Kalogeropoulos to almost double her tally when her glancing header just cleared the crossbar.
Inter would be rewarded for their pressure when Zoe Zaczek scored a wonder goal after 65 minutes. Her attempted cross was blocked, but the ball fell perfectly for her to put her foot through it from 23 yards. It sailed across Anthonisz, smacking the post and nestling in the back of the net.
Inter now had a lifeline and that only spurred them on harder.
Inter were creating half chances, but they couldn’t find anything clear cut to really open up the Tigers. Meanwhile the Tigers started to look a little more dangerous on the counter attack. Wilson was again a huge danger on the right hand side and she delivered a great cross into the 6-yard box that was just too powerful for Mackay to get a boot on.
It got a little bit more intense between the two teams in the final 15, with a boots being left in and a couple of yellow cards dished out. The desperation from both sides was clear, but the energy levels were beginning to drain rapidly as the clock ticked down.
In the end though the clinical first half from the Northern Tigers proved to be enough to secure the victory, as the final whistle sparked wild celebrations from the Tigers and their travelling supporters.
Northern Tigers FC 3:
Eilidh Mackay 15’, Josie Wilson 28’, Hannah McNulty 42’
Inter Lions SC 2:
Maria Kalogeropoulos 17’, Zoe Zazcek 63’
Player of the Match:
Northern Tigers holding midfielder Emma Watkins was awarded player of the grand final after a dominant performance in the centre of the park. Watkins has been excellent all season for the Tigers, and she really brought some of her best work to the biggest match of the year. In the first half especially she was involved in everything for the Tigers, finishing the match with two assists and consistently breaking up Inter attacks with effective tackles or well-timed interceptions.
Nepean FC vs Northern Tigers FC, 2.15pm Sunday September 11th at Valentine Sports Park NO.2
Nepean FC have beaten the previously unstoppable Northern Tigers for the second match in a row after they claimed the reserve grade championship after a penalty shootout. The match finished 0-0, with both goalkeepers making some outstanding saves towards the end of the match.
Bianca Galayini confidently struck the winning penalty to send Nepean into raptures, as they claimed the major prize for the 2016 season.
By Eamonn Warner, PS4 National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Women’s Reporter