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Thorns Down Under: Ribbons on Ribbons

W-League Rd 12 - Melbourne v Brisbane
Hayley Raso challenges Rhali Dobson and Rebekah Stott.
Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

With just two weeks left in the regular season, the W-League pack has yet to really shake out. Only one team has secured their spot in the playoffs. Still, the four teams with Thorns in them remain best placed to make the top four if they get their maximum points total from here on out. The W-League has been tense and unpredictable so far this season, so its anyone’s guess what will actually happen.

Melbourne City 0, Brisbane Roar 0

A midfield chess match between two of the more complete looking teams in the league ended without too much goalmouth incident, mathematically securing Brisbane Roar’s spot in the playoffs and sending Melbourne City tenuously back into fourth spot ahead of Canberra United.

Melbourne City are a team that is built explicitly to dominate the W-League. The women’s side was founded in 2015 and in the two years since, they’ve won two Grand Finals and finished top of the ladder once. It’s a testament to how much the league has grown this year that they can’t just run the table based on talent alone. Thorns fans will be familiar with Jess Fishlock’s persistent midfield play, and Japanese international Yukari Kinga is the perfect complement to her stylistically — between the two of them the press in midfield runs the full 90 minutes, even in the Australian summer heat. Mathildas Tameka Butt and Katrina Gorry squaring up on the other side of the field make Brisbane versus City in midfield an international-quality matchup.

So where did Celeste Boureille fit in all of this? Such a high-level battle was good for displaying Bourille’s talents and limitations. Brisbane this season have been used to having time on the ball, and when in that situation Boureille has been able to recycle the ball quickly and keep possession. In a day when neither side could build attacks effectively, Boureille was guilty of losing the ball on more than one occasion: in a particularly memorable moment, she received the ball from Gorry and was immediately closed down by Fishlock, Kinga and Ashley Hatch, who shut down both her passing angles and her movement options within seconds. Defensively, however, she was much more effective, nipping in at decisive moments to cleanly nick the ball off the feet of the onrushing Fishlock on more than one occasion. Boureille may not be there at the top level in possession quite yet, but off the ball, she can mix it at the highest level.

In a game where neither side was able to produce much in terms of penetration, Hayley Raso was the one consistent outlet for Brisbane up top. In the first half, Raso looked dangerous running at the City backline, playing in Emily Gielnik for a decent chance and forcing a save from Lydia Williams with a curling shot not long after. In the second half, when City pressure became more effective, Raso was excellent defensively, tracking back against Rebekah Stott and less famous ribbon-wearer Rhali Dobson on City’s right flank to prevent them from being too effective in attacking play.

Perth Glory 4, Canberra United 4 (untelevised)

More top quality entertainment that went unbroadcasted. Sam Kerr produced a first half hat-trick as Perth went 3-0 up only to be brought level on the back of an Ashleigh Sykes brace. Sykes’ first goal, in particular, was noteworthy from the highlights: she runs directly into the middle of the Perth defense and slips the ball nicely between the goalkeepers legs. Canberra went temporarily fourth with the win, only to fall just behind Melbourne City after they got a point the day after. Canberra still have a game in hand and, if they win out, will be in the playoffs in three weeks time.

Newcastle Jets, Sydney FC: Bye

Emily Sonnett spent the week in San Diego with the USWNT while her team took the week off, as did Britt Eckerstrom’s Newcastle Jets.

Next Week

Melbourne Victory, who are remarkably still in contention for a playoff spot despite being in seventh place, must win their game against Sydney FC to keep that dream alive in the early game this week. Emily Sonnett will be making her way back from USWNT January camp and may not feature. (Read about Emily Sonnett’s W-League experience in our exclusive interview here.)

Adelaide United cannot make the playoffs but will look to play spoiler against a Brisbane Roar side looking to secure a first placed finish. Adelaide managed to knock off a listless Newcastle Jets two weeks ago, so Celeste Boureille and Hayley Raso will have to be at their best.

Offscreen, naturally, is a crucial playoff battle between Canberra United and Newcastle Jets. Britt Eckerstrom will have to be alert against a Canberra front line that has started to catch fire in recent weeks, led by captain Ashleigh Sykes who has four goals in her last three games.