Canberra United kept their season alive with a 1-0 victory over fifth placed Adelaide United at McKellar Park on Sunday.
In what was simply a lovely game to watch, it was evenly matched from the outset with no clear chances on goal until 15 minutes into the first half when Nikki Flannery’s half volley from a pinpoint cross from Nikola Orgill was sky-ed over Adelaide’s goal.
Adelaide’s early offensive intensity was matched by Canberra’s defensive robustness with Canberra flyers Karly Roestbakken, Ellie Carpenter and Flannery flooding back on the left flank to cover Michelle Heyman, Gunnhildur Jonsdottir and Georgia Campagnale as they surged forward towards Canberra’s goal.
While Canberra found some space in the middle through the ever impressive Refiloe Jane, their best ground was made up the flanks, evading the strong midfield of Adelaide.
By contrast, the Reds were strongest attacking through the middle and so the game flowed, in a circular motion for the first half hour, with precision passing for both sides.
Heyman nearly had a goal when she turned in space but Sham Khamis covered the threat, and soon after Maria Rojas had the ball in the net with a header off a sweet Mulaudzi cross but she was judged offside.
That sprung another spell of sharp moves late in the second half from Canberra through Rojas, and then Flannery, both cut out by Adelaide keeper Sarah Willacy.
Rojas was dynamite, standing up Emily Hodgson on one occasion, hitting into the side netting, before a Mulaudzi header skimmed the left upright to close out the first half.
Knowing they needed a win to stay in season 11 of the W-League, Canberra went all out in attack for the second half, pushing Jane further up the park to sit in behind the strikers from the outset, and Ashleigh Sykes was subbed in for Flannery.
Carpenter went close early, opting for a powerful shot deflected out by Willacy, rather than tucking it inside to the waiting Sykes.
Carpenter’s strong forward runs were matched by centre-back Rachel Corsie, and Adelaide were caught on the back foot for the first 10 minutes.
The inevitable goal came in the 55th minute for Canberra who made an attacking substitution, getting Meghan McElligott into the game for the impressive Rojas who was starting to run out of sting.
Another wave of attack was launched down the right with Sykes sending a ball into McElligott for her first touch of the game. Her shot was blocked but Carpenter finished the scraps, shooting low through Willacy’s legs.
Canberra carried on with a succession of combination plays. Sitting in the stands with her Canberra United squad mates, Natasha Prior who is out for the season after suffering a concussion last year was heard to say “This is bloody beautiful…!”
Adelaide’s best chance of the game came when Fanndis Fridriksdottir received a gimme from a rare Roestbakken error in Canberra’s backline, passing infield to an oncoming Fridriksdottir. Her shot was touched by Khamis and clanged off the crossbar.
Soon after, Khamis made another critical save on Isabel Hodgson who received a sweet ball from Heyman, then another against Veronica Latsko.
Adelaide’s late surge wasn’t enough to claim them any points in the capital, and the result keeps the race to the final four open.
Canberra’s coach Heather Garriock said after the match that the win felt good.
“We created so many chances for team goals today. It didn’t feel like a 1-0 game. We need to close out games – hence the several draws we’ve had this season which has cost us.”
However, the team is under pressure with a short turn around and will be without three players away for international duty but Garriock remains positive.
“We need to win against Victory, and we need to beat Brisbane. We can do it. That’s some of the best football we’ve seen in the W-League this season, and that’s not biased. What we’ve needed is a forward who can score 7-8 goals for the season, and score the half chances - that’s what the other teams ahead of have.”
Adelaide’ coach Ivan Karlovic was disappointed with the result.
“We did well in the first 15 mins of the game, and fell into some traps after that. I thought we dominated the second half, especially after the goal.”
“Now we go into games, and we’re expected to win, which is another challenge. For us it’s a learning curve. At this league you need to be at your best every single game. Today we weren’t at our best and we didn’t get the results.”
Adelaide plays Western Sydney Wanderers at home next week, while Canberra host Melbourne Victory at Seiffert Oval in Queanbeyan on Thursday night.