The Reds impressed at times this season. Picture: AUFC Media

W-League season 2020/21 is now over for five clubs. The Inner Sanctum team reviewed the season of each team to miss the finals in part one of our W-League wrap.

As the W-League regular season comes to a close, we cast our eye back over what was a rollercoaster of a year.

Each of the following sides have plenty of positives to take out of season 2021 but unfortunately, all fell short of finals football with Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne Victory and Canberra rounding out the top four.

Our W-League team have identified an MVP and a breakout player for each side in the bottom five and have provided a reflection on the season that was.

Adelaide United 

Final Position: 5th

MVP: The Reds had plenty of players worthy of the title of Most Valuable Player, but Emily Condon stood out above the rest for her consistent performances throughout the season. 

Condon tied with Mallory Weber for most assists at the club with four but her value across the pitch made her a clear standout for the Reds and somebody that opposition teams hate playing against. 

The midfielder started to find the scoresheet this year, finding the back of the net four times, many of those match-winners helping the Reds to equal their highest ever finish in the W-League. 

She started every game and was able to show her class on the ball producing 17 key passes and passing the ball with almost 80 per cent efficiency.

Breakout Player: It may seem strange to consider a former W-League rising star a breakout player, but Chelsie Dawber was just that in season 2021. 

She scored more goals than any of her teammates, two of those coming from outside the area that will live long in the memory of Reds fans. 

Dawber won the rising star award last season but this year, Dawber continued to improve, showing plenty of composure on the ball and a clear attacking intent. 

Now 21 years of age, Dawber is sure to be on the radar of the national side and considering her trajectory, it may not be long until we see her in a Matildas jersey.

The Final Word: 2021 will likely be remembered as the season that almost was for Adrian Stenta and Adelaide United. 

The season started off in dramatic fashion as United conceded four second half goals in a horror showing against Canberra United but what followed was a three game win-streak and a message to the competition that they were ready to challenge this year.

Disappointing results against eventual top four clubs in Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory meant that United missed out on finals football by a solitary goal, losing out on goal difference to Canberra United. 

Adelaide have never made a finals appearance in the W-League and there were certainly times when it looked like this would be the year, but it was eventually not to be.

The mood around the club, though, could not be more positive. 

Stenta and company have built a very strong, young side who have a hunger to improve and they have the backing of United fans. 

Reds fans said goodbye to captain and star player, Dylan Holmes, as she departed for an opportunity to play in Sweden.

Holmes waved a heartfelt goodbye in her final match, a 2-0 win at home against Sydney FC, a side that has never missed a finals campaign. 

The season ended in perfect fashion; a 3-1 home victory in front of a W-League record crowd at Coopers Stadium.

At the end of the day, the Reds will be disappointed to have missed out on the finals but will be buoyed by the improvement and passion shown by the side and the future looks promising for this group. 

Ben Lennon

Picture: wswanderersfc.com.au

Western Sydney Wanderers

Final Position: 6th

MVP: Western Sydney Wanderers had a few players that could have pushed for their player of the season, but looking over the course of the season, Libby Copus-Brown showed excellence in consistency with her performances. 

Despite being just twenty-two years old at the start of the campaign, she has now finished her fifth season of football in the W-League.

Copus-Brown added an air of defensive solidity to her game this season, making twenty two interceptions and ten clearances.

She combined this with her already fantastic ability on the ball, with her close ball control and agility bamboozling opposition teams. She made twelve key passes throughout the season and averaged 38.2 passes per game. 

Breakout Player: She may have only got 368 minutes in this W-League campaign, but Rosie Galea showed the promise and clinical ability to turn into one of the best forwards in the league over the next five years.

She scored four goals over the season – an average of 0.98 per ninety minutes. She took five shots on target with four of them finding the net, and scoring two with her left and two with her right – a 40 per cent conversion rate.

While a small sample size makes her season harder to measure, we will likely see her lighting up the league over the next few campaigns. 

The Final Word: Western Sydney Wanderers may be disappointed when looking back over their campaign. They lost multiple international players, like many other W-League teams, but were aiming for the top four and didn’t achieve that target.

In the end, they finished nine points behind fourth placed Canberra United and seemed to lack the quality and cohesion necessary to make finals.

They showed fantastic football in a 4-0 victory over Melbourne City in their second last game but couldn’t replicate that form earlier in the season, where they didn’t manage to pick up a point until the sixth game of their campaign – a 2-2 draw with Adelaide United.

They finished the season with just thirteen goals from ten games – seventh in the league with an average of 1.08 per game. They conceded 21 goals – the third most alongside Newcastle Jets.

They finished with a passing accuracy of 66 per cent, the second lowest in the league, showing that they didn’t keep the ball for long periods of time and instead looked to move forwards towards goal with direct, long passes or quick transitions.

Western Sydney Wanderers will already be looking forward to the next campaign as they look to replicate the form of their 2019-20 season and leave 2020/21 behind. 

Jack George

Picture: w-league.com.au

Melbourne City

Final Position: 7th

MVP: There are always going to be players in contention for the player of the year award. For City, it had to be goalkeeper Teagan Micah who came out on top. 

In one of the biggest signings prior to the season, Micah returned to Australia from Norwegian top flight club Arna-Bjornar, and wasted no time making her mark.

In the season-opener against Brisbane, the 23-year-old was named player of the match, pulling off an incredible eight saves and keeping a clean sheet in her debut for City.

As the season progressed, Micah continued to grow and provided her side with confidence, pulling off spectacular saves seemingly every week.

