Image courtesy Capital Football

Match of the Round: Canberra United Academy v Canberra FC

With Canberra FC sitting atop the league ladder but without their talismanic captain Grace Gill, and Canberra United Academy just behind them in second position after winning their last four, this game had the potential to be one of the showpieces of the season. It didn’t disappoint, with the teams sharing the spoils for a 2-2 draw in a high quality match at Hawker Football Centre on Saturday afternoon.

Without Gill, coach Brozinic opted for a central midfield triangle, with Jamie Berkeley and Krista Hagen at the base of the triangle and Rachel Goldstein playing as a number 10. Canberra FC had much of the early possession and – after Melissa Bunker was fouled by Annie Grove to the left of the penalty box in the 6th minute – opened the scoring after a free kick taken by Hagen was bustled into the goal at the back post by Berkeley.

Academy responded with Isabell Mulhall playing a lovely through ball into the Canberra FC penalty box for Sacha Grove in the 7th minute, but under pressure from her defender, Grove was unable to make the best of her proximity to goal. This was remedied in the 12th minute when the Canberra FC keeper was penalised for handling the ball outside the penalty box, resulting in an indirect free kick. Mia McGovern tapped the ball as she ran over it at an angle, providing just enough distraction to wrongfoot keeper Nat Vasta and allowing Ivana Barac to fire the ball beautifully into the left side of the goal to level the score at 1-1.

McGovern had an outstanding first half for Academy, steering the ball around in central midfield with composure and competing physically with her more-experienced opponents. In the 15th minute she was able to dribble around her opponent deep in her half and release a delightfully-weighted ball to Hayley Taylor-Young on the left wing, but Taylor-Young was unable to convert either of her two attempts on goal.

Two minutes later Canberra FC’s Bunker, who was excellent in harrying the Academy defence in the first half, hit the Academy bar after turning her marker.

Canberra FC’s Brittany Palombi showed her class on two occasions over the next ten minutes, finding room on the left wing and taking on defenders with deft footwork. Her first attempt on goal was desperately cleared by Academy’s Jade Trewin, while the second resulted in a fierce shot that found the side netting.

In the 33rd minute Bunker stormed onto a ball that was played tentatively back to Academy’s Trewin in defence, placing her shot low and hard into the left corner for her side to regain the lead at 2-1.

Shortly thereafter the elusive Palombi again found a way around her defender to provide an excellent ball into Goldstein on the edge of the six yard box, but the shot skied over the bar.

Another errant Academy pass in the 36th minute threatened to undo much of their good work in the half. Having lost the ball, a free kick was awarded to Canberra FC after Hagen was fouled, and the resulting Palombi free kick only just eluded the right post.

Academy were able to respond in the best way possible in the 38th minute by capitalising this time on a Canberra FC defensive backpass that was aimed at their keeper, with Sacha Grove intercepting and slotting coolly past the keeper to level the score at 2-2.

The remainder of the half was highlighted by two further left wing forays by Palombi and a sweeping Academy left sided move involving many passes and culminating in narrow miss to the left of the post by Barac. The score remained at 2-2 at half-time.

The character of the game changed somewhat in the second half. Canberra FC had worked out by now that Academy were almost always seeking to play out from the back on goal kicks and defensive free kicks, and applied pressure accordingly to Academy passing options. This led to a fascinating game of cat and mouse; yet despite the excellent pressure Academy were almost always able to play their way upfield through a mixture of mobility, footwork, and composure beyond their years.

As the game wore on, the intensity and physicality also lifted, testing the mettle of the young Academy team. Perhaps remarkably, they were often up to the task, and credit must go to the team and to coach Garriock for infusing her renowned toughness into her young charges.

Canberra FC’s Palombi continued the second half as she left off the first, with a shot on goal just to the left of the post in the 47th minute. A minute later, Taylor-Young for Academy stole an attempted pass by Ivana Galic at the other end but was unable to make the most of her opportunity from inside the penalty box.

In the 50th minute Goldstein played an excellent through ball behind the Academy defence for Palombi, who ran into the penalty box and shot just to the right of the goal. This marked a period where Canberra FC were clearly being presented with more chances on goal than their opponents.

An Academy midfield pass was pounced upon by Berkeley in the 54th minute, leading to a one-on-one chance with the keeper, but under pressure she also pushed the ball just wide of the goal.

On the hour Palombi attempted a long range shot on goal from a free kick which sailed well over the bar, the first of several of these in the second half for her.

