After a tough start to life in 2021/22, Canberra United goalkeeper Keeley Richards’ first clean sheet was just what she needed to find her confidence again.
Richards became United’s first choice keeper last season after some early injury issues to the keeping group, debuting in Round 5 and keeping three clean sheets from that point.
But after three games this season, she’d already given up six goals as the girls in green languished at the bottom end of the A-League Women ladder.
This included a goal that she’ll likely never replay again against Brisbane Roar, taking a grand swing and a miss at a backward pass to let through an own goal.
Richards was a big part of keeping scores tied nil all against Perth Glory on Wednesday evening though, harkening back to the form that saw her named Canberra’s Player of the Match in its season opener against Melbourne City.
She got her first real chance to impact the game in the 37th minute as a perfect low pass from Gemma Craine towards Susan Phonsongkham saw a ball come barrelling her way.
Reacting fast like all good keepers, she stuck out the right foot and easily deflected it away.
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Just minutes later Richards would come off her line to the edge of the goal box to meet the charging Cyera Hintzen, standing firm and blocking her shot with both gloves.
“[Keeley] was brilliant, she kept us in it,” coach Vicki Linton told media post-game.
“She kept a clean sheet, even taking the corners and crosses, those saves were key.”
Her confidence in the game only continued to grow from there as the Glory forwards made more attempts on the goal.
The Glory only took six shots, with two on target. While Lauren Keir was a big part of that, particularly in the first half, Richards herself managed to stop many shots before they could even happen in the second.
Part of that return to confidence came in the 27-year-old’s willingness to come well off her line, to the very edge of the box at times, meeting oncoming players and errant plays with quick judgement.
When Perth was taking set pieces from the corner, Richards was leaping well above the pack of players and taking the ball cleanly with two hands.
In a game where big chances were scarce, United still had to be wary of the likes of Hintzen, Phonsongkham, and Alana Jancevski.
The teenaged Jancevski had already scored twice in the past two games, while Hintzen found the back of the net last week. Jancevski even had the perfect opportunity in front of goal from a cross off captain Natasha Rigby, but it sailed barely over her head.
United still winless
Despite coming out of the game without conceding for the first time this season, Canberra is still without a three point game in 2021/22.
This was perhaps its best opportunity to take all the points away yet, coming up against a Glory defence missing the experience of fullback Sarah Carroll and new keeper Courtney Newbon making her first appearance for the club.
Linton came into the game with every intention of coming away with all the points.
“We were aiming for three, but based on the situation of the game, I can’t be unhappy with the response,” she told media post-game.
“Based on the quality of the play and the effort in the second half, it was really good. Based on the competition within the game I thought a point was probably fair, but we were hoping to get three.”
United midfielder Grace Maher admitted to the Paramount broadcast at half time that they weren’t taken advantage of the space throughout the centre of the ground to take better advantage of their attacking midfield options.
This was quickly remedied in the second half, as Michelle Heyman and Hayley Taylor-Young both created big scoring chances within the first few minutes of play resuming.
Taylor-Young was puzzlingly substituted off in the 61st minute as coach Vicki Linton looked for new avenues to goal.
The 19-year-old had to adapt to a wing-back position in the absence of fullback Emma Ilijoski, awaiting a COVID test result, who left a notable gap in the side when it came to creating play from defence.
“Yesterday we made the decision to get tested before we travelled, just as a precaution,” Linton explained regarding Ilijoski’s absence.
“She tested positive for that, so we sent her off for a PCR test. It was just, how long is a string? We didn’t know when we were going to get results back. It was safety first, welfare of the player first.
“As a club we’re trying to do the right things. This is affecting every team, and we’ve just got to be able to prepare for it and be flexible.”
With little fullback depth to draw from, Linton opted for a back three instead, meaning Taylor-Young and Chloe Middleton were left with a lot of work to do.
When Taylor-Young played further up the pitch to start the second half in her more traditional wing role she excelled, but only got 16 minutes to do so.
Glory coach Alex Epakis often opted to mark Allira Toby the hardest instead of Heyman, most notable off corners and throw ins, leaving the star striker with plenty of room to find the play but no one to play it on to.
Linton only has three days to address the night’s issues before taking on Adelaide United on Saturday at Viking Park.
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