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Thorns Down Under: Showing Up

W-League Rd 10 - Brisbane v Melbourne
Celeste Boureille and Hayley Raso with a lot to celebrate.
Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

Crunch time is well and truly on in the W-League, and Thorns are not just involved — they are stepping up to win their teams points and making their presence felt. In all three games involving Thorns, their contributions were decisive. In the absence of any transfer news as of yet, it’s satisfying to be reminded of just how much quality there is across the team.

Sydney FC 2, Newcastle Jets 2

Britt Eckerstrom and the Newcastle Jets kept Sydney FC at bay and stole a late goal to split the points in a top-four clash where both sides could have gone top with a win. Newcastle were peppering the Sydney goal in the early stages, but not with particularly quality shots—Emily Sonnett was sticking very tight to Newcastle and Boston Breakers striker Katie Stengel and not letting her have any room, forcing Newcastle to shoot from distance instead.

Eckerstrom was at fault for neither of the Sydney goals. The first was a very good shot from outside the area and just slipped past her fingers into the far corner, and the second was via a cross curling away from goal and onto the head of Princess Ibini—an excellent young Matildas player whose brother plays for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Sonnett put in plenty of aggressive tackles, as usual, but with Newcastle pushing numbers forward, she spent most of the game on the back line. Both Newcastle goals came from insufficient Sydney support in defense, which left Sonnett and Georgia Yeoman-Dale with a mismatch on the right wing. Yeoman-Dale gave away a penalty in the first half, and Sonnett missed a clearing header in the second, but in both cases they were one-on-one with Newcastle attackers.

Eckerstrom came up big in the second half and effectively saved her team a point. Starting in the 70th minute, she made three incredible saves at full stretch, one in the air and two diving to the floor, within ten minutes. The difference-maker on the other end was again Hannah Brewer, putting in an incredible cross from deep right which Newcastle’s attack capably put away. Both teams will feel they could have done better, and with Melbourne City and Perth Glory breathing down their necks, will need wins in the coming weeks.

Brisbane Roar 2, Melbourne Victory 1

Celeste Boureille scored the game-winning header in the 80th minute and won player of the match as Brisbane went clear at the top of the ladder. Melbourne Victory went up early with a wonder goal from distance courtesy of Melina Ayres and hung on after. On a day when many of Brisbane’s attacking players struggled to produce chances, Boureille was decisive.

Since Brisbane were chasing for most of the game, they displayed a more high-pressing look than usual. Boureille got the chance to apply pressure higher up the pitch, all the while managing to stay strong defensively, and barely ever losing the ball. Her goal came from the second ball in after a corner, and it was all-around very smart play—she had the presence of mind to keep herself onside as the Victory were pressing up, recognized that she was in a pocket of space, and generated a lot of power to redirect Carson Pickett’s great ball from the penalty spot into the bottom corner.

Watching Boureille grow into her role over the course of the season has been hugely rewarding. Working week in and week out with players the quality of Tameka Butt and Katrina Gorry in midfield—both regular Australian internationals and incredibly talented on the ball—has clearly improved her game.

Boureille’s defensive reading has been solid since day one, but what has changed, and what was especially on show this week, was her technical ability and her reading of the attacking flow of the game. Her long-range shooting keeps getting better, and she doesn’t waste shots either: it feels like every shot she makes from distance forces a save and a corner. Her shot just before halftime caused havoc in the Victory box which their defense could only just clear.

Hayley Raso had a decent game, threatening with strong running to open up space as usual, and passed well also, with a good ball over the top for Allira Toby. Raso’s final ball, however, was just a little short of quality on the night. She scuffed a shot wide after a slaloming run in the 34th minute, and when Boureille put an incredible ball right on Raso’s head from 40 yards away, she could only head it straight at the Victory goalkeeper.

Canberra United 6, Adelaide United 1 (not televised)

Naturally, the wildest entertainment on offer over the whole weekend didn’t make it to television. Canberra snapped a three-match losing streak in style, demolishing an Adelaide side who ran Sydney pretty close last week. Talented young right back Ellie Carpenter opened the scoring with her first professional goal after just four minutes. Ashleigh Sykes, returning from injury, got a goal and two assists in just 53 minutes. It’s telling what a difference Sykes makes to the team—her running opened up space for the previously-misfiring Norwegian international Elise Thorsnes, who scored a hat trick on the night.

Canberra are now just four points off the top four with a game in hand. Their last games are all against top four contenders, though, so they’ll need to play this well for the rest of the season if they want into the playoffs.

Next Week

Britt Eckerstrom and the Newcastle Jets host bottom club Adelaide United in the only televised match of the round. Newcastle may well not let Adelaide get any shots in, but North Carolina and Adelaide striker Makenzy Doniak did score a hat trick against Perth way back in round three, so Eckerstrom will have to be alert.

Off screen, Emily Sonnett leaves Sydney to join the US National team camp, leaving the team a bit stranded as they go up against Sam Kerr and Perth Glory, who will be eager to get back into the top four after getting blanked by Jess Fishlock and Melbourne City last week.

Also untelevised, Ashleigh Sykes and Canberra look to build momentum at home against Western Sydney Wanderers in a must-win game ahead of their extremely difficult run-in.