Photo credit: Jeremy Ng.

As we move into the second half of the 2019 NSW NPLW season, teams vying for finals spots are starting to wrestle amongst each other. Round 12 saw a number of surprising results that shuffled the ladder once again, with just three points now separating the top five.

Match of the Round: North Shore Mariners v Illawarra Stingrays

 

Following last week’s draw against Sydney University, finals hopeful Illawarra Stingrays hoped to keep within touching distance of the top two teams as they travelled to Northbridge Oval to take on bottom-placed North Shore Mariners.

The Stingrays would come away with a 3-0 win following a commanding second half performance, overcoming a stubborn Mariners side to climb to fourth on the ladder.

Having parted ways with their head coach last week following just one win in their opening 11 games, the Mariners came out of the blocks the more energetic of the two sides, wanting to get the second half of their disappointing season off on the right foot.

The home side’s high press in midfield, aided by the experience and fitness of Hannah Brewer and Gabe Marzano, proved effective in shutting down passing lanes to the Stingrays’ speedy front three. When out of possession, the Mariners bunkered well in the central area, forcing the visitors wide or into hopeful long shots outside the box.

In fact, it was the home side who had the first opportunity of the game in the 7th minute through a free kick from just outside the box. However, Marzano’s strike went just over the crossbar.

It took ten minutes of probing for the Stingrays to have their first chance on goal, when right winger Erica Halloway sent a low, hard cross across the six-yard box, through a crowd of legs. The ball was deflected into the path of left winger Chloe Middleton near the back post, but her shot was blocked by the legs of Mariners goalkeeper Ashley Hughes.

Neither team was particularly patient or calm in possession in the opening 20 minutes, due in part to the clash of their systems—both sides played the now-common 4-3-3 formation, moving into a 4-5-1 when out of possession, meaning the midfield was often crowded with players which made it difficult for both teams to connect their defensive and attacking lines.

The Mariners were able to create some half-chances in the opening period, mostly through Marzano, who almost capitalised on a poor Trudy Burke clearance in the 19th minute but her long-range effort went just wide of the post.

The Stingrays were forced into a substitution on the half hour mark when centre-back Danika Matos came off injured following a clash of knees with Mariners midfielder Camilla Arentoft. This forced the Stingrays into a slight tweak, with Sarah Johnson moving into the back line while substitute Kaelah Austin took up a position in defensive midfield.

This change seemed to bring more composure to the visiting side, who created a sustained period of pressure over the Mariners toward the end of the first half with three consecutive chances on goal by Eden Stoddard, Talitha Kramer, and Michelle Carney respectively. The Mariners had two break-away opportunities in the closing minutes of the half, but they were their own worst enemy when reaching their own attacking third, either misplacing the final pass or passing backwards, inviting backtracking Stingrays players to make a tackle and regain possession.

While the Stingrays weren’t at their best, the Mariners did well to keep them to 0-0 at the break. Special mention goes to Mariners’ centre-back Sara Piriz who kept Michelle Carney quiet for almost the entire first half.

Whatever the half-time team talk from Stingrays head coach Scott Chipperfield was, it must have worked, as the visitors came out of the sheds almost a totally different side in the second half. Their first chance came within one minute of the restart, as centre-back Caitlin Cooper made a driving run through the central midfield and had a strike from outside the box, but it was well collected by Hughes.

The ease of Cooper’s run seemed to shock the Mariners into action, and they almost responded a minute later after a well-weighted pass from Marzano in transition found right-winger Arentoft in plenty of space just outside the box. After taking a touch to set herself, and under pressure from the back-tracking Talitha Kramer, Arentoft sent her strike onto the crossbar and out of play.

Less than five minutes later, the Mariners almost had another chance to take the lead, when Zoe Halpin was found making a speedy run down the left side. After her low cross was pinged around the box, the ball fell back to Halpin, but her near-post shot was well saved by a diving Burke and eventually cleared.

This was the last real chance the home side had in the game, as the Stingrays’ superior fitness and passing game came to the fore from the hour mark.

Erica Halloway was the Stingrays’ most dangerous player throughout the second half, using her speed to get in behind her defender down the right side on multiple occasions. And it was Halloway’s offside-breaking run that would set up the Stingrays’ first goal in the 65th minute, slicing in between the Mariners’ two centre-backs to latch onto a chipped through-ball from Carney. Halloway’s attempt to dribble around Hughes was initially thwarted by a strong hand from the keeper, but Stingrays winger Middleton was following the chase, and tucked the deflected ball home. 0-1.

Eight minutes later, the visitors had their second goal. Following a backwards throw-in from 30 yards out, midfielder Kahlia Hogg controlled and then volleyed a hopeful ball towards goal. While Hughes did well to tip the dipping ball onto the crossbar, Stingrays forward Carney was there to head home the rebound. 0-2.

As the second half wound down, the Mariners began to run out of legs, unable to continue their high-energy press that worked so well in the first half. Although they did well to keep the Stingrays out for the closing 15 minutes of the game, the final nail in the coffin came in the 89th minute after a Hogg corner found the ever-present Talitha Kramer at the back of the six-yard box, who headed low and hard past Hughes to make it 0-3.

The win sees the Stingrays just scraping into the top four thanks to a Sydney Olympic loss. Meanwhile, the North Shore stay rooted to the bottom of the ladder, though they can take a lot of confidence from their first-half performance and learn many lessons after their second under new head coach Grant Lee.

Final score:

North Shore Mariners 0 – 3 Illawarra Stingrays

Teams

North Shore Mariners: Camilla Arentoft, Eleni Bradley, Hannah Brewer (Yellow card 60′), Jordan Evans, Gemma Gray, Zoe Halpin, Rochelle Johnson, Jasmine Maguire, Gabe Marzano, Maddy Mirkovic, Nadia Nisbet, Katie Offer, Sara Piriz, Keziah White, Ashley Hughes.

Illawarra Stingrays: Kaelah Austin, Trudy Burke, Michelle Carney (73′), Caitlin Cooper, Megan Grew, Anastasia Grozdanov, Erica Halloway, Kahlia Hogg, Sarah Johnston, Blaize Kendis, Talitha Kramer (89′), Jasmine Limon, Danika Matos, Chloe Middleton (65′), Eden Stoddard, Bronte Trew.

Around the Grounds

Blacktown Spartans 2 – 1 Sydney Olympic

Emerging Jets 3 – 3 NWS Koalas

Northern Tigers 4 – 0 FNSW Institute

Macarthur Rams 3 – 1 Manly United

Sydney University 3 – 2 Bankstown City

Ladder

Pos Team P W D L For Against GD Pts
1 Northern Tigers 12 8 2 2 22 6 16 26
2 Sydney University 12 7 4 1 30 10 20 25
3 Blacktown Spartans 12 8 1 3 26 17 9 25
4 Illawarra Stingrays 12 7 3 2 25 13 12 24
5 Sydney Olympic 12 7 2 3 32 16 16 23
6 Macarthur Rams 12 6 2 4 27 25 2 20
7 NWS Koalas 12 4 5 3 24 17 7 17
8 Football NSW Institute 12 5 0 7 19 25 -6 15
9 Manly United 12 3 1 8 18 25 -7 10
10 Bankstown City 12 3 1 8 21 31 -10 10
11 Emerging Jets 12 2 1 9 17 39 -22 7
12 North Shore Mariners 12 1 0 11 12 49 -37 3