Emilia Murray celebrating her first A League Women goal (Image: Adelaide United)

Adelaide United's strong start to the A League Women's Season displayed its intent to be taken seriously as title contenders.

During the A-League Women’s Season Launch, Adelaide United midfielder Dylan Holmes made her expectations for her side’s upcoming campaign clear.

Finals at a minimum.

Talk is great, but when reigning Premiers and back-to-back Grand Finalists Sydney FC visited a traditionally slow-starting Reds side in Round One, it meant talk had to translate into action.

Historically, when looking at the two sides they could not be more different. Until recently, the Reds were the cellar dwellers of the league, whereas Sydney is always present at the pointy end of the season. Matches are not played in history or on paper though and that fact could not be more relevant with gale-force wind and stubborn rain plaguing ServiceFM Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

A tense first half, compounded by rustiness and the troublesome conditions finished off level with neither side having any clear-cut chances to open the scoring. Despite the fireworks promised by players such as Chelise Dawber, Fiona Worts, Cortnee Vine, and Princess Ibini, it was the backlines that ticked boxes in the opening 45 minutes.

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As both sides got a chance to reflect on their opposition and the inclement weather, they both returned from the sheds with pragmatic, more direct approaches.

Reds coach Adrian Stenta reflected on how the conditions affected the match, especially noting Sydney’s change of approach after halftime. Stating, β€œI think the conditions made it a little bit challenging at times to play and you saw that for Sydney, who were a little bit different in the way that they approached the first half to the second half.”

As the game was heading to its conclusion and both sides had missed the few clear-cut chances they had created in the second half, it seemed like it was going to be the defences that would win the day. This was an especially impressive fact for the Reds and their new-looking backline, Maruschka Waldus playing her first game in her second stint for the Club, while Ella Tonkin and Paige Hayward saw more time on the bench and the wing respectively, in Season 2021/22.

On a day where a draw would have probably been a fair result, the Reds would have happily taken a point against quality opposition in difficult conditions, but the script had another twist. With three minutes of regular time to go, Chelsie Dawber’s hopeful deep cross was met by young star Emilia Murray, whose NPL SA form warrants regular A-League Women minutes, and her looping header left goalkeeper Jada Whyman helpless while the disbelieving forward wheeled away in celebration of her first professional goal.

Sydney FC could not muster a response and Adelaide recorded its first win of the season in its first attempt, a far cry from their 5-1 loss to open the last campaign away to Melbourne Victory. Not only did the win shows the rest of the competition that Adelaide means business, Coach Adrian Stenta proactively stated there is room for improvement.

β€œWe need to work on being a little bit more positive and forward-thinking, especially in transition.

β€œToday we were a little bit hesitant at times and not as aggressive as we should have been.

“I was happy in the first half with the positions we found ourselves in, but I think our final ball and that quality in the final third was just lacking a little bit, so we’ll focus on these things moving forward.”

The Reds now travel to Perth as the Glory returns to its home after having to play on the road for the majority of the last two seasons. While the Reds will be attempting to rediscover their cutting edge in the final third as they strengthen their Championship credentials, Perth will be actively trying to improve a defence that conceded twice in Canberra which cost it two valuable points in what is sure to be another tight race for finals.

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