In the eight games that Micah played, she made 33 saves at a rate of four per game, the best of any keeper in the league.

Her season was cut short after a knee injury late in the season. While only managing to play 8 games, Micah’s impact on the team was second-to-none and she was a deserved MVP for the season.

Micah currently sits as the number three goalkeeper for the Matildas, but after her stint in Norway and now a player of the year award at City, she’s now touted to be the future no.1 keeper.

Breakout Player: There is only one player that comes to mind when we’re discussing breakout players and for City that has to be 20-year-old Leah Davidson.

Davidson joined City back in November after spending the last two seasons at the Brisbane Roar, only making 11 appearances.

It didn’t take long for Davidson to make an impression on the coaching staff and as a result, she started every match in her debut season at the club.

The key midfielder was as reliable as it gets and if City can hold on to her, Davidson will be a future Matilda in no time.

The Final Word: After taking out the Premiers Plate and finals series in the 19/20 season, it wasn’t the most exciting start to 20/21 for City fans. 

Starting off with one win in its first seven matches, City were on the brink of a terrible season, but the club showed its class and why they were champions last year by winning the final three matches to at least bring some positivity into the offseason. 

Despite the encouraging end, City still finished nine points out of the top four and missed finals after its success last season.

With the players that City have and the quality that the team can play at, don’t be surprised if City are right back at the top contending for the Premiers Plate once again.

Thomas Lusk

Picture: w-league.com.au

Newcastle Jets

Final Position: 8th

MVP: Former captain, inaugural Jet and two time Newcastle Player of the Year, Gema Simon continued her storied career with another fantastic year in defence.

Simon has made 11 appearances for the Matildas, and showed her national experience week-to-week, keeping her side settled and starting play consistently. Not only did Simon notch up 23 key passes, but made forays forward for two rare goals of her own.

With 30 clearances and 30 interceptions for the year, Simon demonstrated her ability to not only work hard to stop opposition opportunities towards goal and get play going again for the Jets.

Simon would be named three times in the W-League Team of the Year.

Breakout Player: Young midfielder Rhianna Pollicina cemented her spot in the Jets’ team, being named in the W-League Team of the Week three times from her 11 appearances.

Her first goal in the league earned her the Goal of the Week honours, drawing Victory goalkeeper Gaby Garton out of the box before deftly popping the ball over her head for a late score in the 4-2 loss.

What was most impressive about Pollicina’s year was her ability to push forward and create opportunities despite playing in a side who managed only two wins and a draw all year, scoring only 14 goals in 12 games.

She had 25 shots of her own, 11 of those being shots on goals, while creating 21 chances to keep her side in games even when multiple goals down.

The Final Word: There were not many teams who did it tougher than the Jets in the 2020/21 season.

Two wins, a loss and a draw was a hard pill to swallow for Newcastle locals. Luckily, one of its two wins came at home. In both of the Jets’ wins, they would score four goals, demonstrating that they did have the offensive power to match it with the best teams in the competition.

Less positively, those two wins accounted for over half of the side’s scores for the entire season. Five of the nine losses were scoreless games, including four losses by two goals or more.

Newcastle have now missed finals for three years straight since its semi-final loss to Sydney FC in 2018. One win more than last year is likely not the level of improvement the Jets were expecting ahead of the season.

Alex Catalano

Picture: w-league.com.au

Perth Glory

Final Position: 9th

MVP: In a trying season for the Glory, captain Natasha Rigby was a shining light for the side, delivering leadership, poise and quality to a defence that regularly found itself under siege this season.

Despite claiming just one point for the year, the youngest side in the competition showcased brilliant signs for the future, and it was with the help of experienced leaders like Rigby that their talents were controlled to deliver on field performance.

Rigby is one of the only players remaining from the period of success Perth enjoyed five years ago, when Australian superstar Samantha Kerr was at the club. Starting from a squad member, she played her way onto the bench and eventually into the starting line-up before taking over the captaincy from Kerr when she made the move to Chelsea in the 2019-20 season. 

Breakout Player: With nine debutants fielded throughout the season, there were players in all areas of the ground showing glimpses of high end potential that will have Glory fans excited for the future. 

17-year-old midfielder Hana Lowry was a shining light for the Glory in the middle of the park.

The talented teenager made her mark in the season prior, scoring a goal in her starting debut against the Newcastle Jets.

This season, she took control of Glory’s attacking forays which culminated in her bagging a brace against Sydney FC. She is one of a number of talented youngsters that Perth has gotten games into this year, and will be one of their most important players going forward.

The Final Word: It was a trying season for the Perth Glory, who were the youngest outfit in the 2020/21 season, finishing with just the one point from their 12 matches and a heavy 6-0 defeat at the hands of Melbourne Victory to end their season.

However, it was a tough and disrupted schedule for the Perth side, who had to deal with fixture cancellations early in the season due to the West Australian hard border enforcement. 

These cancellations had them behind the eight ball from the start, with other clubs having played up to five extra games than them. With the addition of being the youngest side in the competition and blooding new faces, Glory were unable to build on their chemistry early on against sides who were in the middle of their seasons.

Nine players made their debut for the club in the 2020/21 season, with five of those being local WA prospects. 

Their lack of experience and high end quality saw the side struggle throughout the season, but it was a necessary season of pain in order to get the building blocks in place for the future.

The young players who got their first taste of the elite level and will be the players pushing the team towards success in future seasons.

In his first W-League head coaching role, Alex Epakis will be disappointed with the results of the season, but buoyed by the fight and determination shown on the pitch. The foundations are there for a very bright future for the women in purple. 

Jasper Chellappah

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