15/04/2024

The squad may look different, but Canberra United has added pace and scoring to its arsenal for 2021/22. (Photo: Canberra United)

Despite losing a few important players, the core of Canberra United has been added to strongly for the 2021/22 campaign.

Canberra United head coach Vicki Linton seems to have the club on the right track. Steadying the ship after a tumultuous few years, can the club make it back-to-back finals appearances in 2021/22?

Last season: Fourth (22 points, six wins, four draws, two losses)

Biggest in:

It may have been a scoreless year for Allira Toby, but it was only a few campaigns ago that she was regularly topping club Golden Boot awards.

Toby made 12 appearances for Sydney FC last season, but didn’t start once. It seemed to work against her favour, failing to find the back of the net in her 233 minutes.

Consecutive years of five goals in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 saw her earn the club’s Golden Boot two seasons straight before finding herself in and out of favour across the next two seasons.

At her best, Toby is a goalkeeper’s nightmare in front of the posts.

One-on-one, she finds a way to isolate herself from her defender and make the perfect strike from close range. There are not many players a keeper would want to see charging towards them less.

Toby’s best goals are made off her own boot. She embraces a solo run towards the box as if she were running a training drill. Placing herself perfectly in between opposition defences, her header game is lethal.

She’ll make the perfect partner in crime for reigning Julie Dolan Medallist, Michelle Heyman, who scored 10 times and added a further three assists last season.

Being involved in 13 of Canberra’s 21 scores in 2020/21, the forward group could do with becoming just a touch less Heyman-centric.

Linton could make use of the pure firepower the two bring with a 4-4-2 formation, if the coach is looking to move away from the 4-3-3 that United predominantly used last season.

Biggest out:

It’s not often you can put full faith in a 16-year-old full-back to be the most reliable player in a team’s defence. Jessika Nash was exactly that.

The teenager departs for Sydney FC after playing 12 games – and starting in all of them – for Canberra United.

Nash wasn’t substituted out of a game once last season, forming an unbreakable combination alongside experienced defensive teammate Kendall Fletcher.

She earned the UC Rising Star award at United’s awards night at the end of the season, recognised for her massive efforts.

Article Image Hero
Nash (left) with the Rising Star award. (Photo: Canberra United)

Nash won 23 tackles and 22 interceptions across the season, able to both read the play and her opponents with an expertise well beyond her years.

Her calm demeanour and game awareness made Nash a crucial part of the defensive group. With both of last year’s first choice centre-backs departed, the United defenders will look a fair bit different in 2021/22.

Nicki Flannery is another major out, after contributing four goals last season. Fletcher’s experience will also be missed when setting up play out of defence.

More A-League Women Season Previews:

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What to expect:

The team that Vicki Linton is assembling looks to be adopting a different approach to pushing for finals than the one that often took to the field in 2020/21.

While mainstays both young and old including Emma Ilijoski, Laura Hughes, Keeley Richards and Grace Maher all return, the new faces around them make for a different looking Canberra.

Speed and endurance seemed to be a focus of Linton’s recruitment. Heyman and Toby can be incredibly efficient in front of goal, and will be offered even more opportunity to take shots with the players creating play down the ground for them.

The late addition of United legend Ash Sykes adds even more leadership up front. The veteran has scored 41 goals in her 113 appearances for the club, one of its most prolific strikers.

While she won’t be played full 90 minute matches from Round 1, she gives Linton versatility in her scoring group. We have United utilising three forwards with Heyman as the central striker, but the coach could play 4-4-2 with Heyman and either one of Toby or Sykes as a two-striker pairing.

Sykes isn’t unfamiliar with a midfield role, and could play as a winger in that four-woman midfield line with Heyman and Toby up front. The ability to have those experienced puts United well above where their forward group was in 2020/21.

Maher’s creative playmaking will be complemented by the experience of Margot Robinne, and the spark that Hughes always brings.

Chloe Middleton and Holly Caspers give pacey options out of defence and through the midfield, looking to pick apart opposition defensive structures with quick and aggressive running and pinpoint passes.

Expect the scoring to be shared a bit more across the year, with youngsters Alexia Karrys-Stahl and Mikayla Vidmar capable of finding the goals as impact subs.

Results could be up and down throughout the year, as Linton’s women may struggle against teams that can match their aggressive style.

Predicted XI:

(Photos: Canberra United, Design: Will Cuckson)

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