Image courtesy Capital Football

Match of the Round: Canberra FC v Belconnen United

Always a showcase game in the ACT NPLW football calendar, this grand final rematch between ladder leaders Belconnen United and third placed rivals Canberra FC at Deakin Stadium on Sunday 9 June did not disappoint. In an incident-packed game, an injury to Canberra FC keeper Nat Vasta in the first half saw left back Alice Churchill having to don the goalkeeper gloves for much of the game. Outstanding performances by wide Belconnen midfielders Keira Bobbin and Maddy Whittall saw Belconnen United clinch a hard fought 1-0 victory.

There were several mouth-watering matchups in this game, such as Belconnen captain Lauren Keir on the elusive Brittany Palombi, and none more key to the outcome of the game than the battle between midfield generals Grace Gill – a late Canberra FC inclusion – and Caitlin Munoz.

Both sides started the game carefully but in the 9th minute Canberra FC’s Mel Bunker was able to outpace a hesitant Jess Rasschaert while chasing an Ivana Galic long ball. Bunker’s shot was pushed away for a corner by Belconnen keeper Sally James. As the corner was collected by Belconnen and played out, Bobbin made a run from her own penalty box down the left wing with Palombi chasing her the whole way down to her own goal line.

An unfortunate early turning point in the game came in the 14th minute when Keir played a dangerous ball behind the Canberra FC defence for Bronte Pyke, just inside the penalty area. Canberra FC keeper Vasta came out to challenge Pyke but collided heavily with her and was unable to regain her feet. No penalty was awarded to Pyke but Vasta was stretchered off.

Without a replacement goalkeeper on the match card, left back Alice Churchill had to step in as a makeshift custodian for the remainder of the game. Lara Agnew came on for Canberra FC and slotted straight into Churchill’s left back position. However, Canberra FC were to miss Churchill’s experience and no-nonsense defensive qualities against Belconnen’s potent wide running threats, Bobbin initially, then Whittall as the game wore on.

It soon became apparent that the Canberra FC forward line were not keen to push high, leaving a comfortable space for the Belconnen defensive line to operate in and to mop up any long balls, few of which were reaching Rachel Goldstein and Palombi out wide for Canberra FC. Unusually for Canberra FC this season, neither were able to impose themselves upon the game.

Keir was continuing to influence the Belconnen attack with balls to the feet of Nicole Jalocha in the centre forward role, or to Whittall making speculative forward runs. In the 24th minute a wayward pass from Galic to Churchill almost gifted Jalocha with an opportunity in front of goal. Palombi then bundled Whittall over on the edge of the penalty area. The resulting free kick by Munoz cannoned off the underside of the crossbar and was eventually retrieved by Churchill in goal.

Canberra FC’s Amy McLachlan received a yellow card in the 29th minute after her trailing leg caught Alexia Forner. Churchill was able to cut out Michaela Day’s free kick before it got to Jalocha in the penalty box.

In the 35th minute Belconnen’s Rasschaert made an excellent run for a header on the end of a Catherine Brown free kick, clattering the ball onto the base of the left post with Churchill no chance to intercede.

With a skilful stop-and-go move, Gill was able to elude Pyke outside the Belconnen penalty box in first half stoppage time, but her cross into the six yard box was squeezed out for a corner by Rasschaert, and the resulting corner did not enter the field of play.

The teams entered the sheds 0-0 at half time.

Ex-Canberra United keeper Chantel Jones provided Churchill a crash course in goalkeeping at half time as an ambulance appeared for Vasta. It transpired that the referee had also injured a knee in the first half and was unable to continue, so an assistant referee took the whistle for the second half. Unusually, a club official was called upon to run one line.

The second half started with two corners to Belconnen in quick succession, with Goldstein eventually getting a clearing header out for Canberra FC. The Belconnen dominance in this period of the game continued in the 49th minute, as Munoz found space in the penalty box by flicking the ball past her defender, and shooting just wide of goal.

In the 51st minute, competition leading goalscorer Whittall was denied by Churchill after collecting a centred ball from Jalocha and making a determined burst past two defenders on the edge of Canberra FC’s six yard box.

Belconnen’s Forner was awarded a yellow card in the 54th minute for blocking a Gill free kick. A minute later Jalocha was able to elude her defender on the way to the Canberra FC byline and crossed the ball to an unmarked Bobbin at the back post, who was unable to control the ball sufficiently to get a shot in.

