A 7-0 drubbing, a return to winning ways for the reigning Champions, and a stalemate between title contenders; Round 5 saw the 2019 NSW NPL heavyweights start to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Match of the Round: Illawarra Stingrays v Sydney Olympic
This week’s Match of the Round was none other than the top of the table clash between the final two undefeated sides remaining in the competition: the Illawarra Stingrays and newcomers Sydney Olympic.
Both teams came into yesterday’s game full of confidence after claiming three wins and a draw from the opening four rounds, each having already taken on one of the traditional top-four contenders in the Macarthur Rams and Sydney University.
Sunday afternoon’s match also promised to be a goal-fest as Olympic and the Stingrays sat first and second on the ladder respectively in terms of number of goals scored so far in the competition (17 and 12).
However, after a tense 90 minutes which saw plenty of drama at both ends of the park, the two teams couldn’t be separated, playing out a 1-1 draw at J.J. Kelly Park in Wollongong.
The game got off to a horror start in the 4th minute when Stingrays centre-back Katelyn Leadbeatter went down clutching her knee after being bumped awkwardly by Olympic striker Susan Phonsongkham. It was definitely not the start that the hosts wanted, with Leadbeatter eventually stretchered off in tears.
The following ten minutes were understandably nervy for both sides, with Olympic just edging out Illawarra in terms of chances created. However, neither team came up with any clear opportunities on goal as the two sides wrestled to control the rhythm of the game.
Olympic were the team to settle more quickly – maintaining possession, pressing well as a unit, and with a much more comfortable passing game. It was certainly an interesting case study in two different styles of play in the NSW NPLW: while the Stingrays are known for their long balls out wide to stretch apart opposition defences and open up space in behind for their speedy forwards (particularly on the counter-attack), Olympic are far more balanced and patient with the ball and look to play shorter ground passes to the feet of their attacking players, working in smaller one-two combinations with well-timed overlaps.
Despite Olympic’s increasing domination of the game, it was Illawarra who had a glorious chance to take an early lead in the 15th minute after Eden Stoddard was bumped from behind in the box when attempting to meet a corner ball. Penalty. Adelaide United’s Kahlia Hogg stood over the spot-kick, but her shot was at a comfortable height for Olympic goalkeeper Amanda Harafios, who palmed it over the crossbar.
This heart-in-mouth moment seemed to kick the visiting side into gear.
Five minutes later, Olympic had a goal controversially chalked off. After a strike by Newcastle Jets winger Panagiota Petratos came off the crossbar and bounced back into play, the ball fell to Olympic’s right winger Sarah Yatim inside the area. Yatim took on the Stingrays’ lone defender, charging towards the by-line and cutting the ball back for the oncoming Phonsongkham, who finished by nutmegging Illawarra goalkeeper Trudy Burke. However, the ball was brought back for a goal kick as Yatim’s cut-back was deemed to have gone out of play.
Olympic almost atoned for this missed opportunity a minute later, resulting once again from a high press on Illawarra’s left-sided defenders. After Stingrays’ make-shift centre-back Sarah Johnston lost possession in the wide channel, Phonsongkham picked up the ball in behind and sent a lovely angled pass into the box for Rochelle Borromeo. Unfortunately, Kiara De Domizio’s shot following Borromeo’s cut-back went well wide of the post.
The Stingrays began to work their way into the game after several waves of Olympic attack, and were almost ahead in the 26th minute when in-form striker Erica Halloway broke the visitor’s offside trap before turning inside and trying to chip Harafios, but the keeper smothered well.
Olympic’s high press continued to cause problems for the rattled Stingrays on the half hour as their right full-back was dispossessed by Petratos, who had acres of space ahead, but was bowled over by the recovering defender. Sydney FC captain Teresa Polias stood over the resulting free kick and launched it hard and straight, but the ball pinged off the crossbar before going out of play.
The game was a physical one as much as a strategic one, with plenty of fouls committed by both teams in the closing stages of the first half. While the Stingrays continued to push their familiar long-ball tactic, trying to feed Halloway or the overlapping Talitha Kramer down the left, Olympic were able to anticipate and neutralise these passes well, barely allowing any Illawarra players to get onto the end of them.
Both teams were lucky to go into the sheds at half time with the scores still at 0-0.
The visitors certainly had the upper-hand in the first half, but it was the Stingrays who came out firing in the opening stages of the second.
While they didn’t shy away from their traditional long-ball tactics, Illawarra’s press was far more successful; they flattened out Olympic’s formation and isolated tricky striker and central creative player Phonsongkham.
However, that wouldn’t stop Olympic’s relentless attacking momentum. In the 51st minute, it was Phonsongkham again who collected a pass out wide and sent a lovely through-ball inside for the overlapping Yatim—but Yatim’s well-placed cross for Olympic’s incoming Di Domizio was just too strong and it rolled out for a goal kick.
Olympic created two other decent chances through Phonsongkham in the following five minutes as the striker was forced to drop deep to collect the ball and turn to feed her team-mates, but it was the Stingrays who would open the scoring in the 60th minute. A deep corner ball found Caitlin Cooper, positioned unmarked on the back of the six-yard box, who then headed the low and hard through a crowd of players and into the net at the front post. 1-0 Stingrays.
From the 70th minute and with both teams tiring, Illawarra then did what any team would do when defending a slim lead in a top-of-the-table clash: they parked the bus. In doing so, however, the Stingrays invited Olympic to dominate possession and attack them from all angles, which the visitors were only too happy to do. The following ten minutes were an exercise in siege mentality as the Stingrays defended in a tight central block with two defensive midfielders, while only Halloway and Kramer were left alone to pursue any counter-attacking long balls.
It was only a matter of time before Olympic would crack through their host’s defence.
And in the 79th minute, the equaliser arrived. Standing over a free kick on the right side of the 18-yard box, Polias fizzed a pass into the six-yard box where Olympic right-back Jessica Frampton was waiting. Beating her defender to the ball with a single touch, Frampton then smashed her shot past Burke at the front post and into the net. A deserved 1-1.
Olympic would almost extend their lead in the 86th minute when Phonsongkham slipped a lovely pass through the back line for Georgia Plessas who came charging down the left wing, but her shot was deflected just wide of the far post.
While the Stingrays would create some half-chances from corners in the closing minutes of the match, it would ultimately end 1-1.
The draw sees both teams now move to second and third on the ladder, overtaken by the impressive FNSW Institute.
Illawarra Stingrays: Kaelah Austin, Trudy Burke (GK), Caitlin Cooper (60′), Anastasia Grozdanov, Erica Halloway, Kahlia Hogg, Sarah Johnston, Blaize Kendis, Ashley Kotevski, Talitha Kramer, Katelyn Leadbeatter, Jasmine Limon, Danika Matos, Chloe Middleton, Eden Stoddard, Eda Yakan.
Sydney Olympic: Rochelle Borromeo, Kiara De Domizio, Jessica Frampton (79′), Kate Halaska, Amanda Horafios (GK), Angelique Hristoudoulou, Lauren Johnson, Emily Kos, Kristy Kunovski, Panagiota Petratos, Susan Phonsongkham, Georgia Plessas, Teresa Polias, Sarah Yatim.
Around The Grounds
Bankstown City FC 1 – 3 Football NSW Institute
Emerging Jets 2 – 4 Blacktown Spartans FC
North Shore Mariners 0 – 7 Sydney University
Northern Tigers 3 – 0 Manly United
NWS Koalas 3 – 4 Macarthur Rams
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