Glory return to Liberty A-League summit after draw with the Champions

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Perth Gory are back on top of the Liberty A-League table, after going toe-to-toe with reigning champions Sydney FC in a hard-fought goalless draw on Sunday night.

Glory began the night one point behind Melbourne City but claimed top spot back off the Victorian side when the full-time whistle blew at Macedonia Park.

Sky Blues striker Fiona Worts had an early chance to break the deadlock, while Glory captain Tash Rigby’s close-range header in the second half drew a fantastic save out of Jada Whyman as both teams tried without success to break the deadlock.

A point for Sydney, meanwhile, helped the 2022-23 Premiership/Championship double winners jump back into the top six.

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Sydney striker Worts produced the best attacking moment of the first half with just three minutes on the clock – but Glory keeper Morgan Aquino rose to the challenge to keep the score at 0-0.

Worts had broken through the defensive line with a deft touch to control off her chest, and struck toward the bottom-right corner with a half volley. Aqunio dived left to put a strong palm on the ball and push it out for a corner.

Worts popped up again for Sydney 10 minutes later, but this time her ambitious shot from the edge of the area looped toward the top corner, but dropped short into Aquino’s waiting arms.

An inventive corner routine for the Sky Blues led to their next chance on goal, with a low ball played to Princess Ibini to touch, turn and shoot in the box, calling Aquino into a back-pedalling save.

Glory threatened in patches, with Susan Phonsongkham the brightest of the home side’s attackers, causing problems with sharp dribbling down the right wing. But for the bulk of the opening 45 minutes, Sydney had the clamps on Perth and got to half-time in command.

Sydney keeper Jada Whyman produced an outstanding save to prevent Rigby from finding an unlikely goal early in the second half; Hana Lowry swung a free-kick to the back post and Rigby stooped to get her header on target but Whyman leapt across to intervene.

Matildas World Cup hero Cortnee Vine came off the bench at half-time and in the 52nd minute had a sight on goal after a tearing run down the right wing. Two Glory defenders converged to block the space and the shot, extracting a strong reception from the home fans.

Shea Connors was another Sydney substitute in the second half, coming on for Worts and firing a shot just past the top-left corner after a rampant counter attack.

Aquino continued to come up with big contributions to keep Sydney goalless, and when Phonsongkham struck just over the crossbar with 15 minutes to play, a cagey game suddenly had life.

Quinley Quezada had a late chance on the stretch for Perth but saw her attempt off a driving run to the edge of the box smothered by sliding Sydney defenders as the final whistle blew to draw a close to the goalless draw.

The talking point

Sunday night’s clash at Macedonia Park was a battle between the reigning Champions and a team showing genuine eagerness to usurp the throne.

And after taking a point off the 2022-23 title-holding Sky Blues, Glory boss Alex Epakis turned the end result as a valuable reminder that, eight rounds into the new campaign, his Perth outfit are going to have to get used to being “the hunted” as they sit upon the Liberty A-League perch.

“Sydney played very well, I think that was their best performance of the season,” Epakis said.

“For us now, while we’re sitting top we’ve got to get used to teams being at their best against us. That’s a new challenge for this group. It’s not something they’ve had.

“We’ve normally gone into games really trying to punch above our weight, and compete whereas now we are, to an extent, the hunted. We need to be at our best every game.”

Alex Epakis

“We will take confidence out of today,” he added. “We kept the reigning Premiers to zero goals, and to go toe-to-toe with some of those players I think is really good.

“For me as a coach now, my role is to continue to stress to the team that we want to stay top. We’ve done so well to get to where we are now, but we’re not at the end of the season. We’re not in the finals.

“We’ve got a pretty clear vision of where we want to be, but we can’t rest on just turning up to get the job done – and the team does not do that. We’ve been through too much in recent years to take anything for granted.

“We’ll be alright, I’m really confident we’ll take a lot out of this game and finish this calendar year strong; then we’ll build into the second half of the season.”

Grace Jale was a notable omission from the Perth Glory squad on Sunday night – and post-game, Epakis revealed an ankle roll early in the week was the reason for her absence.

Jale was a substitute in last week’s 3-1 win over Melbourne City and missed out entirely against the Sky Blues.

Epakis said that, although Perth missed her attacking qualities, it was not worth risking Jale ahead of a road trip to take on Western United in Round 9.

“Grace picked up a little knock at the start of the week, a little ankle roll,” Epakis said. “I think if this game was tomorrow, she would’ve been fine.

“She’ll definitely be back. With a quick turnaround to the next game and the travel we just thought to be safe, and put the wellbeing of the player first.

“Grace is pretty lethal attacker, and to have her today would’ve been really good – but we didn’t – and the players that played did really well.

“We didn’t start with her last week (either) against City and the players performed. I think she would’ve given us quality, but in saying that we had the squad today to win the game.”

Grace Jale.