Canberra United returned to the top four with a solid 2-0 win over Sydney FC at McKellar Park on Sunday.
Canberra dominated possession early on a blustery day at McKellar Park but a see-sawing start stretched even to the refereeing decisions. A challenge from Rachel Corsie on Alanna Kennedy saw them both fall, with Kennedy handballing on the way down.
Referee Katie Patterson pointed to the spot for a Sydney penalty before consulting the assistant referee who indicated a handball and the decision was reversed.
Sydney had a string of opportunities. Lisa De Vanna played provider to Caitlin Foord, but Foord played to no one, having imagined Savannah McCaskill would be there in front of goal to convert.
The next major chance was with Canberra. Karly Roestbakken volleyed a sublime ball over Aubrey Bledsoe but the offside flag was up.
Minutes later, United made another superb play up the left through Roestbakken, Denise O’Sullivan and Refiloe Jane, with Rhoda Mulaudzi’s run cutting through the defence, but her shot was straight at Bledsoe.
Again, Jane played a divine ball from Jane to Mulaudzi who found Nielsen whose shot was saved by a diving Bledsoe.
Sydney took control back near the end of the half, with a De Vanna run on goal, her shot saved by the brave Sham Khamis who dived at her feet.
While Sam Kerr might be coming close, there’s still nothing quite as iconic in Australian football as the sight of De Vanna running with the ball at her feet. She has terrorised Canberra crowds for years, and of course delighted the crowd in Canberra when she was part of the side in 2016/17.
De Vanna’s teammates in sky blue are also on the iconic side – Logarzo, Kennedy, and imports Huerta, McCaskill and Bledsoe but Sydney were far from their iconic best, showing urgency on the ball, but not moving as a team and becoming more disjointed as the game went on.
In practically the final play of the first half, there was another referee see-saw. Ellie Carpenter swung in a free kick with the assistant referee lifting her flag indicating Mulaudzi was offside.
A Sydney FC player had contacted the ball and with Mulaudzi retreating to an onside position and her shot ending in the net, her confusion ensued until the referee clarified with the assistant and the goal was awarded.
The second half was full of drama as well. Colaprico was positioned well in front of goal early but was tackled sweetly by Jane who had returned from the African Cup of Nations.
Minutes later, McCaskill did everything but score for Sydney when she received the ball from Foord and attacked the goal. Khamis attacked the ball and blocked the shot but McCaskill regathered, shooting at an open goal but skimming the top of the crossbar.
Canberra’s second goal was a touch of Roestbakken magic when she unleashed at the top of the box after a sweet cross in from Orgill that was cleared initially.
Amy Harrison had been under pressure in her first game back in defence, but her strike from distance, low, long and strong, just evaded the left upright.
The game was paused for a lengthy delay after McCaskill collided with Tash Prior and both team medical staff and precautionary ambulance officers joined the field to treat Prior.
The game lost a lot of its sting after Prior was carried to the sideline with both sides’ attacking forays slowed down.
Despite Sydney making plenty of room in the box, their desperation to shoot wasn’t there, their decision making when faced with a pass option or a shot wasn’t what we expect from this side, and Canberra United outshone in the creativity department.
Heather Garriock was delighted with the win.
“I love that winning feeling. I think the way Canberra played was the best I’ve seen them play since I’ve coached them. I think the whole team was man of the match. Sham Khamis was outstanding. To step up and play against the team she played for last year but was ditched for an import, is credit to her.”
Khamis replied “We worked for each other. I think that’s the key.” When asked about the De Vanna save, she said “One on ones are one of my favourite things to do. Trinity, my goal keeper coach tells me to be big, and I did that.”
Canberra have a big month ahead of them. “The Wanderers is the most important thing for us coming up, then we some quick games against City and Brisbane. It’s important the players get Christmas Day with their families,” Garriock said.
Sydney coach Ante Juric was philosophical about his team’s loss. “ That’s life. We dominated again. We just didn’t put it away. In saying that, they were good on the break. We were better this week than last week, we weren’t as square.”
“For us, it’s about mentality. You keep working hard, the luck falls and it clicks. We just hope we get a bit of luck. Our unity needs to stay strong.”
“Harrison wasn’t going to start and Suitor got injured. Huge wraps for Harrison to come back and play a full game after a few knee reconstructions and play like that today.”
Both coaches wished Tash Prior well before returning to their sides to digest another big contest between these two iconic sides.