Some traditional hot summer-esque conditions greeted the Newcastle Jets and the Western Sydney Wanderers in the opening round of the 2017/18 W-League season that saw the home side come away with a 2-1 win, thanks in part to two goalkeeping/defensive errors by the Western Sydney Wanderers.
During the first half, with the Jets up by a goal to nil and in control; ABC Grandstand commentator Aaron Kearney posed the question that would have been on many a Novoastrian’s lips: “several times last season we watched this team play the opposition off the park only to not get the result come full time, will things be different this season?”
Fast forward to the 77’ minute; Newcastle had just conceded the equaliser. A delicate chip over the top from LaBonta found Marlous Pieete who cleverly flicked the ball back over her head for Halloway to finish. Was that where the fight was to end?
Though the Jets controlled the first half, the Wanderers had dominated the second and you could be forgiven for thinking perhaps a draw would be a fair result.
However, it was the Jets, through Jenna Kinsley who would have the final say from a free kick right after the restart.
Huster stood over the free kick, sized up her options and delivered to the far post.
Burke came to punch the ball away but she didn’t get a good piece of it and it was Kingsley, yet another former Wanderer thusly adding to the theme of the afternoon, whose header found the back of the net.
The crowd erupted as Kingsley sprinted to the fence to celebrate with a cluster of friends on the sideline. The home side’s lead was restored and a fitting homecoming for Emily van Egmond was complete.
The luck was on Newcastle’s side this time as the referee blowing full time three minutes into an advertised four of stoppage time just as Western Sydney won a potentially dangerous corner.
That late drama added to the buzz around the ground pre-game. It was more than just the anticipation of a brand-new season but an excitement and anticipation of what looked to be on paper, a very strong home side, particularly in the midfield.
NEWCASTLE JETS: WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Jets lined up in a way that reflected, and played to their strengths.
A 3-4-3 formation, giving them the extra numbers in midfield and width in attack, and it was from their fortunate opener the Jets began to control the game in the midfield.
The likes Van Egmond put in some trademark on point passes coupled with her presence screening the backline with Huster.
Their combination with fast wide players Arin Gilliland, Jenna Kingsley, and Stengel (when she drifted out there) has the potential to cause all sorts of problems to any side.
AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
Newcastle remained in control of the match throughout the first half forcing a change in tactics from the Wanderers for the second stanza.
The Jets back three always had the potential to be caught out and they were on many occasions. If it wasn’t for a fantastic debut performance from Tash Prior the Jets could have been cooked and the three points could have literally gone west.
On two notable occasions Prior was there to backtrack and put off striker Rosie Sutton. The second of these was a lovely cover block in the box with Sutton in behind the defence and eyeball to eyeball with Eckerstorm, only for Prior to slide in to get that vital touch to send the ball wide.
Coach Craig Dean’s told TWG that considering it was their first game together it was good to get the result but conceded there was plenty to work on at both ends of the pitch.
Whether Deans persists with a back three in the coming weeks remains to be seen, particularly with the likes of a full-strength Sydney FC making the trip up the M1 next weekend.
What is clear though is that Deans wants to play an attacking, attractive style of football that will bring the fans through the gates.
“If we could have 5,000 people turning up from the start to watch us play that would be fantastic. If we aren’t playing a good, positive style of football they aren’t going to do that”
WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS: WHAT WENT RIGHT
It was a change in tactics, brought about by the Jets dominace in the middle that would see the Wanderers back into the match and eventually back on level terms.
Western Sydney opted to press higher in defence whilst also using the wind to their advantage with long balls over the top to get in behind the Jets back three and turn the Jets around.
This showed signs of working from the outset with a ball over the top from LaBonta for Erica Halloway unearthing problems for the Jets, a pattern that continued throughout the entire half.
The keys to unlocking the Jets defence were imports LaBonta, Marlous Pieete and Lee Falkon whose combinations created several chances with/for Sutton and Halloway that eventually led to the equaliser.
It won’t be the last time they cause defences’ trouble this season as they get further time to gel as a group.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
The two goals conceded by the Wanderers will no doubt be a source of frustration for Western Sydney supporters.
Both involved goalkeeper Trudy Burke. The first was a miscommunication between veteran defender Ellie Brush whose defensive header from an innocuous ball looped over Burke for Stengel to walk into the net.
Whilst the first goal can’t directly be blamed on Burke the second one defiantly could be. Perhaps upon reflection she could have tried to catch it rather than punch it as her poor connection fell straight to Jenna Kingsley.
It is likely that Jada Wyman will come straight back in for Burke next week after returning from Young Matildas duty as the Wanderers no.1 keeper.
It is only round one but former Glory top scorer Sutton was unable to fire despite getting some good looks at goal. Something WSW fans will be hoping can be rectified next Friday night when the Wanderers host Adelaide United at Marconi Stadium.
Newcastle Jets 2 (Stengel 14′, Kingsley78′)
Western Sydney Wanderers 1 (Halloway 77′)