21/02/2024

A record 5213 were in attendance to watch the Wellington Phoenix for the first game in New Zealand. Photo Credit: A-League Women/Twitter

From chaotic contests to delightful debuts, The Inner Sanctum is here to take you through the good and the bad of round one of the A-League Women.

Western United vs Melbourne Victory

Good: A brilliant occasion

Western United’s first ever game was against the reigning champions, and the club had a fantastic day.

United have been steadily generating interest leading up to their first A-League Women’s season and it all helped get the club off to the best possible start.

Western United has their roots in the highly successful Calder United team in the Victorian NPLW. It is where the core of their squad come from, and where their manager Mark Torcaso won three trophies in 2022.

When the first of these was secured in August with the Nike FC Cup, Calder donned Western United colours instead of their traditional white strips.

The subsequent success on that day and the rest of the season was linked to Western United, and judging by the vocal support on the weekend, it must have been an easy step for Calder’s fans to travel to City Vista and cheer their side to a 1-0 win over Melbourne Victory.

On the pitch, Western United set out to attack through their full backs, Francesca Iermano and Stacy Papadopoulos, players known for their skill in the final third and pace with the ball.

In attack, United created the better chances of the two teams, and a poacher’s goal from Jess McDonald was enough to clinch a historic win.

The players stayed back to sign autographs and engage with fans after the final whistle to cap off a memorable day.

Western United have done everything right in their first week of the competition. They have laid the foundations for a strong and welcome presence in the A-League Women. 

Bad: Victory’s high profile engine room failed to fire

Few teams look stronger than Victory on paper this season. Although they have lost Kyra Cooney-Cross, Courtney Nevin and Polly Doran to Europe, they have strengthened in most areas of the pitch.

The arrival of Beattie Goad and Elise Kellond-Knight adds significant experience and class. The return of Alex Chidiac gives them creativity. Up front, Melina Ayres starts the season injury free after making a huge impact on the 2021/22 finals series.

However, against Western United, the team performance was less than the sum of its parts. Victory struggled to create consistent chances, and only managed two shots on target.

The new players will likely take some weeks to develop on field chemistry. When they do, it could still be frightening. The threats were visible in moments, especially from Goad and Jess Nash, but this was a Victory side with some improvement to do.

Canberra United vs Perth Glory

Good: The chaos fixture delivers again

With recent fixtures featuring results the likes of 1-1 (with both goals coming in the 86th and 87th minutes), 3-2, and 3-3, in three of the last four meetings, this fixture has been dubbed the chaos game.

The developing rivalry delivered to kick off the season at McKellar Park with both sides trading goals back and forth before settling at 2-2 to end in a rather fitting draw.

Both sides showed off their attacking prowess as they look to make waves towards the top four this season, with Glory hoping goal difference will not prove to be the reason they miss out.

For Canberra, the recruitment of Grace Jale, who scored six goals in 12 games for Wellington last year, was a wise one to partner with veteran, Michelle Heyman who is on the journey for 100 goals.

Having two talented forwards like Jale and Heyman who can score with regularity will go a long way to helping Canberra be competitive and near the top four again. 

Bad: The camera angles

For all the talk about minimum broadcast standards in place, some of the camera angles for this game were not fantastic.

Whether this can be put down to resources available at fields like McKellar Park which are not stadia as well equipped or resourced as some of the other venues used (such as Sky Stadium, home of the Wellington Phoenix, where the broadcast looked the exact same as a men’s game would), or things like technical issues, it was disappointing to tune in and see cameras not be in spots where they would be for a men’s game.

While it is a long stretch away from the days of ‘Tuba Guy’ and single camera broadcasts of Perth Glory games at Dorrien Gardens with no replays, no commentary, and poor picture quality, it still has a long way to go before home and away fixtures in the A-League Women’s match the exact broadcast quality of their men’s equivalent every week. 

Brisbane Roar vs Newcastle Jets

Good: Brisbane are ready to Roar once again

After a less than ideal 2021-22 season where Brisbane finished well outside of a finals spot that saw some squad turnover and five debutants take the pitch for the home side, the Roar got their campaign off to a great start, looking incredibly dangerous in a 2-1 victory.

Brisbane are setting themselves up nicely as a side to be reckoned with this year with the dominance executed in the win, as they could have had even more than those two goals on another day.

