The second game to be held at Lambert Park in 2017 featured W-League leaders Sydney FC against 3rd place Canberra United, the day after a Sydney Derby in the National Youth League. It would have been more convenient for those interested in both the W-League and the NYL if the two games were a double header, as originally planned. However, moving the W-League game to the following day was undoubtedly a good thing given recent controversies surrounding the facilities available for W-League players at double headers.
The relatively low crowd for the previous night’s game lulled me into a false sense of security, and when I arrived at the ground I was greeted with a large queue to buy tickets. It doesn’t help that Lambert Park only has two ticket windows, and apparently they opened the gates only 25 minutes before kickoff. However, the most important lesson I learnt was this: Don’t let Football Manager get in the way of you attending actual football matches.
So on the one hand, I was disappointed to miss the start of the game, but it was great to see so many people (the crowd was announced as 1,027) attend a game that kicked off at 4pm on a weekday. A decent number of Canberra United fans made the trip to Leichhardt – they will be disappointed that their team couldn’t muster up a better performance.
After following the start of the game on Twitter (shoutout to The Women’s Game for their excellent coverage of all W-League matches), I managed to get into the venue about 10 minutes after the start of the game, just in time to see the start of the goal scoring – more on that later.
Despite Sydney FC’s continued insistence on Twitter that their W-League team lines up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, the formation Daniel Barrett chose was once again more similar to a 4-3-3, as in Sydney FC’s last two matches. Teresa Polias was in her usual role as the sole holding midfielder, with Nicola Bolger and Kyah Simon (a.k.a. The Greatest Player Ever To Come From Quakers Hill) ahead of her. Leena Khamis (Alex Arlitt’s favourite player) continued as the central striker, with Nigerian international Francisca Ordega and promising youngster Remy Siemsen deployed as out-and-out wingers. Caitlin Foord started at left back, presumably to deal with the pace that Canberra have out wide.
Sydney FC attempted to play out from the back at every opportunity, which was good to see but it made the Sydney FC fans around me very nervous. I was disappointed to hear them urge Sydney FC players (especially Sham Khamis) to play more long balls. (This is why parents shouldn’t yell instructions from the sidelines at football games – I don’t care if you’re Georgia Yeoman-Dale’s father.)
Following Alanna Kennedy’s dismissal the Sky Blues switched to a 4-4-1 formation, with Siemsen and Ordega dropping back to play as wide midfielders. The Sydney FC fans around me were horrified to discover that Teresa Polias, one of the shortest players on the field, was now lining up as a centre-back. They needn’t have worried, as despite a couple of chances for De Vanna and Sykes, Sydney FC looked like the more dangerous outfit even with one less player.
Canberra United made a change to their usual formation for the start of this game, departing from the 3-4-1-2 formation seen previously to a 4-3-3. This was presumably to counter the fact that Sydney FC play with three forwards, and in theory they would avoid situations where they would be caught 3-on-3 at the back.
The change meant that Stephanie Ochs dropped to right back, with Hannah Brewer chosen to play at left back. Jenna McCormick played in central defence alongside Emma Checker, who was making her first start after returning from an ACL injury. Celeste Boureille and Yukari Kinga continued as the two deeper midfielders, with Grace Maher in the playmaker role, but there was a fair degree of rotation from Canberra’s midfield trio throughout the game.
After the introduction of Lisa De Vanna, Canberra switched to a 3-5-2, with De Vanna playing up front alongside Jasmyne Spencer, while Ashleigh Sykes and Hayley Raso would operate as the wide players in their new midfield quintet. Later on Nicki Flannery would play out wide after replacing Spencer, with Sykes moving to play up front alongside De Vanna.
The Sky Blues started the game brightly, and looked threatening as soon as I entered Lambert Park. However, there was still an element of good fortune about their opener, which came after a quarter of an hour. A wide free kick from Nicola Bolger evaded everyone including Canberra keeper Trudy Burke, and nestled in the far corner of the net.
Sydney FC continued to pile on the pressure, and shortly afterwards Remy Siemsen had a goal ruled out for offside. However, the Young Matilda would not be kept off the scoresheet for long. With 25 minutes gone a deflected shot fell into Siemsen’s path, and she was able to slot the ball past Burke to double Sydney FC’s advantage.
