Take aways from Game 1 | TWG
It wasn’t pretty but a 41st minute Michelle Heyman goal and a solid second half performance was enough for Matildas to defeat New Zealand.
1. We won!
Okay so results aren’t everything but they are something especially when you are playing a foe you have dominated for close to two decades and would dearly love that dominance to continue.
Crucially, it was the first win in the Hesterine de Reus era. The first international of the year is tough and for that first international to be your first match in charge can be nerve racking.
That’s not to say there weren’t some issues (we will get to that in a couple of points). Some things worked, others didn't but the second half was markedly better than the first half.
The midfield and attack worked better and there was some promising movement in the final third that could have begot a goal or two. Although that would have been an unfair scoreline for a New Zealand side that were quite good for most of the match, especially in the opening 25 minutes.
2. Sam Kerr
Before our eyes the 19 year old is slowly beginning to fulfill the prophecies and big wraps on her from her junior career. A barnstorming end to the W-League season has been followed up by a barnstorming start to her professional career in the NWSL with Western New York Flash.
What was evident Thursday night is that when she stepped onto the pitch last night, black gloves and all, Australia was instantly more dangerous in the final third. Her unique and innate ability to take on her marker, and the game, brought other players into the match and produced some of Australia’s best attacking moves of the night.
Good to have you in the country Sammy; even if its just for a cameo.
3. Slow out of the blocks
Traditionally the Matildas have been slow starters and Thursday night was no different. To say New Zealand completely dominated the opening 20 minutes would not be an overstatement.
The defence was stretched on several occasions, and but for the lack of NZ finishing and Bri Davey’s superb goalkeeping, Australia could have been in a big hole early.
Playing out beautifully from the back through Abby Erceg, Rebekah Stott and onto Ria Percival or Sarah Gregorious, the Kiwis were in control of the game early with Australia second to the ball time and again and putting little pressure on the ball carrier.
Some of the early issues were addressed and corrected in the second half but slow starts against a top side will be severely punished.
4. A new look line up
Friendlies and a new coach = experimentation.
De Reus sent out a different looking line up with a couple of surprises in various positions. Newly minted co-captain Clare Polkinghorne partnered Alanna Kennedy in the centre of defence while Elise Kellond-Knight (usually a left back) played up the park as a left-winger, Servet Uzunlar (usually a centre back) on the right. Amy Chapman and Michelle Heyman earned starts alongside Tameka Butt up front.
As noted above, in the first 25 minutes the line up just did not settle. The defence was under pressure, the midfield struggled to gain or retain possession and produce combinations and the forwards, with little supply, were forced to come deep to join in the play.
The pressure New Zealand asserted also saw many a rushed clearance and direct play was prevalent. The goal, and half time, settle nerves and in the second half the three lines were much more in accord.
5. Shining lights
A number of players acquitted themselves well on the night including captain Clare Polkinghorne. Polks was solid at centre back; reading the play, covering and tackling like the seasoned performer she is.
Although not as seasoned as Polks, goalkeeper Brianna Davey made a positive contribution with crucial saves. Her recovery in particular was excellent to keep a clean sheet. As we already mentioned above, Sam Kerr was the best attacking threat on the night as she pushed the visitor’s defence deeper with her probing runs.
Honourable Mentions: Elise Kellond-Knight, Teigen Allen
On a non-performance related front, hurray for the new kits! It's great to see the Matildas finally wearing the latest Australia design. They looked resplendent in them. Now let's get them in the stores so we can purchase them in a ladies fit!
Granted it's the first game, and the cobwebs are being brushed off, but there were some promising signs and some areas that will need to be addressed in time.
Maybe even in Game 2 this Sunday at McKellar Park.