The Wellington Phoenix have secured a hard-fought and richly-deserved point in their historic first match in the Liberty A-League women’s competition.
The Phoenix have drawn 0-0 with Western Sydney Wanderers at WIN Stadium in Wollongong, giving as good as they got against their established opponents.
In a game of few clear-cut chances, the young Wellington side had more shots on goal than the Wanderers, rising to the occasion in their maiden match.
Head coach Gemma Lewis has hailed an “amazing” performance from her team.
“They did exactly what we wanted them to do…, super proud of them and couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Lewis told media post-match.
“They’re on a high. We knew there wasn’t any expectations on us going in but the girls want to show what they’re made of. The girls want to show that they’re here to compete. They want to show that they’ve got the calibre to be in this league.
“They had a little something to prove as well and I think you could see that.
“Yea we got a draw and we got a point but I think they want to push for even more. They want to show people they can really keep improving.”
Lewis was reluctant to single out any players for special praise but had to highlight the performance of the youngest member of her squad, right back Zoe McMeeken.
“Zoe’s 17 and…you can’t look at her CV and expect her to come out perform like she did today like it was nothing.
“She was the constant workhorse for us and her crosses into the box as well were dangerous. And she was constantly getting forward, even though I was asking her to get back as well, and she did it for the whole game.”
Gemma Lewis fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation in the team’s inaugural match, with Saskia Vosper and McMeeken the fullbacks, Kate Taylor and Mackenzie Barry at the heart of defence, Grace Wisnewski and Isabel Gomez the central midfielders, Ava Pritchard and Jordan Jasnos on the flanks, Grace Jale up front and Chloe Knott in behind her in the no. 10 role. Winger Kelli Brown was unable to take her place in the Phoenix XI after rolling her ankle at training on Wednesday.
Kick-off was delayed almost 20 minutes due to lightning, but when the match finally did get underway the Phoenix looked assured against their more experienced opponents.
The young Nix managed to press high up the pitch and force mistakes from the Western Sydney back four.
The Wanderers’ best chance came in just the 13th minute when Western Sydney forward Sheridan Gallagher rattled the crossbar after finding space in the Wellington box.
Phoenix captain Lily Alfeld comfortably dealt with the Wanderers’ other shots on target.
The Phoenix also kept Sarah Langman busy in the Western Sydney goal, with Wisnewski and Knott both finding the target in the first 45 minutes, while Gomez and Jale blazed wide from distance.
Wellington also defended resolutely, with Taylor and Barry marshalling the back four while Gomez broke up play in the midfield.
Knott nodded wide shortly after halftime, after McMeeken made one of her runs run down the right flank and delivered a pinpoint cross.
Vosper also had her moments going forward down the left, while scholarship player Alyssa Whinham impressed over the final half an hour after coming off the bench to replace Jale.
Lewis acknowledges the task is only going to get tougher for the Phoenix.
“The surprise has gone now. I think everyone kind of knows what to expect.”
The Wellington Phoenix’s next test is against the Newcastle Jets at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle next Friday night.
Wellington Phoenix: 1. Lily ALFELD (gk) (c), 2. Saskia VOSPER, 3. Kate TAYLOR, 4. Mackenzie BARRY, 5. Jordan JASNOS (18. Annabel MARTIN 72nd min), 6. Isabel GOMEZ, 7. Chloe KNOTT, 8. Grace WISNEWSKI, 9. Ava PRITCHARD (13. Te Reremoana WALKER 88th min), 10. Grace JALE (20. Alyssa WHINHAM 64th min), 15. Zoe MCMEEKEN
Unused substitutes: 12. Brianna EDWARDS (gk), 14. Cushla RUE.
Western Sydney Wanderers: 1. Sarah LANGMAN (gk), 2. Caitlin COOPER, 5. Danika MATOS, 6. Olivia PRICE, 7. Isabella HABUDA (11. Teigan COLLISTER 57th min), 8. Erica HALLOWAY (c), 10. Elizabeth COPUS-BROWN, 13. Bianca GALIC (15. Rosie GALEA – 86th min), 14. Clare HUNT, 17. Sheridan GALLAGHER (9. Bryleeh HENRY 75th min), 23. Teigen ALLEN.
Unused substitutes: 30. Isabella WHITTON (gk), 21. Alexia APOSTOLAKIS
Caitlin Cooper (Western Sydney Wanderers) – yellow – 9th min
Teigen Allen (Western Sydney Wanderers) – yellow – 30th min
Catherine Cannuli (Western Sydney Wanderers ) – yellow – 90+5 mins