The Wellington Phoenix have made history in the first game of professional women’s football in Aotearoa.
A raucous crowd of 5,213 attended the Phoenix’s 2022-23 Liberty A-League season opener at Sky Stadium, which Melbourne City won 4-1.
It’s a record attendance for a standalone regular season A-League women’s match.
After a tight, scoreless first-half, City scored twice shortly after halftime, before adding another two goals in quick succession midway through the first-half.
Ava Pritchard, scorer of the Phoenix women’s first ever goal last season, found the back of the net with a deflected strike in the 82nd minute, which ultimately was just a consolation.
Head coach Natalie Lawrence refused to let the defeat take away from the historic event.
“I have a huge sense of pride and I’m proud of the players,” Lawrence told media post-game.
“If you look back on the day as a whole it’s going to be a memorable one for these players and their families.
“This game has been such a remarkable moment in history. In the chairman’s lounge there were countless ex Ferns, who have either never played professional football or have had to play overseas for a number of years, and now we can play here and now we can have fans here.
“That’s what the day was about for us. It’s about inspiring all the little girls and boys that were out there getting all of the players autographs.
“Whilst we want to have a more complete performance on the field, I don’t want it to overshadow how momentous this day is.”
Lawrence reserved special praise for those who came to watch.
“Last year we probably played in front of six people, so we knew that whatever we got today was going to be history-making.
“The crowd and the fans were incredible. Four-nil down and they’re still pushing us every second off the way.
“Playing in front of the home fans is something that spurred the girls on to not let it get worse.
“I thought the crowd were amazing today and I hopefully they continue to support us throughout the season.”
Natalie Lawrence handed Phoenix debuts to Marisa van der Meer, Betsy Hassett, Paige Satchell and Michaela Foster, while Brianna Edwards got the nod in goal in Lily Alfeld’s absence, with Kate Taylor leading the side.
After some initial nerves the Nix dominated the opening half an hour, with Hassett and Alyssa Whinham producing a number of tidy touches in midfield.
Pritchard registered the women’s first shot at Sky Stadium, forcing a save from City goalkeeper Sally James in the 13th minute.
Wellington also looked dangerous from corners, with Foster’s delivery testing James on a couple of occasions inside the first 20 minutes.
The visitors’ ‘keeper was untested for the remainder of the half with Chloe Knott and Zoe McMeeken unable to find the target after given space to unleash shots.
The final quarter of an hour before halftime belonged to City, with some last ditch defending, the woodwork and some good goalkeeping ensuring the match was scoreless at the break.
Mackenzie Barry produced a great sliding block to deny Rhianna Pollicina a shot on goal in the 33rd minute, before Emina Ekic rattled Brianna Edwards’ right-hand post moments later.
Edwards also produced a great point blank save to deny Ekic three minutes from halftime.
The Phoenix’s impressive first-half performance was undone early in the second-half, with City striking twice in a matter of minutes.
Bryleeh Henry gave the visitors the lead in the 48th minute, tapping home a great cross from Maria Rojas at the back post.
Little more than 60 seconds later Rojas doubled City’s lead, turning Taylor in the box and squeezing a shot past Edwards at her near post.
Melbourne City almost had a third in the 53rd minute, but it was disallowed for offside.
Pollicina struck twice midway through the second-half to put the visitors in command.
The City captain scored her first from the penalty spot in the 65th minute, despite Edwards guessing the right way and then curled a shot into the top corner to make it 4-0.
Spurred on by the record crowd the Phoenix continued to attack and Foster had some of their best opportunities, but her shots weren’t able to trouble James.
Pritchard pulled a goal back for the Nix in the 82nd minute, with her deflected strike beating the Melbourne City ‘keeper.
Substitute Charlotte Lancaster came within millimetres of scoring Wellington’s second when she struck James’ left-hand post in time added on.
The Wellington Phoenix women will return to Sky Stadium on Saturday to host competition newcomers Western United.
Wellington Phoenix: 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 3. Kate TAYLOR (c), 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Marisa VAN DER MEER (2. Saskia VOSPER 87th), 7. Chloe KNOTT, 9. Ava PRITCHARD, 10. Alyssa WHINHAM (20. Milly CLEGG 67th), 11. Betsy HASSETT, 13. Paige SATCHELL (19. Charlotte LANCASTER 74th), 15. Zoe MCMEEKEN (17. Claudia CICCO 67th), 21. Michaela FOSTER.
Unused substitutes: 22. Georgia CANDY (gk).
Melbourne City: 1. Sally JAMES (gk), 3. Naomi THOMAS-CHINNAMA, 7. Julia GROSSO (4. Chelsea BLISSETT 70th), 8. Kaitlyn TORPEY, 10. Rhianna POLLICINA (c) (25. Darcey MALONE 83rd), 13. Emina EKIC (21. Isabella ACCARDO 83rd), 14. Katie BOWEN, 18. Leah DAVIDSON, 19. Maria ROJAS, 22. Bryleeh HENRY, 24. Daniela GALIC (6. Leticia MCKENNA 70th).
Unused substitutes: 23. Melissa BARBIERI (gk).
22. Bryleeh HENRY (Melbourne City) – 48th
19. Maria ROJAS (Melbourne City) – 50th
10. Rhianna POLLICINA (Melbourne City) – 65th pen
10. Rhianna POLLICINA (Melbourne City) – 69th
9. Ava PRITCHARD (Wellington Phoenix) – 82nd