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Latest National Women's League Review
Southern's Place Confirmed In Play-Offs
by Jeremy Ruane
It was always going to be a pivotal weekend in the National Women's League, with two of the three matches scheduled being between the "Big Four", but at the conclusion of sixth round action on the penultimate weekend in November, it's the unlikely lasses who are now the only team assured of a play-offs spot.

And Southern United didn't even have to kick a ball in anger this weekend to confirm the fact. With reigning champions Canterbury United Pride edging Auckland Football 1-0 at English Park, and Northern Football thrashing Capital Football 5-1 in a torrid affair on two fields at QBE Stadium - about which, more shortly - it means the top three teams are locked together on ten points.

Southern, crucially, top the standings by virtue of their superior head-to-head record, having beaten all three rivals still in contention for play-off spots. And even if they lose a million nil next weekend, they can still finish no lower than third, because the final placings aren't determined by goal difference in the first instance.

To Christchurch firstly, and a tense battle between two old rivals which saw United's Rebecca Lake and Jacqui Hand squander terrific opportunities to break the deadlock inside the first ten minutes.

On the stroke of half-time, Ally Toailoa headed narrowly over the crossbar following a Nicole Mettam corner - a great chance which the visitors would come to rue. For after fairly even second half exchanges, Canterbury began to gain the upper hand, Tahlia Herman-Watt going close from twenty yards before hammering a shot against the crossbar.

The home team should have been awarded a penalty in between these efforts, but with a minute of running time remaining, Britney-Lee Nicholson produced a superb striker's finish to steer the ball beyond Nadia Olla into the top far corner of the net.

Straight away, Auckland hit back, the crossbar denying Mettam's bid to equalise with a free-kick. Before the finish, however, Nicholson was only denied a second goal by an outstanding save from Olla, leaving the visitors knowing that nothing less than victory will suffice in their final game of round-robin action.

Their opponents in that match are Northern, who climbed into second spot on the standings on goal difference from Canterbury courtesy a 5-1 trouncing of Capital in a remarkable encounter on the QBE Stadium Tiger turf - initially!

Kate Loye set the tone, lobbing Cushla Lichtwark from fully thirty-five yards to open the scoring in the seventh minute. Nine minutes later, the goalkeeper went in where angels fear to tread and emerged requiring treatment after her chin had a close encounter with Sammi Tawharu's knee.

After five minutes of treatment, the facial appendage with which Lichtwark's face was now adorned expertly hid a nasty cut. But it was the nutmeg of the goalkeeper which Arabella Maynard executed in the 28th minute which hurt more, the Young Ferns starlet running on to double Northern's lead.

With the very last act of the half, Capital's Rosie Wild and Northern's Saskia Vosper had a coming together which left both receiving treatment on the pitch during the half-time break.

The Junior Fern's condition was of great concern, as she had to be carried from the pitch before a trip to the local A&E unit was made to tend to the egg-sized lump which had emerged uninvited above her left eyebrow.

Thankfully, she was able to return to the ground before the game's conclusion, but you can be
assured she'll be sporting the mother and father of all black eyes during the coming week.

The drama in this one was far from over, however. Capital began the second half brightly, and pulled a goal back through Libby Boobyer eight minutes after the resumption, only for her Norwest United team-mate Jane Barnett to lob Lichtwark from thirty yards on the hour mark, thus restoring Northern's two-goal advantage.

Three minutes later, well behind play, Katie Barrott slumped to the ground, and was very swiftly put in the recovery position. The decision was made not to move her from the field without St John's Ambulance staff on hand, thus it came to pass that a match which began on the QBE Stadium Tigerturf field was switched to the Domain Four turf pitch, with its markings for multiple disciplines.

Not long after play resumed, fourth official Beth Rattray did something she'll likely never do again in her career - signal 21 minutes of stoppage time to be played. Add these to the six minutes of stoppage time which were played in the first half, and the original fifteen minute delay to kick-off brought about by the absence of a defibrillator on-site, and thoughts were beginning to turn to the timing of Capital's flight home!

Their remaining play-off hopes were cast aside by Dayna Stevens nineteen minutes from time, the scorer propelling herself to the top of the Golden Boot chart in the process.

And with five minutes remaining, Cara Lonergan applied the coup de grace to bring about the final 5-1 scoreline in a match which is sure to go down as the longest in National Women's League history, one between two teams who gave everything they had and more in a contest which neither could afford to lose.

By comparison, Waikato-Bay of Plenty's 3-0 win over Central Football at John Kerkhof Park in Cambridge was run-of-the-mill, despite the fact flight delays for the travelling team delayed the kick-off time by an hour.

The first half looked destined to finish scoreless when Kim Maguire brought it to life on the stroke of half-time, and she doubled Wai-BOP's lead around the hour mark with a twenty yard piledriver.

Ella Golding wrapped up the scoring with ten minutes to go to clinch a 3-0 win for the home side, leaving Central with the prospect of finishing the season in last place, unless they win their final game of the campaign.

All three matches next Sunday kick off at 1pm. Southern visit Capital's Petone Memorial Park home, knowing that a win will book them home advantage in the Grand Final.

Reigning champions Canterbury travel to Central's Palmerston North base, Memorial Park, minus their Football Ferns contingent - the national side plays Thailand in Bangkok on Saturday and Tuesday week.

And Auckland and Northern is, in effect, a quarter-final at Keith Hay Park. The home team have to win, otherwise their season is over. And there's even more to play for, with The Jeremy Ruane Shield on the line for the first time ever - it will be at stake in all future NZ women's football's Battle of the Bridge senior level encounters.

Canterbury United Pride 1 (B. Nicholson (89)), Auckland Football 0  HT 0-0
Northern Football 5 (K. Loye (7), A. Maynard (28), J. Barnett (60), D. Stevens (71), C. Lonergan (85)), Capital Football 1 (L. Boobyer (53))  HT 2-0
Waikato-Bay of Plenty 3 (K. Maguire (45, 62), E. Golding (80)), Central Football 0  HT 1-0

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