That would be the end of the scoring for the first half, with Sydney FC dominant. Canberra did have some good moments, but they were largely restricted to set pieces, which were easily dealt with. One such set piece came when Kennedy brought Spencer down after Canberra regained possession high up the pitch, with the Matilda receiving a booking which would prove costly later.
After the restart, the Sky Blues continued in the same manner in which they had started the game, and they showed absolutely no mercy, scoring another two goals in the opening ten minutes of the second half. First, neat interplay from Siemsen and Khamis played Kyah Simon in on goal, and The Greatest Player Ever To Come From Quakers Hill was able to poke the ball past Burke for a third goal. A few minutes later, Burke was unable to gather a right wing cross under pressure from Khamis. Despite laying on the ground, Khamis showed good awareness to prod the ball towards Siemsen, and the youngster scored her second with a simple tap in.
Rae Dower had seen enough, and Lisa De Vanna made her Canberra debut shortly afterwards, replacing Emma Checker. The impact De Vanna made was almost immediate as she pressured Caitlin Foord into a wayward pass that inadvertently played Grace Maher in on goal. As Kennedy tried to cover the danger she brought down Grace Maher and was sent off for a second bookable offence. At first I thought this decision was very harsh, but after viewing the match highlights I saw that Kennedy, despite making contact with the ball using her right foot, also brought down Maher with her left foot. On the whole, the decision was probably correct.
(Side note: Lisa De Vanna has now played senior football for 16 different teams, as well as 6 out of the 9 W-League clubs. Only WSW, Sydney FC and Adelaide to go now. You can do it Lisa! I believe in you.)
From the resulting free kick, Canberra pulled a goal back. Yukari Kinga ran over the ball in what seemed like a pre-rehearsed move. With the defenders possibly distracted she then chipped the ball over a poorly-positioned wall and into the bottom corner to make it 4-1.
However, any chance of Canberra making an improbable comeback was dashed almost straightaway. Leena Khamis was involved again, getting her third assist after playing Ordega in behind, and the Nigerian was able to beat Burke to the ball and slide it home for Sydney FC’s fifth of the game. Leena Khamis then finally got the goal her play had deserved with about ten minutes remaining. A trademark run by Caitlin Foord saw her leave Ochs in her wake, and her low left wing cross was met by Khamis, who somehow managed to squeeze the ball between Burke and the near post.
After this goal the game finally slowed down and there was no further scoring. Sydney FC established themselves as firm favourites for the Premiership, and on this form they will be tough to stop. Their next game is against Melbourne City, who are not only out of form, but have experienced a coaching change as well, with Jess Fishlock being named player/head coach as part of the coaching reshuffle following John van ’t Schip’s resignation.
It would be easy to say that Canberra’s formation change contributed to the result, but I don’t think that was the case. Sydney FC were on fire and Canberra had a poor game defensively, allowing players too much space in dangerous positions and failing to track off-the-ball runs. Canberra’s next game is at home to bottom side Adelaide United, who have generally been more competitive than their ladder position suggests, and indeed the 2-2 draw between these teams last month is a sign that this game won’t be easy.
Sydney FC 6 (Bolger 15’, Siemsen 25’ 55’, Simon 51’, Ordega 67’, Khamis 80’)
Canberra United 1 (Kinga 65’)
Sydney FC (4-3-3)
1 Sham Khamis, 14 Alanna Kennedy, 4 Elizabeth Ralston, 13 Georgia Yeoman-Dale, 9 Caitlin Foord, 2 Teresa Polias (capt.), 7 Nicola Bolger (12 Olivia Price 74’), 17 Kyah Simon, 3 Remy Siemsen, 19 Leena Khamis (11 Natalie Tobin 91’), 10 Francisca Ordega (20 Princess Ibini 80’)
Unused sub: 15 Sarah Easthope
Yellow cards: Kennedy 45 + 1’, 63’
Red card: Kennedy 63’
Canberra United (4-3-3)
1 Trudy Burke, 5 Jenna McCormick, 15 Emma Checker (32 Lisa De Vanna 59’), 22 Stephanie Ochs, 12 Hannah Brewer, 13 Celeste Boureille, 2 Yukari Kinga, 10 Grace Maher, 8 Hayley Raso, 9 Jasmyne Spencer (19 Nickoletta Flannery 68’), 14 Ashleigh Sykes (capt.)
Unused subs: 20 Georgia Boric, 4 Clare Hunt
Yellow card: Kinga 14’, Raso 33’