Pulsating Encounter Sees Lionesses Retain Top Spot
Lions FC 3 (Morton 17′, 72′; Riding 82′)
Sunshine Coast Wanderers 2 (Murphy-Pollard 74′; Bensted 82′)
A brace from Kate Morton and a deflected Tegan Riding strike proved enough to maintain top spot on the NPLW ladder in a scrappy but pulsating clash against Sunshine Coast Wanderers on Saturday evening.
Lions entered the game without their mercurial playmaker Mariel Hecher who’s out with a knee injury as coach Joe Disavia had to shuffle his pack around for this encounter, but it was Wanderers who almost snatched an early lead when a free kick driven low into the box was left by Lions keeper Kaitlyn Dale and just drifted wide of the far post.
Wanderers continued to threaten with Rui Pu Yang firing just over before Chloe Isbel’s shot from wide right forced Dale into tipping over the bar.
With Lions’ first real threat they took the lead just after the quarter hour mark when a poor goal kick was met by pressure from Kate Morton who won the ball and went on to drill her shot across Wanderer’s keeper Celeste Peterson and into the bottom corner.
The hosts had a handful of chances soon after but were met with some superb keeping from Peterson who denied Riding and Morton in quick succession before pulling off an excellent save to tip Lana Harch’s long range effort onto the post.
Moments later Harch was again denied by Peterson who tipped her shot over the bar.
The second half saw both sides cancel each other out for opening period before the game came back to life midway though the half when Riding made a surging 30 yard run before having her effort saved by Peterson. The resulting corner that followed saw the ball played out and whipped into the six yard box where it was met by Georgia Chapman’s header into the back of the net, but the assistant referee’s flag was raised in what looked a tight call.
Riding was further denied minutes later, firstly by Peterson smothering at her feet and then by the post when she did superbly to turn inside the box following Tanesha Stanley’s cut back pass.
With less than 20 minutes remaining though, Riding turned provider when her stinging shot was only parried away by Peterson, with Morton acting quickest to race on to the ball to net her and Lions second.
Two minutes later Wanderers reduced the deficit when Natalie Russell’s shot could only be parried by Dale and Carmel Murphy-Pollard followed in, sliding the ball past Dale.
The woodwork yet again came to the aid of the visitors soon after with substitute Jess Hogg beating Peterson but not the far post as Wanderers were feeling the pressure.
The two goal lead was restored with just over ten minutes left on the clock and this time Riding got the goal she craved and had worked so hard for throughout the contest, be it courtesy of a deflection to wrong foot Peterson.
Stanley almost further extended Lions lead moments later when she too was denied by a post as Wanderers were struggling to cope with Lions attacking forays, but when they were beginning to look beaten, they pulled one back from a sensational free kick some 25 yards out. Martha Bensted’s strike flying into the top left corner that would have had any keeper beaten, let alone Dale.
With a nervous last few minutes, Lions took control and looked the more likely side to score next.
Riding was once again denied by Peterson before Harch, who’s composed control on the ball was reassuring for the hosts and those of faint heart, was also denied by the woodwork.
The Lionesses held firm for the three minutes of added time before the final whistle signalled another three points in the bag and top spot on the NPLW table secured.
“It was good to get the three points. I was very happy that we didn’t panic in those last few minutes as I think we could have easily gone into panic stations, just clearing the ball out. We kept the ball and didn’t do anything that they wanted us to do. They would have wanted us to play it long and get the ball back to counter attack.”
“Even though my heart was racing, the girls looked comfortable and if there was ever going to be a late goal it was more likely to come from us. It was going to take a miracle goal or something on the counter for Wanderers to get anything from the game in the end.”
“I was comfortable with the girls and comfortable with the positional changes we made with some players out of their normal positions. The girls played well and more importantly it’s another three points for us.”
Dale (gk), Chapman, Morton, Horsey, Riley, Stephens, Riding, Schiavo, Harch, Kenman, Disavia.
Subs: Hepburn (rgk), Franke, Hecher, Stanley, Hogg.
Sunshine Coast Wanderers
Peterson (gk), Buhmann, Russell, Scott, Williams, Isbel, Yang, Lee, Guy, Murphy-Pollard.
Subs: Hunter, Christmas, Tealby.