An outrageous goal from Ashleigh Sykes secured Canberra United a place in the semi-finals of the Westfield W-League as Canberra inflicted a second defeat of the season on the champions seeing off Perth Gory 2-1 at Viking Park in Erindale.
Sykes struck with a right foot volley akin to the incredible strike by Zinedine Zidane in the 2002 Champions League Final for Real Madrid to send the home crowd into raptures and book United a trip to Melbourne to play Victory next week.
Perth rested lively winger Caitlin Foord who, on three yellow cards for the season, was in danger of missing the semi-final should she receive another caution but they still possessed the deadly combination of Samantha Kerr and Kathryn Gill. And it was the pace of Kerr that caused the home team some nervous moments early on.
Chances were few and far between however with neither goalkeeper unduly troubled in the first quarter as Canberra marshalled the threat of Glory’s 22-goal strike-force whilst Canberra’s front-runners, Michelle Heyman and Stephanie Ochs, found space at a premium in behind the Westfield W-League’s meanest defence.
It took close to 35 minutes for the first shot in anger as the midfield dominated. Lori Lindsey, in potentially her final home match of her distinguished career, was the player to chance her arm from range, her fizzing effort flashing over the crossbar with Mackenzie Arnold in the Perth goal a concerned onlooker.
The Glory threatened to break the stalemate just before the interval as Gill looked to pounce on a misguided pass across the face of her own goal by Sally Rojahn but Ellie Brush was alive to the danger and cleared with a superb sliding tackle to nick the ball away just as Gill appeared poised to strike. Shortly after Kerr broke onto a huge hook forward from Collette McCallum but, under pressure, dragged her shot wide and the teams entered half-time all-square.
Perth was forced into a change just before the interval when Arnold was caught in the head by Heyman’s trailing boot meaning substitute ‘keeper Gabrielle Dal Busco was called into action. Canberra also lost a player to injury minutes into the second half as Brush left the fray after rolling her ankle in first-half stoppage time, replaced by Julia De Angelis.
With Kendall Fletcher moving into the back-four the table-toppers took advantage of United’s reshuffle and took the lead seven minutes into the second half. Gill created it with a defence splitting through ball that gave Kerr a glimpse of goal, and that was all that the in-form striker needed to side-foot a composed finish past Chantel Jones and stun the home crowd.
Needing an equaliser to keep their season alive Canberra laid siege to the Perth goal with Nicole Begg and Fletcher both going close with deflected efforts. Finally though in the 68th minute, Canberra had their breakthrough. A diagonal pass was nodded down by Caitlin Munoz and Heyman smashed a half-volley past Dal Busco from close range as the roof threatened to come off the stand at Viking Park such was the roar of relief from the home support.
Heyman almost bagged a second with fourteen minutes to play as she cut inside her marker and sent a fierce shot at goal only for Dal Busco to prove her worth, diving to her left to palm the ball away from danger. Gill then went close for Perth with a downward header that drifted just wide following a corner as the tension ratcheted up. Just as it appeared as if the match would end in a draw United struck as Sykes seized the moment and lashed home a contender for goal of the season, an unstoppable volley, breathtaking in its execution and a fitting way to settle an absorbing contest.
Canberra United 2 (Michelle Heyman 68’, Ashleigh Sykes 86’) Perth Glory 1 (Samantha Kerr 52’)
(Viking Park, Erindale)
Canberra United: 1. Chantel JONES, 2. Catherine BROWN, 4. Kendall FLETCHER, 6. Caitlin MUNOZ, 7. Ellie BRUSH (3. Julia DE ANGELIS 47’), 11. Michelle HEYMAN, 12. Sally ROJAHN, 13. Nicole BEGG, 14. Ashleigh SYKES, 16. Lori LINDSEY, 22. Stephanie OCHS
Substitutes not used: 5. Grace FIELD, 15. Tegan RIDING, 20. Melissa MAIZELS
Perth Glory: 1. Mackenzie ARNOLD (18. Gabrielle DEL BUSCO 45+1’), 2. Sarah CARROLL, 4. Bronwyn STUDMAN, 5. Shannon MAY, 12. Kathryn GILL, 13. Elisa D’OVIDIO, 14. Collette McCALLUM, 15. Shelina ZADORSKY, 16. Thia EASTMAN (3. Carys HAWKINS 80’), 17. Marianna TABAIN, 20. Samantha KERR (7. Gabrielle MARZANO 63’)