Ally Green’s wonder strike booked Sydney FC’s place in their fourth straight Westfield W-League Grand Final as the Premiers powered past Canberra United 3-0 in the Semi Final at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
The Green Machine were dealt a hammer blow when the competition’s all-time top scorer Michelle Heyman was ruled out with a quad injury and the Premiers took full advantage as goals from Mackenzie Hawkesby, Clare Wheeler and Green sent them cruising to the Championship decider against Melbourne Victory on Sunday, 11 April.
After leading her side to break a three-year Finals Series absence in her first season in charge, Vicki Linton’s side controlled possession throughout but Ante Juric’s Sky Blues posed a constant threat on the counter and the breakthrough arrived when Wheeler’s dangerous delivery picked out Hawkesby to add a pin-point finish in the 15th minute.
Three-time champions Sydney relied on Jada Whyman to deny Nikki Flannery at close range in the closing moments before half-time as the Green Machine desperately tried conjure something and chase down their first Grand Final appearance since they lifted their second Championship back in 2015.
The title rivals remained locked in a goalless draw nine days ago in Round 14 of the regular season and a tight second half seemed to be heading in the same direction until Wheeler slammed in Charlotte Maclean’s cross to double the lead in the 64th minute and give the hosts a comfortable cushion.
Canberra were clearly feeling the effects of losing Heyman, who had scored 10 goals in 12 games to fire them to fourth place, as Green’s sensational long-range effort on 73 minutes clinched Sydney’s fifth Grand Final in six years and the eighth in their history, with third-placed Victory left standing between the Sky Blues and a record-equalling fourth Championship title.
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In the absence of star striker Michelle Heyman, Canberra were looking to Nikki Flannery for their goal threat and she was a fraction away from connecting with Paige Satchell’s dangerous cross inside 30 seconds. The Sky Blues then gave the away side a scare of their own when goalkeeper Keeley Richards had to race out after Rachel Lowe had broken free from Teresa Polias’ chip over the top.
The Green Machine dominated 59% of possession in the opening quarter hour but Remy Siemsen drilled a shot over to give them another reminder of the Premiers’ threat, before Clare Wheeler’s precision delivery picked out Mackenzie Hawkesby at the far post, who peeled off her marker, Emma Ilijoski, and executed an excellent first-time volley to give Sydney the breakthrough.
The goal seemed to give to give Canberra a jolt as Grace Maher tried her luck from distance and Sky Blues shot-stopper Jada Whyman had to be alert to stop Satchell bursting around the back. The flow ebbed back towards Sydney midway through the half as Richards spilled Princess Ibini’s cross with Lowe lurking, and Natalie Tobin drilled straight at the keeper after the hosts showed their danger on the counter.
Canberra’s best chance of the half arrived almost out of nothing when Lowe’s sloppy back-pass left Flannery bearing down on goal but Whyman narrowed the angle and made an instinctive reaction save to ensure Sydney went into the break ahead. The second stanza opened with cagey back-and-fourth action as Siemsen again threatened and it was the Sky Blues looking most likely to grab the crucial second goal.
The moment arrived when Wheeler capped an outstanding display by turning from provider to finisher. Maclean surged forward on the right and found the midfielder with her back to goal, and she delivered a stinging volley on the turn that clattered off Canberra defender Lauren Keir and flew into the net. Having not scored a Westfield W-League goal before this season, that strike was Wheeler’s fourth.
Green put an exclamation mark on a commanding display to seal the result. The 22-year-old left-back unleashed an unstoppable finish that swerved into the top corner from 25 yards out, netting her first senior goal in 31 appearances in spectacular fashion, and leaving the Sky Blues one game away from potentially levelling Melbourne City’s record of four Championships trophies.
Westfield W-League Finals Series 2020/21
Grand Final – Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory
Sunday, 11 April 2021
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Oval
Kick-off: 4.05pm AEST
Tickets available from 9am AEST on Tuesday, 6 April from finals.w-league.com.au