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Women's title race heats up

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The race for the top two in the National Women’s League is heating up after the Northern Lights leap-frogged Canterbury United Pride at the top of the table while Southern United and Auckland both made up ground on the defending champions with crucial wins.

Northern were the last team to win at Canterbury’s English Park fortress in Christchurch - that success coming way back in November of last year - and history repeated itself on Saturday afternoon as last year’s runners-up recorded a 3-1 triumph.

Southern were able to capitalise on their fellow South Islanders’ slip-up by beating Capital 4-2 at home while Auckland did likewise with a 2-1 victory on the road at Central, who remain the only side still chasing their first points.

In contrast, Northern are now the only team yet to lose after stamping out Canterbury’s perfect record in impressive fashion. The Pride were yet to even concede a goal in their four previous matches but the Lights showed little respect for that intimidating record and were two up with barely half an hour played.

The honour of becoming the first player to breach Canterbury’s rear-guard this season went to Arabella Maynard, whose effort was put on a plate for her by Ava Pritchard. The supplier turned scorer just a few minutes later as Pritchard doubled Northern’s lead from close range after the Pride had failed to clear a Maggie Jenkins corner.

In an effort to get back into the game, youth international Gabi Rennie was brought off the bench at half-time by Canterbury, who were without their talismanic captain Annalie Longo. But it was the Lights who scored next, Kelli Brown pouncing to tuck home the rebound after Una Foyle had made a sharp save just after the break.

Rennie did eventually get on the scoresheet late on, slotting into the bottom corner after being teed up by Nicola Dominikovich. But it was too little, too late as the league’s benchmark side suffered their first setback.

Southern ensured they would take full advantage but were made to work hard for the points by Capital as the teams fought out a goal-fest in Dunedin.

The hosts were well in control at half-time after a Ruby Anderson double and another strike to Amy Hislop put them 3-0 up. But Capital made a game of it when Football Ferns striker Emma Rolston struck in the early stages of the second half and it wasn’t until late on that Southern made fully sure of the points when substitute Erin Roxburgh gave them the added insurance of a fourth.

Capital also found the net late on through Jayden Watts to give the scoreline a more respectable look but Natalie Lawrence’s side now appears to be out of the title running as the fight for the final narrows into a four-horse race.

One of those contenders is most certainly Auckland but they were given an almighty scare in Palmerston North today by Central, who are yet to win a game but threatened to pull off one of the most notable results in the competition’s recent history with the best performance of their campaign so far.

Central had come close to notching their first points a week earlier in a narrow 3-2 loss to Capital and continued their improvement by pushing Auckland all the way, the 2017 champions needing to come from behind in a game they couldn’t afford to lose.

Captain Mikaela Boxall led by example to give Central a shock lead early on, chipping Auckland goalkeeper Alisha Perry from outside the box. Central have the bye next weekend so were able to devote every last ounce of their energy to the cause this afternoon and managed to hang onto their lead until just before the hour, when Britney Cunningham-Lee provided her fifth goal of the season for Auckland.

Central were still looking good for at least a point but were denied the chance to get off the mark when Elizabeth Anton made the most of some hesitant defending at the far post, finally putting her side in front and allowing Auckland coach Nic Downes to breath a huge sigh of relief.

His charges are in for a tough assignment in the double header over Labour weekend though as Auckland must face new leaders Northern in a pair of matches while Southern will do likewise against Canterbury. Capital will meanwhile be targeting a booster to their points tally in their two matches against WaiBOP, who sat out this weekend with the bye and have only one win to their name.

National Women’s League Match Week Six

Canterbury United Pride 1 (Gabi Rennie 86’)

Northern Lights 3 (Arabella Maynard 26’, Ava Pritchard 31’, Kelli Brown 48’)

HT: 0-2

Southern United 4 (Ruby Anderson 16’, 29’, Amy Hislop 24’, Erin Roxburgh 83’)

Capital 2 (Emma Rolston 54’, Jayden Watts 89’)

HT: 3-0

Central 1 (Mikaela Boxall 5’)

Auckland 2 (Britney Cunningham-Lee 59’, Elizabeth Anton 80’)

HT: 1-0

BYE - WaiBOP

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