Finals are up and running in the NPL NSW Women’s competition as one team’s dreams of lifting the Championship trophy came to an end this weekend.
Blacktown Spartans (4th) 4-5 Illawarra Stingrays (5th)
What better way to start the finals series than with a nine-goal thriller at Valentine Sports Park as the Illawarra Stingrays overcame the Blacktown Spartans 5-4.
It was the Spartans that started like a house on fire, racing to a three-goal lead after 31 minutes.
With 15 minutes left in the first period, the Stingrays completed an absolutely incredible comeback to go into half time leading 4-3.
They added a fifth in the second half before the Spartans made for a tense finish with a late goal.
The first chance of the game fell early to Michelle Carney but her header was saved by Casey Dumont.
Ash Crofts had the first chance for the Spartans, but Trudy Burke saved her effort well.
Alix Roberts then had an opportunity from a free kick on the edge of the area, forcing Burke into another fine save.
From there, it was a 15 minute blitzkrieg from David Saliba’s side.
The Stingrays couldn’t clear their lines from a corner, with the ball bouncing to Crofts who let fly with a volley, finding the top corner and giving Burke no chance.
Only four minutes later and it was 2-0.
Roberts made a run down the right, what looked to be a cross, turned into a spectacular shot as the ball came off the far post and into the back of the net.
The Spartans right back will definitely tell you she meant it.
Crofts soon made it 3-0 as the Spartans looked to be cruising.
Played in one-on-one with Burke, Crofts rarely misses these chances and made up for her previous miss with a excellent finish into the bottom left corner.
Carney should’ve pulled one back but Dumont made another save off the striker.
Erica Halloway had a quiet game until the 34th minute when she turned her defender and shot toward goal.
Dumont’s initial save was tapped into the back of the net by the on-rushing Carney to kick start the come back.
Kristy Rohrer should’ve re-established the three-goal buffer but she headed onto the bar following a Roberts free kick.
And that’s where it fell apart for the girls in orange.
Michelle Carney returned the favour for Halloway this time as the winger had the easiest jobs of slotting the ball into the goal.
It was 3-3 in the first minute of stoppage time as Kaelah Austin slotted the ball home.
And Scott Chipperfield’s girls completed the sensation comeback only a minute later as Chloe Middleton took advantage of a defensive error to poke the ball beyond Dumont.
The start of the second half had the Stingrays again causing problems, again forcing Dumont into a fingertip save onto the cross bar.
Halloway was then fouled in the box with the referee pointing to the spot. Austin stepped up and sent Dumont the wrong way for a 5-3 lead.
Burke then gave the Spartans a lifeline when she carried Roberts’ cross over the line in the 83rd minute.
Carney thought she had settled it four minutes from full time but she was adjudged to have been in an offside position.
It didn’t matter as the Stingrays did enough to ensure they continued in the finals series while it meant the end for the Spartans who had a fantastic season.
Sydney Olympic (2nd) 0-1 Northern Tigers (3rd)
After the prior days spectacle, all eyes were on Arlington Oval for a potential flurry of goals.
Considering the two sides previous encounters though, it wasn’t expected and that is what we got, a goal in the dying embers of the game to put the Northern Tigers through to face Sydney University.
The first half didn’t offer much and the Tigers were most dangerous following dead balls from Servet Uzunlar.
Jada Whyman was untroubled though, plucking them out of the air like an AFL forward.
Georgia Plessas had Eliza Campbell back tracking with a shot from distance but the Tigers keeper was comfortable.
The Tigers looked most dangerous when top scorer Daisy Arrowsmith broke through the Olympic defence, only for Whyman to fly out at the Tigers striker and win the ball.
Teresa Polias was trying to pull the strings in midfield for Olympic but there weren’t enough forward options for her.
Susan Phonsongkham, one of Olympic’s most influential players, couldn’t get going, while Sarah Yatim when she did get the better of Josie Wilson, couldn’t find the final pass.
Olympic probably started the second period slightly better and had a period of extended pressure but without really testing Campbell.
As the game looked destined for extra time, Jess Frampton finally let fly with a rasping effort, forcing Campbell into a fine save.
With the clock ticking closer to 90, the Tigers ensured that there would be no extra time.
Maddie Bart broke through Olympic’s back line, again Whyman saved, only for the ball to fall invitingly for Arrowsmith who doesn’t miss from a few metres out, making it 1-0.
Olympic tried to rally with whatever minimal time was left but some fine game management in the final stages meant the Tigers would hold onto the victory.
For Olympic, they now face elimination next weekend when they come up against the Illawarra Stingrays.
The Tigers can book their Grand Final place should they beat the Premiers Sydney University.
By – Nikola Pozder, NPL NSW Women’s Writer