On the hour Agnew put in an important challenge on Whittall just outside the Canberra FC penalty area to deny an impending shot. The physicality in the game was on the rise and tempers were beginning to fray a little as the game entered its final third. Munoz was given ten minutes to cool off in the sin bin after expressing dissent to the referee when Galic was awarded a free kick in the Canberra FC penalty area.

With Belconnen down to ten players it was surprising that they struck for the only goal of the game in this time. It was unsurprising that the ever-threatening Whittall was able to break the deadlock in the 62nd minute after Bobbin played a through ball to her in the penalty area.

Canberra FC responded by pressing more urgently in attack and they were spending more time in the Belconnen half. A sweeping passing move from one side of the field to the other culminated in Bridgette Wright skying a high ball right on top of goalkeeper James in the 71st minute, who flapped at and missed the ball. Underneath it was Mel Bunker but her header went just over the bar.

Munoz rejoined the fray as Bobbin created two opportunities. One came in the 80th minute with a shot to the right of the Canberra FC goal, and the other in the 84th minute when she was able to execute a tight turn on the penalty box edge between two defenders, shooting from six yards. Churchill in goal was able to narrow the angles and block the shot.

In the 86th minute Goldstein laid off a ball for Krista Hagen to shoot from just outside the Belconnen penalty box, but the shot was to the left of goal. Belconnen’s Pyke then tested Churchill at range after a Bobbin run down the left wing, shooting inches wide.

With two minutes to go Gill won the ball in midfield and played two wonderful balls to unmarked attackers in Ryan and Goldstein respectively, but neither amounted to threats on goal. Belconnen scrambled in defence and were able to get the ball downfield via Jalocha who was able to win a corner. Churchill managed to save the corner kick but that was the final significant act of the game, Belconnen running out 1-0 winners.

A point of difference in this tight contest was the ability of Whittall and Bobbin to quickly transition into wide attacking positions to support Jalocha when their side won the ball. The Canberra FC wide attacking options were not as effective in their transitions, which left Bunker isolated, and gave them fewer options for attacking through balls.

The result sees Belconnen United open up a significant seven point lead at the top of the table. Behind them four teams are separated by only four points, with Canberra United Academy occupying fourth place at the expense of Woden-Weston Wanderers after the weekend results.

Belconnen United and Woden-Weston will be contesting the ACT Women’s Federation Cup final next Saturday night, so the majority of games have moved to the weekend of July 6-7. The only NPLW game on the weekend of June 15-16 is the clash between Canberra United Academy and Monaro Panthers on Sunday 3pm at Hawker.

Final score:

Canberra FC 0 

Belconnen United 1 (Whittall 62’)

Teams:

Canberra FC – Coach: Nik Brozinic

Nastaja Vasta, Bridgette Wright, Ivana Galic, Alice Churchill, Krista Hagen, Grace Gill (c), Jamie Berkeley, Rachel Goldstein, Melissa Bunker, Brittany Palombi, Amy McLachlan, Isabella Tammaro, Sharon Chao, Vanessa Ryan, Lara Agnew, Lucy D’Arcy

Yellow cards: McLachlan 29′

Belconnen United – Coach: Antoni Jagarinec

Sally James, Lauren Keir (c), Jessie Rasschaert, Catherine Brown, Bronte Pyke, Maddelyn Whittall, Michaela Day, Caitlin Munoz, Keira Bobbin, Nicole Jalocha, Alexia Forner, Jazz Zaebel, Leah Carnegie, Jayla Murphy, Katie Woodman, Maria Pachi

Yellow cards: Forner 54′

Around The Grounds:

Tuggeranong United 2 – 0 Wagga City

Woden-Weston 1 – 2 Canberra United Academy

Canberra Olympic 2 – 5 Monaro Panthers

Gungahlin United – bye

Ladder:

Pos Team P W D L For Against GD Pts
1 Belconnen United FC 9 8 1 0 57 1 56 25
2 Gungahlin United FC 8 6 0 2 26 12 14 18
3 Canberra FC 9 5 2 2 39 8 31 17
4 Canberra United Academy FC 9 5 1 3 30 10 20 16
5 Woden-Weston FC 8 5 0 3 23 22 1 15
6 Tuggeranong United FC 9 3 0 6 9 40 -31 9
7 Monaro Panthers FC 9 2 0 7 15 35 -25 6
8 Canberra Olympic FC 8 2 0 6 7 41 -34 6
9 Wagga City Wanderers FC 9 1 0 8 10 44 -34 3