28/02/2024

Canberra United celebrate after a hard-fought victory over Perth. Photo: Canberra United

Michelle Heyman, who just played game 100 for Canberra United, said every game is do or die as the W-League finals loom.

Excitement is threatening to bubble over at Canberra United.

Despite poor performances on the run home in previous years, the girls from Viking Park are pulling it all together.

United handed Brisbane a 4-1 smashing and recorded its first away win for the year against Perth in consecutive weeks.

Five teams are still in the running for four finals spots, the Western Sydney Wanderers now mathematically unable to qualify.

Head coach Vicki Linton has backed in her squad in to fight until the bitter end in the final two games of their season.

“It’s all must win games at this point,” she said in her Tuesday press conference.

“For some reason that suits us a little bit, but it is hard on the nerves at times during games.

“We’re well placed.”

The tenuous fifth place United currently hold is entirely in the hands of the team at this point of the season.

Canberra has played one less game than fourth placed Adelaide United, who have the frightening task of taking on a Wanderers team with nothing to lose.

Linton isn’t concerned with the teams around her squad, focusing instead on what they can do in the coming weeks.

“After the first few rounds it looked like a five horse race,” she said.

“Regardless of where we currently sit, it’s the computation of it all. Games in hand, who plays who, that’s more important than where we currently sit.

“What it means is must win games.

“It’s probably more interesting for [the fans and the media] than us at the moment. I’d be happy to be hosting [finals] at home, sitting clear top of the ladder, that would be nice.”

Canberra’s opponents this weekend in Newcastle are in a similar position to the Wanderers.

Having battled hard all year, the Jets are also out of finals qualification and are languishing in seventh.

Linton has never underrated a side coming into a game, and won’t start now.

“The Newcastle road trip is the toughest for us, with the drive up to Newcastle,” she said.

“They’ve been coached really well and been playing really good as a unit. It’s going to be a tough game for us.

“They haven’t given a result to anybody, they’ve fought every game, they’ve been close in every game, good performances from individuals and as a group.

“We need to be switched on and we need to give a good performance.

“It would be nice if we got on the scoresheet early, that would help us. We’re always going to anticipate that Newcastle will fight back as well.”

Riding the highs

Post-game against Perth Glory, Michelle Heyman’s joy was palpable.

After booting her 70th goal to take back the W-League all time goals scored record, she only had to wait 40 more minutes to find her 71st.

Two missed penalties from veteran defender Kendall Fletcher kept scores to a 2-2 deadlock entering second half extra time.

In the 94th minute, Heyman ran around one defender and found teammate Hayley Taylor-Young with a short, sharp pass.

Heyman closed in on the box, receiving it back while evading another charging defender, and slid the ball past keeper Lily Alfeld for an unforgettable sealer at the death.

Speaking in the rooms, her thoughts were first with her teammates.

“(Kendall) was fine,” Heyman said.

“Taking a penalty is the hardest thing ever, that’s why I don’t step up ever, really! I give it all for her.

“To do that, you have to have courage and you have to be brave, and she did it. She was copping a lot from the goalkeeper, copping a lot from the players on the field.

“To miss two is never easy, but we’re a team and we fight for each to the very end. That’s something we all put on the field.

“We were not losing this game, we were not going to let that get away from us.”

Holding the title of leading goalkicker is not something Heyman takes lightly.

She’s quick to focus on continuing to improve from her already lofty heights.

“For myself, I love to give myself a challenge and I love to step up to that,” Heyman said.

“It’s been a really nice feeling to not be complacent. I’ve been trying to earn my spot, I’ve been trying to change it up a little bit.

“I’m playing as a 10 at the moment, doing something completely different that I’m not used to.

“I’m having the best time, and just doing what I can for the team.”

Young forward Nicki Flannery echoed her teammate’s sentiments, being particularly impressed with the resilience of the whole side late in the game.

“That game showed a lot of character from us”, Flannery said on Thursday.

“There were some crazy moments and it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but we found a way to win.

“They’re the moments that you take forward and you take with confidence into your next match.

“We have the fight just as much as they do, and we’re not going to let this game go.”

With Heyman’s 100th game in Canberra colours against the Jets, to say the whole United team will be celebrating would be selling them short.

Flannery can’t ignore the impact Heyman has on every other player at the club.

“I was just talking to the girls when Michelle left the change room, and we’re all willing to do something that’s going to celebrate her 100th game,” Flannery said.

“She’s such a loyal player to the club, the fans and the community here in Canberra.

“I think that’s going to give us a bit of extra drive to get us through and get us the three points in her 100th match.

“She deserves it, she’s already made incredible records this season and this is just another milestone for her.”

Coming into finals, a milestone match is exactly what the side needed for an extra push to break into the top four.

Flannery credits a lot of the club’s culture to Heyman’s return to the green and black.

“It’s honestly an honour to play alongside Michelle and she’s one of my closest friends off the field as well,” Flannery said.

“It’s a really special bond we’ve created just from playing with each other. Even though we went our separate ways we’ve always supported each other, and she’s like a sister to me.

“It’s quite difficult to not be enjoying yourself.”

Heyman found the goals in her 100th game, getting United over the line 0-1 against Newcastle.

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