Michelle Heyman has finally claimed a W-League record to call her own.
The champion striker was sitting level with fellow Matilda Sam Kerr for the most W-League hat tricks, at four apiece.
It’s been a long time between drinks for Heyman though, scoring her first three hat-tricks in the league across a three-year period from 2009 to 2011.
Wasting no time to catch up to the record on her return in Canberra colours after a brief intermission at Adelaide United, Heyman scored her second hat-trick for the year against the Wanderers last Saturday.
Her young teammate, 19-year-old midfielder Laura Hughes, believes that Heyman will be the difference against their next opponent in the heavily defensive Sydney FC.
“Sydney has a lot of experience and depth in their backline,” Hughes said on Tuesday.
“They haven’t come up against Michelle Heyman yet, so I guess we’ll find out on Monday!”
The undefeated Sydney has only conceded one goal in its five games, the lowest of any W-League side by a wide margin. The next closest side, Perth Glory, have conceded three more goals in two fewer games.
While United has notably struggled to put scores on the board before half time all year, all three of Heyman’s goals came before the 45-minute mark.
Hughes is optimistic that her teammates closer to goal will be able to break through the Sydney line.
“Hopefully, we can build on the goals that we’re scoring in the first half now and put more on the scoresheet, make sure we’re doing the right things in training to make sure we’re nice and sharp upfront,” she said.
“We talked about that, how it was important to get a goal in the first five minutes and the last, I think that gave us more confidence in the second half.”
Senior coach Vicki Linton was quick to praise Hughes after the game not only for her attacking work to help set up scoring opportunities, but also working back defensively.
“I’ve only known her for a short period, but she seems like a kid with some confidence,” Linton said.
“She’s inquisitive, asks questions, talks about the game, takes coaching points on board, both the team structural stuff and the individual stuff. She’s got a great attitude, I’ve been able to challenge her, say ‘Hughesy, you need to be doing this’ or ‘Hughesy, that’s not good enough, you need to work on this’.
“She really takes it on board and she’s trying to deliver that each week. I’ve seen an increase in her responsibility in the game, with the ball or without the ball, when we’re in possession, her defensive stuff. Been really pleased with that and I’m going to continue to push her.”
Traveling this week for just the second time in the 2020/21 season so far, United will have to adapt to play away from the home pitch at Viking Park, amongst a continually interrupted season due to fixturing changes and delays.
Linton is under no impression that her team will struggle to take on an away fixture with as much intensity as on their home deck.
“It’s really nice to play at home but it’s a bit concerning if we play all our home games and then all the rest are going to be away, so it’s going to be good to get a couple of away games in so that we’re not forced to do all of them at the end of the season,” she said.
“Sydney are interesting, with this year particularly with the strangeness and lop-sidedness of the fixturing and the ladder. For me, I don’t look too closely at the ladder at the minute, one, for the number of the games, but also the unevenness of the fixturing. Sydney with their four games, two were against Western Sydney and two were against Newcastle.
“They came off a bye last week, and it was an interesting game to watch (against Newcastle). It’s always hard for teams coming off a bye week, so they’re going to be better for that and they’re going to see us as a challenge and get up to play.
“They’ve got some consistency in that team with the same coach over many years, and a number of quality players and some experience. We’re playing them on their territory, it’s going to be a real challenge for us but it’s one we’re ready for.”