20/04/2024

Chelsie Dawber was an integral part of Adelaide United's win at Macedonia Park. (Image: Adelaide United)

51 weeks since their last game in Western Australia, Perth Glory returned to their home state for their first home game of the 2022/23 A-League Women season.

After a high-scoring draw against Canberra United, Alex Epakis’ side may have been encouraged by their attacking play but to earn points against Adelaide United, a strong team with high aspirations, the Glory had to tighten up defensively.

Perth’s cause was strengthened when Adelaide announced that season 2021/22 Golden Boot winner and Julie Dollan Medalist, Fiona Worts, had succumbed to a knock in training and would not be making an appearance at Macedonia Park. In her place, Young Matilda and Round One hero Emilia Murray made her starting debut for Adelaide.

With Worts absent, the team on paper would have suggested that Chelsie Dawber, a natural forward, would have slotted into the Englishwoman’s position, with Murray and Xiao Yuyi on the flanks. Games are not played on paper though, and the approach Adrian Stenta took was an unexpected one, but one that paid dividends, leaving the Perth bench scratching its head.

When the match kicked off, Chinese import Yuyi was leading the line, but her tendency to drop into the midfield in a false nine role caused problems for the Perth defenders and midfielders who were unsure of how to deal with her movement.

Meanwhile, Dawber and Murray ran riot on their respective wings, both also dropping deep at times to pick up the ball and interplay with their fullbacks.

Adelaide’s strong start to the game was rewarded, with Dawber getting time and space on the right to cross the ball, picking out a late run in the box by midfielder Dylan Holmes who made no mistake to blast home the opener. The confusion caused by Adelaide’s front-three movement was more than likely a contributing factor to the lack of marking in the box.

The concern about how the game was playing out was clear on the Perth bench when coach Alex Epakis moved captain Natasha Rigby, a right-back mainstay, to the left side of defence in order to contain Dawber. The move arguably paid dividends, but spot fires started appearing elsewhere on the ground.

The Reds took confidence from their dominant start to the game and were nearly rewarded minutes later, a scintillating piece of play seeing Yuyi denied by former Adelaide custodian Sarah Langman. The goalkeeper had her hands full, denying Yuyi’s chip near her goalline after a miscommunication with her own defender, but ensured that Adelaide went to the sheds with only a single-goal lead.

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Perth showed its resilience in Round One, twice coming from behind against Canberra United to earn a point, and it was always going to try to please the partisan home crowd which has been left starving for live football.

After re-evaluating the first half, the Glory returned with a renewed attacking focus and gave the Reds a game.

The two sides exchanged golden chances with neither finding the back of the net early in the second half, but as time wore on and the Reds entered game management mode, and the Glory began dominating territory.

Despite only captain Isabel Hodgson and goalkeeper Annalee Grove remaining from the previous season’s defence in this line-up, it stood strong against a dangerous Perth side.

Grove denied Peth a one-on-one opportunity, injuring her ankle in the process. The goalkeeper returned to her feet to save a dangerous low shot minutes later.

As the game entered injury time and the Glory continued relentlessly pushing for an equaliser, Grove was once again instrumental in defence, saving a clear-cut Susan Phonsongkham chance as well as an Alana Jancevski free kick to maintain her second clean sheet in as many weeks.

The Reds’ attack may have caught eyes in the first half, but the second half proved how far Annalee Grove has come as a goalkeeper, Ella Tonkin’s rise to prominence as a solid centre-back option after a shaky start last season, along with confirming Maruschka Waldus as one of the competition’s premier defenders.

On the back of winning the opening two games of a season for the first time in their history, the Reds now enter their maiden encounter against Western United in what shapes up to be an exciting top-of-the-table clash in Adelaide.

Meanwhile, Perth showed enough to travel to Newcastle with confidence that it can get the job done away from home, but it will be wary of the Jets after a comprehensive win against the Wanderers, their first in nearly a year.

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