In the 68th minute an Academy passing move featured both the Grove sisters, with a ball from Annie in defence finding its way to Sacha on the right wing. The ensuing centred ball was however only able to be skyed over the goal by Molly Lawless under pressure.

Academy’s Barac was to have another free kick opportunity on goal in the 74th minute, with her shot from range just sneaking over the bar.

In the 75th minute Canberra FC substituted Sharon Chao for Isabella Tammaro.

A yellow card was issued to Academy’s Annie Grove two minutes later after clipping the heels of Bunker as she was making a break towards the Academy penalty box. Palombi’s free kick however did not pose a threat to Hinson in Academy’s goal.

The increasing physicality of the game as it neared its conclusion was earmarked by a battle between Taylor-Young and Galic. After dispossessing Taylor-Young in a second strong challenge for the game in the 80th minute, Galic was pursued and judged to have been tackled late. The free kick fell to Taylor-Young who took off upfield but appeared to be held back by the arm by Galic, this time for an Academy free kick. On the ensuing free kick Sacha Grove was adjudged to have been manhandled by Canberra FC’s Amy McLachlan just outside the box. Barac’s free kick was saved impressively by Vasta and pushed wide for a corner, which itself was cleared by the Canberra FC defence.

In the last 10 minutes Academy replaced Stefi Lejins with Cameron Mitchell, while Canberra FC replaced Bunker with Vanessa Ryan.

A free kick was awarded to Canberra FC to the left of the Academy penalty box in the 86th minute after Palombi was clattered into. Goldstein stepped up and hit a dangerous low ball across the face of goal but no team-mate was close enough to get a decisive touch.

Another free kick came Canberra FC’s way in the 88th minute after a tangle of legs, and this time Palombi’s free kick found the head of the Ryan after a well-timed run, but the header went wide of the goal.

McGovern shot at range for Academy in the 90th minute, just missing the bottom right Canberra FC post, while Palombi at the other end had a chance at close range in the 92nd minute but managed to push it just wide after Goldstein found space down the right hand channel and acted as supplier.

Canberra FC had further chances in the final two minutes with successive corners and a shot onto the post by Ryan after the ball was delivered from the right by Berkeley, but this was to be the final act of the game.

With the greater weight of possession and a number of frittered chances on goal, Canberra FC will likely be disappointed to not have come away with the win. Academy will be delighted with how they contested the game against the competition leader; this type of game is invaluable experience for the young squad. Without a couple of loose passes in their defensive third, they too could possibly have come away from the game wondering what might have been, despite them having fewer chances on goal.

What isn’t in doubt is the entertainment provided to the onlookers in what was an entertaining and high quality contest.

The result sees Canberra United Academy relinquish second position on the league ladder to Belconnen United on goal difference. 

Canberra United Academy 2 (Ivana Barac 12’, Sacha Grove 38’)

Canberra FC 2 (Jamie Berkeley 6’, Melissa Bunker 33’)

Teams:

Canberra United Academy – Coach: Heather Garriock

Alexandra Hinson, Stefi Lejins, Annie Grove, Jade Trewin (c), Emily Jensen, Molly Lawless, Mia McGovern, Ivana Barac, Isabell Mulhall, Sacha Grove, Hayley Taylor-Young, Demi Nikias, Latisha Babic, Cameron Mitchell

Yellow/Red cards: Annie Grove 77’ (yellow)

Canberra FC – Coach: Nik Brozinic

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

Yellow/Red cards: nil

Around The Grounds

Monaro Panthers 3 – 1 Wagga City Wanderers (rescheduled from Round 2)

Belconnen United 12 – 0 Canberra Olympic

Gungahlin United  4 – 0 Wagga City Wanderers

Woden-Weston 6 – 1 Tuggeranong United

Monaro Panthers – bye

Ladder

Pos Team P W D L For Against GD Pts
1 Canberra FC 6 4 2 0 36 6 30 14
2 Belconnen United FC 5 4 1 0 37 0 37 13
3 Canberra United Academy 6 4 1 1 26 4 22 13
4 Gungahlin United FC 5 4 0 1 17 8 9 12
5 Woden-Weston FC 5 2 0 3 11 25 -14 6
6 Monaro Panthers FC 4 1 0 3 7 15 -8 3
7 Wagga City Wanderers FC 5 1 0 4 7 25 -18 3
8 Tuggeranong United FC 6 1 0 5 5 32 -27 3
9 Canberra Olympic FC 4 0 0 4 0 31 -31 0