While it is only a win over the Newcastle Jets (more on that in the bad), you can only beat whoever is put in front of you.

Plus the Roar also have some player named Katrina Gorry to come back into the line-up. Maybe she can help them continue on this quest back to the finals?

Bad: The Newcastle Jets

After a magical run to the finals in the 17/18 season, the Newcastle Jets have spent the last three seasons finishing seventh, ninth, and eighth. 

Things needed to change for the Jets in the off-season, and there was hope and optimism going in to the opening fixture.

Unfortunately, football is not played on paper, and despite some bright spots that will give the team building blocks going forward, it was more of the same from the last few seasons that greeted the Jets faithful.

A game against the Wanderers this week is an ideal fixture to try and wrestle some momentum and get the season on track before it derails. Early signs so far this season suggest the best thing about the Jets could be that gorgeous white and gold kit.

If that is the case, Ash Wilson could find herself out of a job.

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Wellington Phoenix vs Melbourne City

Good: María. José. Rojas.

One assist. One goal. Winning a penalty for the third goal. What a debut for your new club.

It is hard to believe Rojas was unsigned by any club in the competition prior to the season until she was signed by Melbourne City on an injury replacement contract for Hannah Wilkinson, and she showed what she can do at her best in City’s 4-1 win over Wellington.

With new signing, Bryleeh Henry getting on the scoresheet thanks to that Rojas assist, and a brace from Rhianna Pollicina, the thought of Melbourne City getting back to the top of the league is frightening. With Wilkinson to come back, that threat is very real.

For now though, it is the María José Rojas show, and we are just watching it.

Good: A new crowd record for a standalone women’s fixture

We are going to cheat here, because it would be easy to pile the bad on the home side given the heavy defeat, but that should not overshadow such a momentous occasion. 

While it was not the crowd of 10000 the club had hoped for and tried to push in the lead-up for Wellington’s first home fixture in New Zealand, it was still the highest standalone crowd for an A-League Women’s fixture at 5213.

The side also showed plenty of promise and created some good opportunities at various points throughout the match and will have plenty to build on going forward.

It will not be easy for the Phoenix again this season, but they are finally home in New Zealand, and if they can use that to their advantage it could be a tough away trip for the Australian sides.

Adelaide United vs Sydney FC

Good: Adelaide’s composure

The Reds came into this game with expectation where in previous seasons there was hope.

After finishing third in 2021/22, they started the new campaign up against the premiers and perennial powerhouse Sydney FC.

Adelaide United’s charge to the finals was exhilarating and exciting. Although Adrian Stenta’s team had good tactical discipline, their run to third place was adrenaline boosted football.

In Round One, Adelaide showed the next stage of its long evolution. In difficult conditions, against a team containing some of the league’s best players, they were composed and mature.

Annalee Grove was strong in goals. She never looked like making an error, and pulled off some brilliant saves.

In midfield, Dylan Holmes went head to head with Mackenzie Hawkesby. In the modern era where every player has a role or specific job, it is so rare to see two true central midfielders directly opposed to each other.

But it was in the final minutes that Adelaide showed its finals credentials. In strong winds, and with time running out, Chelsie Dawber took possession on the right, pausing, taking a touch, then the usual goal for teenage substitute Emilia Murray.

The long pass was perfect, it curled from the wing to the middle of the penalty box. Jada Whyman could not get there before Murray leapt and nodded it into the net for an incredible win.

Adelaide United were composed, calm and controlled in all areas of the pitch. It was impressive.

Bad: Sydney FC’s attack

The side that scored the most goals last season barely troubled a makeshift Adelaide United defence.

The Reds were missing Jenna McCormick and Emily Hodgson from their first choice back four. Even though Cortneee Vine looked dangerous, and Hawkesby was ever creative, the goals did not come.

Sydney FC’s new look attack may take some tinkering and time to gel. Remy Siemsen was a fixture in the last two premiership winning sides. Without the Matildas striker, Sydney’s attack looked like it was still searching for structure.

Ante Juric’s team still had their chances, but five shots on target would normally be enough to score at least once. It was a rusty performance in the attacking third. Sydney FC scored in every match of 2021/22, going goalless in any game is an unfamiliar feeling. 

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